Weapons that appear on screen must be used. Repeated lines should call back to previously established emotion. Introduced rules are meant to be broken.
Like all forms of entertainment, cinema has a multitude of unwritten rules. The MCU has followed these principles in almost every installment, especially the aforementioned.
Mjolnir's unexpected return in Avengers: Endgame proved to showcase Captain America's worthiness in the climactic battle. "I'm with ya 'til the end of the line" resurrects suppressed memories in Bucky's memory in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Despite only having enough Pym particles for one round trip each, Cap and Tony audible the time heist to 1970 after failing to retrieve the Tesseract in 2012.
While those unwritten rules have materialized over time across dozens of different studios, a recent addition to the unspoken tropes was birthed from one specific company.
NO iOS FOR ANTAGONISTS
With product placement comes regulations, and one filmmaker says this tech giant has one big caveat. According to Rian Johnson, Apple won't let villains use iPhones.
“Apple, they let you use iPhones in movies, but, and this is very pivotal, if you’re ever watching a mystery movie, bad guys cannot have iPhones on camera,” Johnson said in a 2020 Vanity Fair interview. “Every single filmmaker who has a bad guy in their movie that’s supposed to be a secret wants to murder me right now.”
The Star Wars: The Last Jedi director revealed the rule while doing press for Knives Out, a murder mystery that pits eight suspects in a room together as they deliberate on who was the killer. Despite each character operating in a moral gray area, only one emerges as guilty and incidentally is the only one to not use an iPhone at any point during the film.
MARVEL'S iPHONE HISTORY
Johnson is the only director that has come forward about this rule, but past MCU installments support his claims.
Intergalactic threats like Thanos, Ronan the Accuser, and Hela don't exactly have landlines, but Earth-based villains like Jasper Sitwell, Justin Hammer, and Helmut Zemo have relied on cell phones for communication. All three of those antagonists used mobile devices from a variety of maufacturers, none which were Apple.
Most recently, Emily VanCamp's Sharon Carter uses a non-iPhone as early as the fourth episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, two weeks before she was revealed to be the villainous Power Broker.
This set Carter apart from other characters on the star-spangled series, as good guys like Sarah Wilson and Joaquin Torres regularly utilized Apple products.
With evidence that Marvel Studios adheres to this rule, it brings the allegiance of Valentina Allegra de Fontaine into question.
"IT'S KIND OF A LEGAL GRAY AREA..."
Julia Louis-Dreyfus's MCU debut immediately positioned her as an antagonist. She approaches John Walker when he's at his most vulnerable and lobbies for his talents, before rebranding him as US Agent, complete with a sinisterly-shaded Stars and Stripes suit.
In the comics, Val most commonly operates as a bad guy, even taking on the Madame Hydra alias at one point. That said, she's yet to do anything illegal on the screen.
On top of that, her cell phone choice indicates her motivations are much foggier than anticipated. Ahead of Walker's fit check, Val shows his wife a news headline from her iPhone 12 Pro Max.
If the MCU is indeed following the unwritten iPhone-villain rule, this would suggest Val is not a through and through antagonist.
With cryptic dialogue and uncertain motivations, Val's MCU purpose remains shrouded in mystery. Based on what has been seen so far, the only thing clear about her character is that she's a recruiter.
Upon meeting Walker, she notes that he is "very, very valuable" to "certain people." This has led to speculation that Walker would front a live-action Thunderbolts, a squad of bad guys assembled by Baron Zemo on the comic page. Intriguingly enough, Val indicates that Zemo is very much a friend in the season finale.
While the Thunderbolts operate as antagonists in the comics, there's every reason to believe they will lean more into anti-heroism in the MCU. Zemo is far from a redeemed villain, but the Sokovian was nothing but a helping hand to Sam and Bucky throughout the events of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. If Zemo continues to work in a gray area, his future friends could follow suit.
It's clear that Val knows a lot more than she is letting on. JLD's character drops a number of facts that were thought to be confidential, including the knowledge that Walker had taken the Super Soldier Serum. With her higher intellect apparent, it makes her revelation that "things are about to get weird" all the more notable.
PROTECTORS FROM A SECRET INVASION?
With no Avengers films on the Phase 4 slate, the next big MCU conflict is primed to be 2022's Secret Invasion.
The Disney+ series is set to star MCU veterans like Samuel L. Jackson, familiar faces like Ben Mendelsohn, and A-List rookies like Emilia Clarke. Despite being a streaming series, Marvel Studios is shaping Secret Invasion up to be a significant clash. Is there anything weirder than a parasitical takeover from shape-shifting aliens?
Val's "weird" hint points to the upcoming Skrull conflict heading to Earth. With the status of the Avengers currently up in the air, could she be assembling her own team of anti-heroes to take on the takeover?
Secret Invasion is rooted in trust issues. With a threat that shape-shifts, good-hearted heroes have difficulty fighting foes that look like their friends. Sam Wilson has proved to be a worthy Captain America, but how would he react to fighting a Skrull that looks like Steve Rogers? Wanda Maximoff may be at peace now, but what happens when a Vision-looking phony comes to her doorstep?
If Val is assembling a squad to take on the Skrulls, she's going to need her ranks to be relentless. Turning to characters like Walker, who brutalized a man linked with the girl that killed his friend, and Zemo, who didn't hesitate to shoot a teenager, fits that mold. And if their goal is to prevent another global crisis, does it really matter how they get the job done?
Val's iPhone is far from confirmation that she will be a full-fledged good guy, but it introduces an intriguing layer to her character. With only one quote from one director about this supposed iPhone rule, there is not a ton of information to go off of.
Apple might be okay with future antagonists using their tech so long as they don't turn to the dark side within the project that they use it. After all, Sharon uses an iPhone in the same season she goes bad, while Val ends this season with her allegiance still in a gray area.
Where Val, the Thunderbolts, and the eventual Secret Invasion goes from here is anyone's guess, but would it be an anticipated comic book project without hours of pulling on loose threads leading up to its release?
Until she reportedly makes her return in July's Black Widow, fans can see Julia Louis-Dreyfus in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which is available to stream in full exclusively on Disney+.