[Warning: spoilers for The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier]
A sprawling cinematic universe, especially one that takes influence from the grandiose storytelling of comic books, was always going to be a tall order. And prior to 2008, it was nothing more than a pipe dream for fans of the genre.
Fast forward thirteen years after Iron Man first released and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or the MCU, as it is now commonly known) is twenty-three movies deep with a further eleven features to come in Phase Four, which is finally set to commence with the release of the long-delayed Black Widow next month. This is all without mentioning the ongoing slate of AAA TV shows being released on Disney+, or before that the slew of other shows that have been linked to the MCU at some capacity, however tenuous the links might seem today.
That is a hell of a lot of storytelling, so it is understandable that some characters and storylines might fall by the wayside, or even be quietly discontinued altogether.
The second entry in the MCU, The Incredible Hulk is the one of the best examples of this, as the characterisation of the Hulk and Bruce Banner were noticeably altered after this early solo feature (even with Edward Norton’s recasting aside), while the transformation of Samuel Stern (played by Tim Blake Nelson) into the Leader was shown but has not been followed up since. Tim Roth’s villainous Abomination, too, was thought to be all but forgotten until the latest trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, released only last week, surprised fans by depicting him battling the Doctor Strange ally Wong, portrayed by Benedict Wong. Go figure!
Until recently, it seemed that Ontario actress Emily VanCamp could have been facing a similar fate to the Leader. VanCamp initially made appearances in Captain America: The Winter Solider and its sequel Civil War, and while the former teased a budding romance between her and Steve Rogers (more on how creepy this is in a moment), the latter unwound the sexual tension and ultimately sent Sharon into hiding, leaving her future in the MCU uncertain. That is, until the recent release of the Disney+ six-part series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
So, VanCamp’s appearances in the Captain America sequels went from fleeting love interest to a one-and-done plot device used only to pivot the narrative of the movie. Quite the demotion for Sharon Carter, though with her being the granddaughter of Peggy Carter, the greatest love of Steve Rogers’ life, perhaps it was a wise decision by Marvel to tiptoe Sharon away from him while still retaining the option to bring her back later.
Which brings me to her latest reprisal of the role on Disney+. While The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is another example of the MCU’s continued excellence, admirably addressing complex social issues in the process, it also showcased some uncharacteristically lazy storytelling, such as Baron Zemo’s laughable prison break. However, it is Sharon Carter who suffers here more than any other character, despite VanCamp’s best efforts.
Marvel had the chance to double down on Sharon’s complexity and make her one of the more compelling secondary characters in the MCU, and while they clearly tried, she was undone by jarringly condensed storytelling that framed her as a jaded ex-CIA jerk who was also very clearly the infamous crime lord the Power Broker. Sometimes it felt as though they were not even trying to hide this ‘twist’, and when it was officially ‘revealed’ it was almost as insulting as the time Marvel bent over backwards to convince us that Mysterio is a hero in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Amazon’s The Boys actually did something similar with the head-popping mystery of its excellent second season, but the writers did a much better job of hiding the culprit’s identity until the very end. Admittedly, Marvel and their creatives did not have the same blank slate to work with as The Boys’ showrunner Eric Kripke, but this is hardly an excuse.
The silver lining, though, is that VanCamp delivered an expectedly solid performance, and the duplicitous nature of her current roles – as both reinstated CIA agent and Power Broker – leaves Sharon Carter in an intriguingly sinister position whenever Marvel picks up her story again.
That is, if she doesn’t meet unresolved fate as Samuel Stern.