7. Captain America: Civil War
When Robert Downey Jr and John Favreau launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe 8 years ago, I thought I couldn't be any happier. RDJ was perfect, the movie was a cohesive story, while hinting at a larger world and an interesting history. For the first time, the comic books themselves were taken seriously. Not translated seriously, but just considered, as art themselves. Why not just do that with moving pictures?
Now, with 13 of these connected films in my memory banks, alongside three seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., two of Daredevil and one of Jessica Jones, the MCU is sprawling. It's also remained true to the promise that Iron Man first made 8 years ago. We won't always get it perfect, but we'll never fail because we didn't try to do it right.
As I've now watched the latest installment, I can confirm they're still doing it right. It may not be for you in particular, increasingly these movies require an ongoing commitment and at least the barest of refreshers before you head in to the next one to get the full enjoyment out of them. But for an astoundingly large number of people, it is just right apparently.
Particularly now that Batman vs. Superman is finally a released film instead of the impending spectre on Hollywood it has been seemingly forever, the feat that Kevin Feige and crew have and continue to accomplish becomes even more impressive. Having great characters is no sure thing, ask Fox and the crew behind the Fantastic Four franchise. Having the right actor is no sure thing, Hugh Jackman is great as Wolverine, but even he couldn't help his first solo movie. Even having a connected universe is no sure thing, ask Marvel's Most Wanted, now twice passed on as a Pilot for ABC. But Feige and the MCU have weathered angsty actors and demanding directors and less than sparkling writing. They've withstood the rumor mill and rotten tomatoes. And time after time, twice a year (and now sometimes more) they collect all our money and turn us all into 10 year olds playing hookie with a minor cold and blazing through a stack of cheap comics that mom bought us at the drugstore.
They've turned your mom and your girlfriend and your guidance counselor and his lawn guy all into comic book fans, not just capable of keeping up with continuity, but excited about discussing the potential of the next movie and the ramifications of the last one.
The ascendency of geek culture has been crowed by bloggers and journalists for a decade or more, but this to me is the true testament that what was geek is now fully "normal", the latest MCU film, Captain America: Civil War is both the culmination of storylines planted in 2008 in Iron Man and all between here and there, but also the evolution of the superhero movie into its next form. This is the Movie Superhero Renaissance. What the Russo brothers have done in this movie cannot fairly be considered a standard film. It is episodic storytelling in a fashion closer to television, but played out with the virtually unlimited palette and toolbox that the big screen economics allow for. Disney has here established the basic form that will determine its Hollywood fortunes for the next two decades or more, and has in the process created what every other studio will inevitably and doggedly try to replicate:
Captain America: Civil War is an exponential theatrical experience. If you enjoy it, you will enjoy every piece of ancillary connected material a little more because of it. Likewise, if you've liked any ancillary connected material, you'l like something in this movie, the more past MCU stuff you've seen and enjoyed before, the more you'll like this one. And it's not additive, it's exponential.
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When Steve is pleading with Tony in the Siberian bunker at the film's climax that Bucky was brainwashed, and that taking revenge on him won't bring back Tony's parents and RDJ's lip trembles and he says, "He killed my mom." and attacks, that is one of the most powerful moments I've ever seen on screen period. It only works, it only feels so heavy in the midst of what is a truly lighthearted film for the subject matter and source material, is because we don't want these two friends to fight. We know these men, we've lived with them for 8 years and through a dozen adventures. We know where they came from and why they believe what they believe. Marvel (and Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, and Sebastian Stan) have earned it. They've done the heavy lifting and that enables both moments of sheer joy like Spider-man's introduction and moments of real pain like this one in the bunker.
Cap is right, Bucky isn't responsible for what he did as the Winter Soldier, not directly. Tony would've forever regretted killing him, but I also understood and empathized with Tony's rage and violence. What would I do if given the chance to confront my parents killer directly? What would I do if a good friend had hidden the identity of that killer from me?
And it's not just thought exercises, as a fan and viewer, we care about the characters as if they were real. For us, these stories DO have stakes. And now, because of the brilliance of Marvel and Disney, there are more of "us" than ever before.