The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a place where ordinary people rub elbows with super-soldiers, aliens and actual sorcerers. Given all the wackiness that’s unfolded over the past 14 years’ worth of movies and shows, you’d think it would be a simple jump to introduce actual gods into the mix. After all, Marvel’s comic book universe is crammed full of literal deities from nearly every pantheon known to man.
But does the MCU have actual gods, or merely powerful beings mistaken as religious figures? It’s a question this shared universe has yet to definitively answer, and one that’s become all the more relevant with the debut of Oscar Isaac’s Moon Knight. Let’s take a look at what we know so far and why the newest MCU hero seems to clash with that information.
The Asgardians and the Celestials
2011’s Thor laid the groundwork for a slightly more grounded approach to the gods of the Marvel Universe. That movie suggests Thor and his fellow Asgardians aren’t literally gods, but rather highly advanced, long-lived aliens from a different plane of reality. Their various interactions with humanity are what inspired the Norse myths of old.
That approach stands in stark contrast to Marvel’s comic book universe, where Thor, Odin and the rest are portrayed as actual gods. Some stories go so far as to show Thor hearing and responding to the prayers of desperate mortals. And in that universe, the Asgardians coexist alongside the Greek gods, the Japanese gods, the Egyptian gods and numerous other pantheons, while 2004’s Fantastic Four #511 suggests even the Judeo-Christian God exists in the Marvel Universe (and looks an awful lot like the late Jack Kirby).
To date, the MCU has followed a very different path, one which continued in 2021’s Eternals. Similar to the Asgardians, the Eternals are shown to have a long history of protecting and guiding humanity, inspiring numerous myths and legends along the way. Names like Ikaris, Gilgamesh and Makkari are clues that their exploits have fueled the creation of many of mankind’s myths and legends over the centuries. But they’re not gods. As the film reveals, they’re more like androids than living creatures.
Eternals even reveals the origin of life on Earth. It wasn’t a divine power that reached down from the heavens to form man, but the Celestials doing what they’ve done on countless worlds – seeding life and nurturing it until it can be used as fodder for another baby Celestial.
The Celestials may be massive, long-lived, technologically advanced beings, but they aren’t gods in any traditional sense of the word. If the MCU has a divine creator, it’s not one that chooses to make its presence known to mortals.
Names like Ikaris, Gilgamesh and Makkari are clues that their exploits have fueled the creation of many of mankind’s myths and legends over the centuries.
Khonshu and the Egyptian Pantheon
The MCU may have taken an entirely secular approach up till now, but Moon Knight has sparked what seems to be a trend in 2022. This series would have us believe the gods of Egyptian mythology are real and still taking an active hand in the mortal realm.
The series’ first episode initially leaves viewers as confused and unbalanced as Oscar Isaac’s character Steven Grant. Is he simply going crazy, or is that really the voice of an Egyptian moon god in his head forcing him to do strange things while he sleeps? But by the end of Episode 1, the series seemingly confirms that Khonshu is real and granting Steven’s other personality mystical powers. Similarly, Ethan Hawke’s Arthur Harrow is shown to wield supernatural powers of judgment bestowed by Khonshu’s rival Ammit.
Given the relatively grounded approach the MCU has taken in this area, it’s a bit of a strange shift to see literal gods suddenly enter the stage. Nor is this the only time we’ll be meeting gods over the next few months. Thor: Love and Thunder is introducing Russell Crowe as Zeus, and we’d be surprised if he isn’t accompanied by other Greek gods. Could Thor’s frenemy Hercules be far behind?
Meanwhile, that sequel’s main villain, Gorr the God-Butcher, is a serial killer motivated by his hatred of gods. His rivalry with Thor makes sense in the comics (where, again, Thor is portrayed as an actual god), but it remains to be seen how or if Gorr is being reworked to fit the MCU. Will Gorr still despise a Thor who isn’t a true god?
If the Egyptian and Greek gods exist in the MCU, how many other pantheons are there? Why are some mythological figures like Thor and Ikaris a case of primitive humans mistaking aliens for the divine, whereas other gods exist exactly as the legends describe them? At the moment, the distinction between the two seems very arbitrary.
Godhood in the MCU
Between Moon Knight and Thor: Love and Thunder, it seems the MCU is going to need to sort out its contradictory approach to mythology and godhood. Does this universe have gods and divine beings, or are even figures like Khonshu and Zeus simply highly advanced beings from another plane of reality? And if there are no gods and no one listening to the prayers of mortals, why is Gorr so intent on murdering them anyway?
We may see Love and Thunder move away from the notion of Asgardians being scientifically advanced aliens. As it is, director Taika Waititi already leaned into the franchise’s more fantastical elements in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, a sequel which is far removed tonally from its predecessors. Maybe Love and Thunder will veer even further down that path, forcing Thor to come to terms with the idea that he truly is a god, with all the powers and responsibilities that come with that label.
Crowe’s casting raises other head-scratching questions. If the MCU has Greek gods, does that mean this version of Earth has both Ikaris the Eternal and the Icarus of Greek myth? Is there a Thena and an Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom? For the record, this is how the comics have handled things. In fact, Icarus is depicted as the son of Ikaris, just to make things more confusing. The Marvel Universe is a crowded place, and the various pieces don’t always fit together neatly.
The hope is that the MCU, with its streamlined approach and consistent, guiding hand in the form of Kevin Feige, can avoid becoming as convoluted and confusing as the comics. But with more and more characters being added to this shared universe all the time, it’s only going to become more challenging to make all these superhumans, gods, aliens and other powerful beings coexist.
Moon Knight debuted on Disney+ on March 30.Check out IGN’s review of the series premiere and find out how the series draws on the character’s Jewish faith. Then, learn why the show actively fights against Orientalist tropes and how the series is essentially Fight Club meets Indiana Jones.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.
Author: Jesse Schedeen. [Source Link (*), IGN All]