Pop Culture 2021: A Review

The Problem With Fan Theories

Fans get really excited about upcoming projects. They/we love to speculate about what might be coming. But with Marvel… it’s getting a little out of hand, and this leads to two problems. 1) They set their hopes way too high; 2) they are never satisfied. Let’s start with the first thing, given that it’s the first thing and that’s how discussions usually work.

I really thought WandaVision would be the death of rampant fan theories. When WandaVision started, theories flew fast and furious: Wanda’s neighbour Agnes was Agatha Harkness, Dottie was Mephisto, Monica’s engineer friend was Reed Richards, the ad breaks were Mephisto, SWORD director Hayward was secretly Hydra, Agnes was Mephisto, Recast Pietro was going to officially bring Fox’s X-Men franchise into the MCU. Okay, that one was reasonable. But the only thing that turned out to be true was the one thing that was obvious, the Agatha Harkness thing. Director Hayward was just a dick, Pietro was just Ralph Bohner, and nobody and nothing was Mephisto.

(Thankfully. I haven’t been able to take Mephisto seriously as a villain since his sinister scheme to get Spider-Man an annulment.)

(I honestly can’t believe there was a time when we really believed Marvel had cast Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic but managed to keep it a secret, major castings are the most spoiled part of the entire entertainment industry, there was no chance they’d be able to surprise us with Reed Richards.)

But it stopped nothing. Falcon and Winter Solider were going to Madripoor, they must be about to meet Wolverine! Shang-Chi would feature Iron Fist! The Power Broker from F&WS would be Mr. Sinister! Spider-Man would turn up in the Hawkeye finale! We even had new Mephisto theories on Spider-Man: No Way Home, and I thought at the very least we were done with Mephisto theories.

The problem here is that these fan theories have a pattern. People aren’t speculating about the actual plots of these movies, they don’t care, for instance, what the watch means to Clint Barton or how John Walker would push Sam Wilson to take back the shield. Fan theories are based almost exclusively on what new or old characters might be introduced. We’ve had four Marvel movies and five Marvel TV shows this year, and fan theories only view them as a chance to set something else up, even if it doesn’t suit the actual story the writers are trying to tell. True, Marvel dug their own grave on this one, given that their business model relies on each movie being an advertisement for the next movie, but that used to be limited to end credit scenes. The discourse I’ve seen on Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness has zero thoughts on what the story might be and how it might affect Dr. Strange, and is entirely about what No Way Home-style cameos it might involve. That’s not a great way to get hyped for a movie in my opinion.

But problem two is that even when they’re right, they’re never happy.

A leak proved true, and Wilson Fisk showed up in Hawkeye. The very next day, opening day for Spider-Man: No Way Home, there’s Charlie Cox on the big screen playing Peter Parker’s lawyer Matt Murdock. So in the space of two days, a multi-year crusade to keep/make Netflix’s Daredevil MCU canon paid off. And… well we discussed how they were angry that the overcrowded Hawkeye finale wasn’t entirely about Wilson Fisk, but there’s more.

For days after the Hawkeye finale aired, Twitter was flooded with Marvel tending topics. Obviously Daredevil and Kingpin, but also Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Agents of SHIELD, even Iron Fist. Because getting Daredevil and Kingpin canonized wasn’t enough. Now they needed Jessica Jones in She-Hulk, half the Agents of SHIELD in Secret Invasion, even goddamned Iron Fist in the next Shang-Chi. Don’t put that evil on Shang-Chi. I mean come on, does having a proper, good, non-whitewashed martial arts hero in the MCU not utterly negate the need for Danny Rand, the Iron Fist, “protector” of K’un-Lun, enemy of the Hand, and writer of his own press releases?

(They also wanted Danny Rand in the first Shang-Chi, also Agent May from Agents of SHIELD because… she’s Asian? That was pretty much it.)

Oh, and the thing with the watch? Sure they wait until the denouement of the series to reveal this so yes, this is a Hawkeye spoiler, but it also barely matters to anything that happens, so I don’t feel bad sharing it… the watch belonged to Clint’s wife Laura, confirming her as an ex-SHIELD agent herself. Specifically Agent 19, who in the comics, is Bobbi Morse, aka Mockingbird, who yes was married to Clint for a spell. Bobbi Morse was also a main character on Agents of SHIELD in seasons two and three, before being written out for a spin-off that didn’t get picked up and never being seen again, so wow but Agents of SHIELD fans did not like any part of Mockingbird’s character being given to Laura. Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio were finally fully MCU canon, so they were not standing for a character who was in nearly 2/7ths of Agents of SHIELD being marginalized.

And this isn’t going to die down anytime soon. The head of the Time Variance Authority was Kang, Kingpin was the surprise Big Boss of Hawkeye, the rumours about Matt Murdock and… other characters in Spider-Man: No Way Home were true, so the fan theories have been too right too often to slow down. Hell, even people picking apart the trailers to determine who’s been photoshopped out to hide a spoiler won’t slow down, because they were like 80% right on No Way Home so there’s no way they stop.

So I guess this is just what we do now. Speculate endlessly about who’s going to be introduced, or what TV characters are going to be canonized. Pick apart every trailer to figure out what they’re not showing. Wonder when Mephisto might show up instead of hoping he doesn’t.

But I guess there are worse problems than misplaced enthusiasm. Let’s look at one.

Author: danny_g

Danny G, your humble host and blogger, has been working in community theatre since 1996, travelling the globe on and off since 1980, and caring more about nerd stuff than he should since before he can remember. And now he shares all of that with you.

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