Marvel's Most Divisive New Team-Up Movie Could Fix Its Biggest TV Blunder
Mental health hasn’t been Marvel’s strong suit, but better late than never.
If you’ve been keeping tabs on the many casting rumors orbiting Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, then you may not have been too surprised by the bombshell Invincible creator Robert Kirkman dropped this weekend. “My good friend Steven Yeun is playing the Sentry in a movie,” Kirkman said in a conversation with artist David Finch, confirming what a handful of insiders had previously leaked. Yeun was cast in a top-secret role in Marvel’s Thunderbolts back in February, and while the studio had yet to confirm this development, it’s difficult to imagine Kirkman being misleading.
Marvel Studios has maintained their trademark radio silence following Kirkman’s reveal, but it’s getting easier to guess what to expect from Thunderbolts. The film will follow a group of Marvel’s most notorious anti-heroes as they’re recruited by CIA director Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) for a clandestine mission. Whatever their task, the introduction of Sentry will make things interesting... and complicated.
Sentry is one of Marvel’s darkest heroes. On paper, his power index is something akin to Superman. Also known as Robert Reynolds, Sentry gained his powers by ingesting a magnified Super Soldier Serum, which imbued him with the strength of “a million suns.”
In addition to garden-variety super strength, speed, and flight, Sentry also possesses powers of telepathy, molecular manipulation, and even teleportation. He’s the definition of overpowered, which makes him difficult to adapt to the screen, and that’s before we get to the issue of his biggest weakness.
Most superheroes, especially within the MCU, face off with a villain that serves as a dark reflection of their own powers. Black Panther has Killmonger; Shang-Chi has his father, Wenwu. Sentry has The Void, which is actually Sentry’s own alter ego, a repressed entity that resides deep within his psyche. Left unchecked, the Void could destroy the universe. It’s forced many of Sentry’s allies, like Doctor Strange and Reed Richards, to wipe Sentry’s memories and strip him of his powers. But even as the mild-mannered Robert Reynolds, Sentry still has his struggles.
Reynolds has been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, as well as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and paranoid schizophrenia. He also deals with addiction, making the character one of Marvel’s darkest and most complex. The MCU’s version of Sentry may not be an entirely faithful adaptation, but it’ll be interesting to see how Thunderbolts tackles Sentry’s darker side, and whether it can make up for the mistakes Marvel has made with other mentally ill heroes.
The MCU isn’t known for its well-rounded depictions of mental health. Though Iron Man 3 explored post-traumatic stress disorder in a nuanced and empathetic way, Tony Stark’s other struggles were largely underplayed. Marvel took a big leap towards more earnest representation with Moon Knight, which introduced a hero with DID. Oscar Isaac portrayed an often-stigmatized condition with care, breathing life into Moon Knight’s myriad identities, but Moon Knight still stumbled in its sensationalist depiction of DID.
With Thunderbolts, Marvel might have another chance to get it right. Adapting Sentry with all his powers and weaknesses will be tough; it will be even harder to represent his addiction and mental illness authentically. Hopefully, Marvel has learned from its mistakes, but we won’t know for sure until Thunderbolts hit theaters in 2025.