Friends of mine know that I’m a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I recognize a lot of the flaws in these films, but honestly I’m an apologist. Too many quips? I appreciate that everyone can have fun while saving the world. Certain movies seem only to serve as set up for the next entry? Hey – I love some world-building. Great actors employed to play weak villains? It’s almost endearing at this point. A flaw that I cannot forgive however, is Marvel’s diversity problem.
Sure, we’ve seen the films make strides in including diverse characters to the periphery of our primary heroes and the MCU TV shows seem to at least try to make diversity a priority, but we’ve yet to see a feature film headlined by a non-white, non-male character. I’m not forgetting that we will be getting Black Panther and Captain Marvel (and to some extent, Ant-Man and the Wasp) soon – in fact, I’m hoping this is what’s to be the new normal in the MCU – however, it’s hard to ignore that it will have taken 10 years to get to this point.
Google anything related to “MCU Diversity” to find countless think pieces and commentaries about the lack of diversity in the films or the importance of the diverse characters who have been included. What I’d like to discuss, however, is the character of Dr. Helen Cho.
A major criticism of Age of Ultron (AoU) is that the plot feels overstuffed. In his script, Joss Whedon endeavored not only to give all the major characters development and individual arcs within the greater film’s story arc, but introduce new heroes, set the stage for the future of the MCU, and attempt to weave together a cohesive plot involving A.I., technological singularity, the increasing presence of superpowers, and the growing conflict between the heroes. Because of this, Dr. Helen Cho is unfortunately often overlooked.
In the film, Dr. Cho, a world renowned Korean geneticist, is brought to life by Korean actor, Claudia Kim. As writer, Nicole Chung, points out about the character, “it’s always nice when Hollywood doesn’t just swap out one kind of Asian for another because #alllooksame.” In the comics, Cho is a relatively minor character. She is the mother of Amadeus Cho who would later become the newest incarnation of the Hulk.
Despite being upgraded to a scientist, Dr. Cho is still strongly relegated to the role of a supporting character in the film as well. Yet having recently re-watched AoU, I was struck by how important she was to the overall progression of the plot.
Dr. Cho is responsible for creating what’s known as the regeneration cradle, a medical device that can (according to the Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki) “heal wounds by grafting a simulacrum of organic tissue to the patient and having it bond to the patient’s cells.” The very implications of a device such as this have the potential to be globally game-changing, and in AoU, it proves to be. Using the mind stone from Loki’s sceptor, Ultron forced Cho to assist him in using the cradle to create a synthetic body – with which he could upload his consciousness and somehow further his goals of ending humanity. As soon as his control over her was broken, however, Cho stood up to Ultron without hesitation and disconnected him from the upload link.
Her actions in standing up to an ornery, homicidal robot that had taken control of an army of robots AND the internet, ultimately led to the creation of the synthetic hero, Vision, who not only became host to the Mind Stone, but was also instrumental in helping the Avengers stop Ultron from carrying out his evil plan of dropping a city out of the sky to end humanity. Did I mention the plot felt a little overstuffed?
At the end of the film, we see Cho touring the new Avengers facility with Maria Hill; her intelligence, knowledge and bravery making her a valuable asset to the new incarnation of the team. This small scene could lead one to believe that Dr. Helen Cho would become an integral part of the Avengers – someone we’d definitely see again in future movies.
The trouble is we haven’t, and according to Claudia Kim’s IMDB page, we won’t anytime soon either.
The character of Helen Cho presents an opportunity to Marvel. Despite not being super-powered, she’s a woman of color and a scientist whose brilliance in genetics is shown to be unparalleled and she can stand shoulder to shoulder with the Avengers while matching wits with the likes of Tony Stark.
Just as the MCU needs more characters like her, Helen Cho needs a larger role in the greater universe. Since relocating to the new Avengers facility, there’s plenty of opportunity to include her in future films. Or – even though we’ll soon have 5 MCU network television series and several more Netflix series – I’d sure watch the hell out of a “Dr. Cho’s Genetic Adventures” show that digs deeper into the implications of her research and maybe even gives us an introduction to her son, Amadeus.
Marvel, make it so.