Recently I watched everything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in chronological event order. That means I started with Captain America: The First Avenger and made my way through the Agent Carter and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV shows, all the one-shots, and all the films leading up to Captain America: Civil War which I saw this past Friday. There is A LOT to absorb and wrestle with and it’s a little overwhelming especially with the unwieldy network TV standard 22 shows per season for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But, I’ve come to some strong conclusions about Marvel and the universe they’ve put together, the biggest of which is that it’s only getting better.
Since Tony Stark declared “I am Iron Man” at the end of the first film, I have been riveted by the Marvel universe. Some films have been better than others; they stumbled almost immediately with The Incredible Hulk, which despite some major issues, did at its heart I believe, set into motion a lot of core elements that make Mark Ruffalo’s incarnation so great. But the thing that has made Marvel stand apart, and I think what makes me wary of DC’s attempts to create their own universe, is how carefully plotted it’s all been. We didn’t just arrive at Civil War, we’ve been building to this point for nearly a decade and we’ve been doing it through films that are not cookie cutter insert new hero here stories. The first Thor film is in and of itself half Shakespearean family drama and half fish out of water comedy of errors. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in a harbinger of Russo Brothers achievements to come is a wonderfully tense 70s paranoid spy thriller. Iron Man 3, with Shane Black at the helm, feels like a throwback to the great action comedies of the 90s, like Black’s own Lethal Weapon films.
When we reached The Avengers in 2012, Joss Whedon pulled something off that most thought impossible – he brought no less than 5 stand alone characters together into one film that served them all. He made the characters pop and sing with a very deft touch. In his follow up, Avengers: Age of Ultron, he struggled to reach that same pinnacle but he was able to introduce the idea of collateral damage and innocent lives lost, to bring more depth to the series in addition to his quippy, vivacious writing. I recently read an account on Buzzfeed by two of their staff members, Ryan Broderick and Luke Bailey, who marathoned all the Marvel films back to back. Ryan noted watching Whedon’s 2012 film, “when I first saw The Avengers I remembered loving how quick and witty all the dialogue was, but after watching all the movies back-to-back, you realize none of them sound like themselves. Nick Fury is talking like a Buffy the Vampire Slayer character and Tony Stark has lost all his pathos.” I had just finished watching The Avengers recently myself and remember thinking, “this guy is nuts!” But then, I saw Civil War.
There’s no underestimating Whedon’s contribution to the MCU. He’s absolutely integral to the success of the series. He knows his way around an ensemble and it shows. But, I think that while he’s set the table and built a large part of the foundation the MCU stands on, The Russo Brothers are taking it all to new heights. Captain America: Civil War, with its twelve Avengers and nearly a dozen more major and supporting characters, is dare I say a perfect piece of superhero filmmaking. It has an unrivaled balance of pathos, action, and levity. It solves the third act problem pretty much every superhero film before it has had of constantly destroying some city. It made me excited for a Black Panther film and a sixth Spiderman film with the third Spiderman in 14 years. Though I know that most of these characters are signed on for more films and not likely to be killed off, I felt real stakes in this film. I couldn’t predict where the story was going and I worried for these characters and their well-being. The Russo’s come from comedy and I think their perspective has been Marvel’s great gain. This is arguably the most serious of the Marvel films but they seem uniquely adept at orchestrating great tension, drama, and action while peppering it with perfectly honed comedic moments at just the right time without overdoing it. With Avengers: Infinity War Parts 1 and 2 on the horizon, with what has been estimated at over 60 characters who need to be woven into the plot, I think The Russo Brothers are primed and ready to give the world a superhero experience unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
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