Marvel movies did more than entertain audiences for 10-plus years. They gave conservatives a respite from the social justice messaging that plagues Hollywood today.
Even when the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, touched on geopolitical themes (think "Iron Man's" arms dealer subplot) it didn't wag its finger at us. The emphasis remained on a rollicking good time, the kind audiences of all ages cheered.
That was then.
Team Disney just announced a new slate of MCU features, dubbed Phase 4. The Comic-Con reveal highlighted the MCU's first openly gay hero (Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie), its first Asian lead (Simu Liu) in "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" and Natalie Portman as Lady Thor in "Thor 4: Love and Thunder."
Did the biggest movie franchise on the planet just get woke? Or will the diverse pivot result in bigger, brighter stories?
We've already seen signs of the MCU's progressive lurch. "Avengers: Endgame" featured an absurd sequence where some female heroes joined forces to fight Thanos' goons. Even The Mary Sue, the wokest of woke journals, called the girl power moment condescending.
Earlier this year, "Captain Marvel" fed us clumsy female empowerment courtesy of Brie Larson. The Oscar winner's social justice bona fides are beyond dispute off-screen, and she eagerly brings that attitude to her work.
MCU chief Kevin Feige doesn't mind. In fact, Feige says Larson's character will lead the next MCU phase. Feige also cheered on "Avengers" star Chris Evans' progressive politics, another hint his billion-dollar franchise could take an ideological turn.
That's a problem in more ways than one.
Obviously, a liberal MCU could turn off a huge swath of the country, a risky move in economic terms. These movies boast massive budgets and even larger marketing machines. Alienating Red State America could hit them hard at the box office, at least stateside.