I haven’t posted in a while, because I’ve been buried under work. I certainly don’t lack for contracts to fill my spare time, but I’ve also been busy preparing my house for a kitchen remodel; I’m significantly handicapped, so that’s even more trouble than it might otherwise sound. I just haven’t had the energy for blogging.
However, today is Marvel Day. No, really; it’s not just that it’s when Captain America: Civil War is out in theaters, it’s also the day that I seem to have seen several MCU movies over the years. Not just the weekend, but the day, May 6th. Not sure how that’s happened, but it’s what my Facebook memory feed shows today. The coincidence gets eyebrow-raising with the fact that I didn’t even realize this when I’d made the decision to take today off.
But taking the day off also means that I have the time to write up my thoughts on this movie — spoiler-free, I might add.
The first thing to mention — this is a writing blog, so of course I’m going to focus on the storytelling rather than just the movie as entertainment — is that Tony Stark continues his character growth in equal parts subtlety and spectacle. We’ve seen Downey, Jr. ride those ups and downs with all the grace of a championship surfer, and this is no exception. Captain America, by contrast, comes across as almost flat; not because Chris Evans is phoning it in (far from it) but because his character is just lacking the same depth.
At a recent convention I went to (speaking on gaming rather than more traditional forms of storytelling), someone asked me for help in figuring out how to play the stereotypical Lawful Good paladin. I brought up the Principle of Double-Effect, which I covered in an article on superheroes over at my other site; focusing on hard moral choices for the greatest good is not only a great storytelling technique, it’s also how we handle things in real life. (Though it’s usually phrased as “lesser of two evils,” which isn’t quite the same thing but close enough for normal conversation.) It helps you show a character who is attempting to work with the realities of the world rather than waiting for the perfect situation.
Captain America hasn’t had much chance for growth, other than the first two Cap movies (The First Avenger and Winter Soldier); that’s not really a problem until you compare it with Iron Man growing and changing and doubting and succeeding and failing and winning and losing and so on and so forth in every movie where he shows up for more than a cameo. Heck, the only reason to watch Iron Man 3, which plot-wise is a sub-par MCU installment, is for Tony’s character arc. That part is fantastic. If that had been a movie about a celebrity worrying about losing his identity to the character he portrayed on screen, whether on a movie or TV show or late night comedy skit, it probably would have won Downey an Oscar. Instead, it was about a superhero, and so was largely ignored by the Academy’s mutual-admiration society.
And sadly, this movie doesn’t afford Cap much chance for the same; not because of time, but because of the script. Actually, there’s quite a lot of screen-time for each character, showing an amount of quality that belies the conventional wisdom about ensemble casts. Even Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, who gets the relative short straw among the costumed characters, has some jam-packed moments. No, the problem is that Cap’s story is about not changing, about not giving in and compromising, and so he stays pretty constant as a character through the whole film.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing for the story. It just means I didn’t get invested in the character as I did the others. I got invested in his side of the plot very easily. And it’s not a problem for the writing, either. Actually, this movie is one of the better-written in the franchise, possibly the best in terms of never letting a moment go to waste and often doing more than one thing at the same time. I’m not sure I’d even have noticed without Iron Man’s own story.
So I find myself in the interesting position of being able to sympathize the best with the character I most disagreed with. The viral marketing asked fans to pick which side, Team Cap or Team Iron Man, they’d join; I knew from way back during the actual comic book storyline this movie is based on that I’d pick Captain America. I’ve read too much history to like the idea of government having the power to control all actions, at all times, of certain kinds of people. Yet, in this version of the Civil War concept, it’s Tony Stark that truly grabs the spotlight and turns a simple action story into an emotional roller coaster.
Of course, I expected that back when the trailer first came out. Back then, we’d wondered how this movie would duplicate Civil War with so few established characters, even if they mentioned the Inhumans. That trailer, as I explained on the other side of that link, showed that when you can’t have a grand, sweeping cast of thousands, you zoom in close for the pain of brother against brother.
The movie did not disappoint in that regard, and it was Downey who sold it to the audience. The exact expression from the trailer, that look of pure hurt and betrayal, was not actually in the film; that is a travesty of the cutting room, and I wish I could sit down with whomever decided that was a good idea. Yet even without that take, we had plenty of other moments for Tony Stark to be a human being struggling with emotional turmoil.
Seriously, I’m so glad Downey is in this film franchise. It is him and him alone that has kept the Iron Man character from just being another Wolverine: the fan favorite that’s shoehorned into any film they can manage. With no disrespect to Hugh Jackman (who is a fantastic actor in his own right, hands-down), Downey has taken an already beloved character to new heights, while Wolverine has just been . . . Wolverine. I’m a bit worried about Downey retiring at this point. He’s hardly carrying the franchise, but he would leave a big gaping hole.
But enough about that. On to some other characters.
I mentioned the new (our third cinematic version) Spider-man already. He gets comparatively little screen-time, but it’s the Spidey we all know and love. Even though it feels like a cameo (it’s not, but I was left with a feeling similar to a TV show crossover where you’re wondering where the other half of his tale can be found), we have hands-down the best “already established” character introduction we’ve seen in a superhero film. And no, I’m not referring to the fact that we’ve already seen two Spider-man origin stories on film and therefore everyone knows who Peter Parker is. I’m referring to the fact that we never had an MCU origin story for characters like Fury, Black Widow, Hawkeye, or Hulk (yes, I know, there was an origin movie for Hulk before the first Iron Man, but that isn’t MCU canon). They were all established characters, and we had to believe that they were who they were presented as in the first moments of their screen-time. Tom Holland did that, nailing both the awkward teen Spider-man’s babble and showcasing his battle-banter in excellent fashion. The only reason I’m not disappointed we didn’t have more of him is that Spider-man isn’t a character that fits very well with the Avengers; but this “crossover” breathes new life into the only film superhero that gives Wolverine a run for the coveted position of Most Overused.
Black Panther was a character I was both looking forward to and dreading. I think he’s a great character and love seeing him around, but he’s often used as a vehicle for race-politics stories. I was also afraid that we wouldn’t have enough screen time to do him justice. Both fears were completely unfounded. T’Challa got the same sort of high-quality screen time that everyone else did; possibly more quality, as Chadwick Boseman was second only to Downey in sheer onscreen charisma. I want to see more of him and his character, soon. I suspect he’ll elevate Black Panther the same way Downey did Iron Man, shaping all future portrayals of the character in other media.
There’s not a lot more that I can say about the other characters without giving things away. In fact, just about the only thing I can say is that Elizabeth Olsen did a fantastic job with every scene she was in, and all the emotions she had to present. She took an already great performance in Age of Ultron and topped it with flying colors. I just can’t tell you what she did.
The final thing to say is just to answer a longstanding debate about the greater franchise. I’ve talked about it before. A lot. This movie settled the issue. Do Agents of SHIELD and the Marvel/Netflix shows fit into the MCU as originally promised? Nope. Nopity nope nope. Whole lotta nope.
Or rather, it’s all one-way. The shows will reflect the movies, or at least nod to them occasionally; but they might as well be in different universes, or possibly fanfic at the most. There’s no way that Civil War could have skipped over mentioning the shows if the studio intended there to be cross-appeal in the first place. Not only is there no mention of Inhumans anywhere in the film — an impossible topic to skip over, as anyone watching the show would know — but they missed an absolutely perfect place to mention Daredevil at the absolute minimum. Two places, really.
Of course, we knew this months ago, but there were some who were still holding out hope. Don’t bother anymore. Agents of SHIELD and the Netflix shows are now officially-licensed fanfic as far as the movies are concerned.
For now, though, you’ve got a great, fantastic movie ahead of you, and I encourage you to go see it.