Borders of Masculinity: The Hero's Journey in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown into one of the most popular entertainment franchises since its debut film in 2008. Even with competition rising in the superhero film industry, the MCU continues to stand out due to its unique and intricate depiction of the hero’s journey. The three foundational heroes of the MCU (Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor) illustrate how toxic expressions of masculinity create borders to their emotional development and character growth, borders that they must overcome along the hero’s journey. In his first film, Iron Man, Tony Stark begins to reevaluate the path that his father laid out for him when he undergoes a major moral transformation that makes him realize the violent impact of weapons manufacturing at Stark Industries. By becoming Iron Man, Tony makes a commitment to bettering himself and serving as a protector, but his insecurities continue to manifest into his public image as hero until his final appearance in Avengers: Endgame. Captain America, though not the most obvious depiction of toxic masculinity, struggles with the same identity issues as Tony Stark. From his first film, Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rodgers battles with insecurities that stem from always having been the “little guy.” Steve constantly starts fights that he cannot win to stand up for others, and repeatedly enlists to the WWII draft despite being rejected due to poor health every time. His desperation to fulfill the hero role separates him from his only love, Peggy Carter, by an uncrossable border, time, until he gives these toxic traits up to return to her in Avengers: Endgame. Thor also struggles to fill his father’s shoes as the king and protector of his home world, Asgard. His need to be seen as a hero and fierce warrior make him impulsive and quick to violence, which puts his kingdom at risk and bases his self-esteem on this image of himself. Though Thor’s arc isn’t finished yet, Avengers: Endgame illustrates his coping with his failure to fulfill this image as he rebuilds his self-esteem into his own identity. These three heroes demonstrate how toxic masculinity creates borders to their personal growth and progression along the hero's journey.