Captain America: Civil War. Now that’s how you make a movie.

We got to the theater yesterday to see Captain America: Civil War, the newest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Holly recommended I write a review… but then we also saw that a lot of other reviews have already been hitting. Have a few links!

Pretty sure there’s more where those came from… I feel surely I have something to add to the conversation, but I’m also still digesting the movie. I also want to avoid spoilers, since the movie is so newly out… although it’s been out overseas, and made so much money over the weekend you all may have seen it once already.

One thing I can do is refer back to previous posts. Like how I predicted that Civil War would be Captain America 3 because of their comics trajectory after Winter Soldier. Or the whole host of stories that came before the Civil War comics and which make it seem derivative. Or polls like Spider-Man or Team Iron Man versus Team Captain America.

But there’s a main post I want to reflect back on: my reactions to a review about Age of Ultron and how it was killing/not killing the “popcorn movie.”

The Popcorn Movie?

One of the main points in the post about the whole idea of the death of the “popcorn movie” was that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was creating an increasing need to watch all of their movies, to have a total Marvel experience, to watch the TV shows in-between (probably not a concern), to watch all the franchises…

And that their continued success was having an effect on other studios and other movie projects, which are increasingly becoming franchises, unwieldy multi-movie projects, stretching out book series, etc.

The writer of the review says they just want mindless action out of their mindless action movies, and so it was more on that sort of level I took umbrage. As we get to Civil War… can I disagree that you need to experience a whole lot of Marvel to really be invested?

This is the 13th movie in the overall franchise (they’re also now at 4 different TV shows with more new titles and seasons on the way). Civil War draws on literally every one of the past movies to get us to this place. To get us to this fight, to this feeling that maybe they’ve been doing this unchecked for too long. That all the things that people complain about comic books and superheroes for their simple morality and total unreality… that maybe all those things come crashing in, and the morality gets hazy, and the superheroes get reigned in by the governments of the world.

If you try to do that sort of a story as one of your first stories (*cough cough* Batman vs. Superman *cough*), is there any weight there? I mean, maybe. Watchmen and The Incredibles, though, deal with the world that’s already moved a bit past this point. It’s the period after it, without showing us much of the before-times. The entire MCU, meanwhile, has been the before-times thus far. It’s all been the who-watches-the-watchers superhero fare, with Winter Soldier completely destroying the trust we had that the good guys were surrounded by good guys doing good things.

Found on http://www.hitfix.com/news/10-things-we-learned-from-the-captain-america-the-winter-soldier-trailer

Like, the literal symbol of the good guys in the sky came crashing down.

I don’t think at this point – and maybe the blog doesn’t help with this – that I could distance myself from all 12 other movies and look at this one, objectively, and talk just about it. I don’t think I could say at all what the person who hasn’t seen any of the other movies would think of this. Or the person who’s only seen the Avengers films. Or just the Captain America films. Or like, Iron Man and Avengers. Or heck, just the Spider-Man films. Or… well, you get it.

And I don’t know if it’s enough to answer “who would decide to go see this without seeing X others?” Because the philosophy of the point is still there – that maybe we shouldn’t be put in these sorts of situations. The other possible question is, “who hasn’t seen one of the other MCU movies?” They’ve made a ton of money, and that tends to go with people seeing your movies.

But still, that moral question: is it right for a movie (or other story for that matter) to expect that you’re “caught up” with their previous work? Should I be able to pick up Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and just be good-to-go? I don’t know. But then again, in reading comics, we’re pretty much all jumpers-on at some point or another… The jumping on point for the movies is a lot more complicated.

I told you that story so I could tell you this one

A little Ron White for you there… And it’s going back to Age of Ultron. A lot of people, including the review alluded to above, have been really down on that movie. It’s maybe not Amazing Spider-Man 2 bad or Batman versus Superman bad, at least not in terms of having too much going on and too many lead-ins for other movies. But it got bad at times, no doubt.

Ultron

Ah yes, I was planning on telling you my evil plan…

So some of the “popcorn movie” argument came from a feeling that Age of Ultron felt a bit like a long commercial for future MCU movies. And certainly, the Thor scenes felt that way, maybe some of the cameos (poor Falcon). Other scenes to other degrees.

Age of Ultron suffered from being a movie that felt busy setting us up for future movies – and as we see now, no movie moreso than Civil War. Meanwhile, Civil War has the opposite problem: it’s a movie that relies heavily on that which came before. So while the one ends up an unsatisfying middle-movie (Ultron), the other is a satisfying culmination of a bunch of storylines (Civil War).

And that leaves me feeling sad for Joss Whedon. The first Avengers was a culmination movie, and was absolutely phenomenal and first-of-its-kind for it. But really, Civil War was the movie we deserved, the sort of movie we expected… and what we got instead was Age of Ultron. But they had to tell us that story to tell us this one, and so it goes.

Civil War was Avengers 3.

The other things that I think works in Civil War‘s favor is that the Russo brothers made Winter Soldier, this one… and are going on to do the soon-to-be-retitled Avengers 3 and 4 films. So most of what they had to set up was movies they themselves will be making, along with I guess Spider-Man and Black Panther.

But again a difference. If we never see this Spider-Man or Black Panther again, we’ll be disappointed – but only because they were so good. Their story is still resolved at this point, or at least, it could be. However, from Age of Ultron, if we don’t find out what the #&@^ was up with Thor, I’m going to be legitimately curious and annoyed. Like if that movie just never happens.

It’s some of the same with all the setups in the movies I compared – Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Batman v Superman. The former seems to not be getting any sequels ever again, and so all their threads are just gone and a large part of that movie is now officially wasted time. The latter – remains to be seen. I think it’s made enough money that, at the very least, the movies they already have in production will finish and see the light of day. Those are Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman, so at that point they might be doing just fine. But at any time I feel like DC’s grand plan might fall apart, and all the time spent setting up those films was a waste.

I don’t think that the time spent in Age of Ultron will end up wasted, but still, it’s the difference between the movie pointing forward – which the popcorn-movie critic may be right to be annoyed at – and the movie pointing back to its roots and building on them.

So where do we go from here?

Honestly, I don’t expect a Captain America 4. That might not be how Hollywood works, and it might get added to the MCU docket and further push back Black PantherCaptain Marvel, and all the other movies we’ve gotten so excited about… but I doubt it.

Nonetheless, the rumors lately! First, that it seems like they’ve pushed Inhumans back so far that it’s officially off the radar. Might not happen. In some ways, this could be good for Agents of SHIELD – let them more fully develop the Inhumans on the show, maybe even get Black Bolt, Medusa and the rest there?

And then, that Infinity War is no longer Infinity War and is also probably not a “part 1 and 2.” They’ll still be the officially titled Avengers 3 and 4, but not with that name. Nonetheless, Thanos grabbed the gauntlet and is on his way… somewhere. There’s another Age of Ultron unnecessary-feeling scene…

But I think in the mean time, they’ve given us some phenomenal characters to look forward to. I am legitimately excited now for the stand-alone Spider-Man film (subtitled Homecoming which must mean something other than Spider-Man is returning to Marvel’s control…), and am absolutely enthralled with the thought of Black PantherAnt-Man and the Wasp could only be better if that had been the friggin’ first movie. Seriously. Get Wasp on screen, guys.

AND OH MY GOSH HAVE YOU SEEN THAT DOCTOR STRANGE TRAILER???

So is it right and fair that Marvel makes us watch all their movies? My answer might be, if they keep being good? Yes. But on the flip-side: still haven’t seen Batman vs. Superman….

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10 responses to “Captain America: Civil War. Now that’s how you make a movie.

  1. Once upon a time going to the theatres could mean watching a movie, but it could also mean watching a collection of shorts or watching a serial. Then a shift happened and you could watch a movie in the theatre while TV did the serials and anthologies. Then in the 1990s another shift happened and suddenly watching TV was no longer about watching procedurals, but also about watching long story-arcs, as if you are seeing a thick novel instead of short story unfold on screen. Isn’t it kind of logical that the big screen would embrace that concept, too?

    This in mind, I applaud what the MCU is doing. There is more than one way to tell a story and I always like it when someone steps out of the mould and tries something new. And, let’s be honest here, it is a big improvement towards what Hollywood used to do, which was producing sequels to stories which never needed an addition to it in the first place in order to retreat the same story beats (there are a few exceptions, but most of the time, this is what happens). Marvel shows that it pays off to put effort in every single movie you make. Sadly that is not what other studios see. They just see “oh, people want shared universes”. Eh, no, we want both. We want the shared universe where it fits, we want the sequel if there is still a story to tell (maybe even a sequel on TV, I certainly look forward to the Big Hero 6 TV show), and sometimes we simply want a movie to stay untouched. Sometimes a remake makes sense, other times it feels like a remake doesn’t make sense because the original movie could only work in a very specific time period (Ghostbusters) or because the already was so good that it is practically impossible to top it anyway (Mary Poppins).

    What I am trying to say: There is no better or worse method of storytelling. And in a trilogy, I actually consider it kind of a flaw if I can watch the third movie and the first two are so irrelevant that I don’t even need to watch them to understand that one. (Unless it is an anthology series). So that I have to watch what happened to Cap beforehand and perhaps what happened to Tony in order get the full scope of Civil War is in my eyes a strength of the franchise.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Also still digesting, but lots of good points here.

    In the modern day, it’s a heck of a lot easier to watch movies that are a few years old. With movies this popular, they’re at the library. If not that, it costs a dollar to use Redbox. Maybe an extra dollar or two to rent on Amazon. Free again to borrow a copy from a friend or something. If somebody wants to jump in, it’s really not hard to watch a couple movies and get going. And I thought Civil War balanced it really well, actually — you do need to see a FEW of the previous movies, but you could really make do with, say, the other two Avengers movies and The Winter Soldier. You probably don’t even need the first Captain America movie to understand and enjoy this one, and you definitely don’t need the Thor series or Ant-Man or GotG or whatever. However, if you have seen all the previous movies, you get the full experience and full character depth. I have no problem at all with Marvel using it as a way to make more money/get people to watch more movies, because it’s not just moneygrubbing, it’s also the literal only way to create something with the depth and breadth the MCU now has. The Batman v Superman comparison is apropos — that movie didn’t work specifically because they didn’t earn it with three or four other movies.

    I think, although I’m still contemplating, that my issue with the movie is that it’s a Captain America movie with a bunch of extra Avengers thrown in. The central story only needs a few characters, centrally Cap. I think it might’ve hung together better if it took its inspiration from Civil War but didn’t actually try to DO Civil War, and didn’t try to involve so many characters. As it is each character gets a little depth, but not enough — not quite superficial, but not important to the story either, so there are points where it doesn’t quite turn smoothly. You have to keep up with the central story but also get invested in Spiderman and Vision/Wanda and all these other little bits that are great, but have no bearing on the main themes. The MCU earned the Tony/Steve stuff, but I’m not convinced they earned Civil War. When that happened in the comics, a whole mass of characters were split. The MCU still isn’t at that level, and they had to bring in all these brand-new characters to even approximate that scale.

    But I’m still contemplating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some of the problem is that they’re keeping a wall up between the TV and movie side. I linked to it in the post… We Minored in Film had a good article on the internal “civil war” at Marvel. To really get a full scale Civil War with the characters they had rights to, bringing in the TV show characters would be necessary. Including villains… The comics series eventually has villains doing black ops. Maybe a good plot point to skip in a year where Suicide Squad is coming out…

      I would also say all the little bits of the other characters felt better in this movie than they did in Age of Ultron. Not sure I could fully say why.

      The trilogy that is the Captain America movies is the most genre diverse of the MCU franchises… The first one he is the wartime soldier. The second one he is the special ops spy guy. In this one, he is the superhero. And finally accepts that role. And part of that probably needs to be him pulling his team of superheroes in around him. His new family, team, and purpose. The war ended. Shield fell. But he has Avengers.

      I also liked that it was Barton who particularly was needling at Tony. I felt like he’s earned it. Anyone else and it’s like Ant Man doing it… “Who’re you again?”

      Like

      • Interesting. I don’t read a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff because I’d rather just watch the movies, but when I say things like “Marvel does a great job of blah blah blah,” I usually mean “Kevin Feige does…” 🙂

        And yeah, I’m not sure they really could’ve done a better job, which is why I’m somewhat hesitant with criticisms and am still turning it over. Need another watch or two. I knew even the first time through that elements weren’t working as well as I might want them to, mostly related to how the other characters relate to the story, but I’m not convinced it could do without them either, so I don’t know. I do know I liked it a lot better than Age of Ultron, even though I quite liked that one too.

        The only thing I have against Civil War, other than the element combination thing, isn’t precisely Civil War at all but the continuing lack of queer characters. I don’t even ship Steve and Bucky, but it looked to me like because the story was about Steve’s relationships with Bucky and Tony that they almost made it as unqueer as they possibly could, and I mind that. But I could talk about that forever and it’s not specific to Civil War.

        Liked by 1 person

        • One thing I really liked in Winter Soldier was the best-friendship of Steve and Natasha. That the moment is there, and they don’t go for a relationship between them. On the flip side, the Natasha/Bruce relationship in Age of Ultron was one of the most criticized parts, especially their personal and intimate sharing moment.

          I guess what I’m trying to say… The Russos seem to have kept relationships at a distance and stuck with friends relationships instead. And given the comparison to what could happen… Maybe that’s better? But I’m just devil’s advocating at this point. You’re on to something there.

          Like

          • Yeah, that’s one of the reasons It’s not so much a criticism of Civil War and more a statement about mainstream movies in general. Even though the whole plot is about intense male friendships, they kind of shied away from that at the same time. They were downplaying the entire point of the movie. But again, relatively minor issue in this instance.

            Liked by 1 person

          • I guess some of it too is that Bucky is not the ONLY reason Cap is doing what he’s doing.

            OH! Point I was going to make and don’t remember if I did. Bucky is a metaphor for Cap’s whole side of the conflict. He is what happens when a ruling force uses a super for its own agenda with the hero having no say in the matter.

            Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: Origin Stories in the Marvel Universe, Moving Forward | Comparative Geeks

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