If anyone believed superhero movie hype was starting to die down, this weekend proved otherwise. The Avengers; Infinity War managed to surpass its unprecedented hype, earning strong reviews from critics and fans as well as a record-breaking $257 million during opening weekend. The superhero slug-fest, the culmination of decades of world-building, both on-screen and in comic books, gave fans exactly what they wanted: high-stakes, heroism, fists in faces, witty banter, ridiculous action set pieces, and, of course, all of their favorite characters finally getting the chance to interact together on-screen. While certainly grim at points, the movie was a hell of a lot of fun.
Be that as it may, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is also a cold an unflinching place, packed with its fair share of brutal lessons and horrifying realities that inform kids about the tough realities of life. Here are the six dark but necessary truths that Marvel movies can teach to kids.
Hard Work Is No Match for Talent (Or Luck)
In life, kids are taught that the best way to achieve their dreams is to work as hard as they can and believe in themselves. It’s the American way. Superhero movies force kids to face the tough reality that all that tireless dedication and effort is no match for someone who is simply naturally gifted. And that lesson is never more clear watching the Avengers, who are mostly made up of characters who are the saviors of the universe because of radioactive spiders, secret government experiments, and superior genes.
Some may argue the Avengers also had to put in effort to become earth’s mightiest heroes, but, realistically, working hard accounted for maybe five percent of their ass-kicking abilities. Thor, for instance, may have had to work hard to be worthy of his mighty hammer but even before he put in all that time and effort, he was a supermegafoxyawesomehot demigod. Even Iron Man, the so-called “self-made man” of the MCU only has the ability to create his Iron Man suit because he was born into unfathomable wealth and is gifted with borderline superhuman-intelligence.
This all leads to a tough but necessary truth that every kid eventually learns: Work hard, believe in yourself, but still be prepared to fail simply because there’s no substitute for talent. That doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t try but they do need to understand hard work doesn’t guarantee them success.
Friendships Fall Apart
When Iron Man and Captain America first teamed up in The Avengers, they immediately fell into an adorable odd couple dynamic, as they traded clever quips and debated their conflicting definitions of heroism while saving the world from the constant threat of total annihilation. There was tension, sure, but there was also an underlying respect shared between them that fueled their friendship and made them the ideal leaders of the superpowered supergroup.
However, thanks to ideological differences, that friendship slowly but surely started to crumble and they went from friends to frenemies to straight-up enemies, resulting in an all-out brawl at an abandoned airport. And in many ways, this once-great, now-fractured duo teaches a great lesson to kids about understanding that never every friendship is meant to last a lifetime.
Kids are great at making friends with pretty much every other kid they cross paths with, as a similar interest in the color red is enough of a foundation to form a bond that both parties are sure will last forever. But whether it’s someone moving away or the natural drifting that comes with time, some friendships will inevitably end. And the sooner a kid understands that the better off they’ll be able to handle the impermanent nature of human connection.
Patriotism is Complicated and Confusing
When Captain America is first given the super serum that makes him the ideal human specimen, he wants nothing more than to go out and fight for his country. But instead, he is used as a mascot to sell war bonds and motivate the troops. Still, he remains loyal to America to the point where he voluntarily freezes himself in a glacier for over half a century to help defeat the Nazis. When he is eventually found, he thinks he’ll finally get to serve his country the way he always imagined. Except he eventually realizes the entire government is unspeakably corrupt and, out of a sense of patriotic duty, he turns on Uncle Sam and becomes a rogue on the run.
Captain America’s entire character arc serves as a larger metaphor for the difficult journey many people have with loving their country. As a kid, it can feel as simple as chanting “U-S-A” and watching fireworks on the Fourth of July. But as they get older, they begin to learn more about the complex and often ugly history of America and begin to question whether or not they are truly living in the greatest country in the world. It’s a confusing, life-long process that doesn’t come with easy answers but it’s important for every kid to learn, like Captain America, that being a patriot doesn’t mean blindly pledging allegiance to a place just because they were born there.
Bad People Can Be Extremely Likable
There is a scene in the Avengers where Loki first declares his plan to rule over puny humans by giving a speech to a large crowd he has hypnotized into his submission, in order to make a larger point about humanity’s hidden desire to serve and obey instead of live freely as individuals. But despite being completely fascist, Loki’s speech is compelling to watch. Not because his ideas are any good but because the god of mischief is undeniably charismatic, to the point where he can make this objectively terrible concept of human enslavement feel briefly intriguing.
Loki is evil, selfish, and manipulative but he is also charming, handsome, and likable. People often think that good people are naturally more likable but history has shown us, again and again, that is not the case. Plenty of the world’s greatest villains got the power they did because they knew how to sell their horrific plans in ways that seemed, at first, reasonable. It’s important for kids to know that just because someone has a winning smile, doesn’t mean they are inherently good.
Nazis Won’t Go Away
At the end of Winter Soldier, Captain America learns that despite World War II ending over 70 years ago, Nazis are still very much alive and well and have even infiltrated the U.S. Government. Unfortunately, this plotline has proven to be a scarily accurate reflection of our current reality because it turns out Nazis are back and are hoping to win over the hearts of Americans with tacky haircuts and Tiki torches.
And while Nazis may not be in control of our government, one recently won a nomination for an Illinois congressional seat. They’re like cockroaches: Everyone hates them but somehow they just won’t die. There was a time where Nazis felt like relics of the past that were little more than go-to villains in blockbusters but now, they are back and as evil as ever. They may not have the power they once held but, sadly, kids need to be aware of their presence to ensure it stays that way.
You Can’t Pick Your Family
Poor, poor Thor. The God of Thunder is a clever, kind-hearted heartthrob who is determined to protect the universe from harm. But every hero has a flaw and Thor’s is his love for his half-brother Loki, the god of mischief who spends most of his life pretending to be his brother’s ally while secretly scheming to take power and screw over his brother for being stupid enough to trust him. Every Thor movie and the first Avengers rely entirely on this premise. Thor is like the Wile E. Coyote to Loki’s Roadrunner, always falling into the same predictable trap because he just can’t help himself.
Gamora is in the same boat, as her adoptive father is Thanos, the evil monster intent on destroying half the universe for some vague reason. He also — MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT — ends up tossing her off a cliff in Infinity War to retrieve one of his precious McGuffin Stones. Not exactly a father of the year candidate.
Would Thor and Gamora both be better off if they could disown their families? Maybe but that’s rarely how it works. For most of us, family is an unshakeable community that provides love and support without condition or judgment. But for others, family is a constant source of frustration that does that person more harm than good. While people may not have supervillains and planet-destroying aliens as relatives, plenty of people are still stuck with insufferable assholes and ignorant buffoons. And sadly, there’s no real solution because family is for life. Gotta love ’em.