This was a strange time for The MCU, it was becoming abundantly clear that the two guys they’d put all their chips on were getting exhausted, (Or too expensive in one case. I’m pretty sure RDJ would play Tony Stark until he died.) the internet discourse around the movies was pointing out that they sure were heavily skewed towards white guys named Chris, (I remember a think piece on Comic Book resources that specifically said, “The minority dude or lady could be named Chris, Marvel, we’d all be cool with that!”) and the need for new blood was imminent.
Not to mention, and I really can’t stress this enough, people did not give a shit about Ant-Man until it opened. I’ve been carefully tracking, watching and writing about superhero movies since 2008, and the only discourse around Ant-Man was about what a huge bummer it was that Edgar Wright had dropped out of the project years before.
I recall making several jokes, on this blog, about how I kept forgetting that it was coming out. Though I was intrigued by the cast I liked a director by the name of Peyton Reid, who’d made two movies that I’d seen about a hundred times, Bring It On and Down With Love. How did a man go from directing dorky girl sleepover staples, that no one else had really seen, to replacing one of the great gods of nerddom on a fracking Marvel Movie?
Now, I don’t care so much about that. Because, Ant-Man is wonderful. It’s funnier than any other MCU flick, it’s small, and personal and charming. It also features legacy characters, which I’ve mentioned is one of my favorite things in superhero stories.
Scott Lang is a loveable goof, a good guy, who does bad things because he keeps backing himself into corners. No excuses are made for his criminal behavior, though explanations are given. (To me the difference between these two things is subtle but important. An excuse is meant to absolve the person, an explanation provides context.) He loves his kid, he cares about his ex, he has good friends.
Hank and Hope Pym are the glory here though. My god, are Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lily spinning straw into gold with these roles. They’d be rote, even expendable in any other actor’s hands but they run with the straight man silliness they’re asked to take on.
Civil War, even more decides to push the status quo to the breaking point. This seems to be the Russo brother’s MO, though I think we’ll talk about that a bit more in a few weeks when I tackle Infinity War. Civil War picks up where Age Of Ultron left off, Cap is leading the Avengers, but when a mission goes south, and they get a break in the case to find Bucky, the life Steve’s been building falls apart.
But it falls apart spectacularly, with recruiting of new allies for him (Hey Ant-Man, nice to see you!) and for Tony, (Well, I’m just going to shove young Mr. Parker into a corner where no one can hurt him, ever, because he’s perfect and wonderful, and he definitely didn’t fly off to space with Tony and get killed and you know what? It’s been almost a year and I’m still not OK, MR FIEGE!) and neutral but what like to kill Bucky please and thank you. (Prince T’Challa of Wakanda gives NO FUCKS about these colonizer boys and their problems. He just wants to avenge his Baba.)
And it falls apart because of Zemo, who is an excellently deployed villain. He manages to do what Ultron could not, destroy the Avengers. Breaking them up from within, using the long simmering personality conflict between Tony and Steve to do, by bringing it to a boil.
And that brings us to Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. I do not come here to bury Captain America, for Iron Man says that Captain America was a villain, and Iron Man is an honorable man…I’ve been thinking about my background in Shakespeare a lot lately, since Christmas when I tried (in vain) to explain to a coworker that Shakespeare was the pop culture of the time, and it’s canonization is all the more interesting because of it. “Superheroes are our modern American mythology,” is basically a cliche at this point, and one that I’ve never much agreed with.
Marvel’s movie versions especially have more in common with The Bard’s melodramatic weirdos than they do with Zeus and his brood. And never more so than in Civil War, you can almost see excising the fight scenes, and this becomes a dramatic fight between two kings for the soul of England.
Civil War is always better than I remember when I watch it. More dramatic and grounded, makes better use of it’s characters and hammers home it’s theme beautifully.
But this is again a middle step. It’s setting up the guys who are going to take over. All worthy, by the way.
Next week we’ll talk about Doctor Strange and Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, so, we’ll see how that all goes.