“Biology in the Marvel Cinematic Universe”

Review essay in ‘Biology & Culture’ section of Journal of the History of Biology 52 (June 2019): 365-369

Marvel Studios is on an unprecedented hot streak. Starting with Iron Man in 2008, the Disney-owned studio has produced more than twenty critically acclaimed blockbusters in a row. They are critical darlings, boasting a stellar 83% average on Rotten Tomatoes, and they are box-office gold, earning more money than any other movie franchise in history (twice as much as Star Wars in a quarter of the time). They have even transformed the way movies are made, in large part because they all take place in the same fictional universe, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), where they share dozens of characters and countless interconnected storylines. There are powerful superheroes, multiple dimensions, and mysterious totems in the MCU, but there are also clearly discernable principles of biology. Studying how biology is portrayed in fictional movies about web-slinging teenagers and hammer-wielding Asgardians might sound like a waste of time, but these types of exercises have real pedagogical value. Studying how biology is constructed in the MCU can help us understand how biology is constructed in this universe.