Why ‘Civil War’ Shows Marvel Needs to Up The Stakes in the MCU
I make no bones about my love of DC over Marvel. Whether fairly or unfairly, some critics have been accused of having a DC or Marvel bias when it comes to reviewing each studio’s films. Although I try to be, as Fox News claims, “fair and balanced,” it would be disingenuous for me not to acknowledge I prefer one group of superheroes over another. I’d rather admit that upfront than some sites that are obviously anti-DC and throw up New York Post-like headlines as click-bait.
To be clear, Marvel Studios put out fantastic films. Even their weakest films (The Incredible Hulk, Thor: The Dark World) are still enjoyable. I liken it to baseball. While not every film is a homerun, even the least among them are hard singles to left field. Furthermore, Captain America: Civil War was commercially and critically successful for a reason. It’s not only one of the best superhero movies Marvel has produced, it’s one of the best superhero movies ever made. Definitely in my top ten so far for 2016 and easily a 9/10 for me. However, I think it’s just the latest example of Marvel’s glaring problem.
We’ll get to that in a second though.
The DCEU films have been accused (and rightly so) of narrative, levity, and execution problems. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice definitely has flaws and Suicide Squad, while enjoyable, is kind of a mess. Man of Steel on the other hand is a fantastic film and better than any of the original Superman movies in my opinion. However, it appears that WB and the people behind the DCEU are trying to correct those problems.
Whether fairly or unfairly the DCEU has been and will continue to be judged against the MCU. Marvel was there first and they set a very high standard. What’s confounding though is that with every vitriolic filled criticism of a DCEU movie, there’s always a comparison to Marvel, implying that the MCU is some paragon of perfection. This couldn’t be further from the truth. And while the DCEU may have issues, Marvel possesses a glaring problem of their own.
A stakes problem.
Marvel’s been taken to task for having weak villains in several of their movies, Thor: The Dark World and Ant-Man being two. However, this is just indicative of the larger stakes problem. The one thing about Marvel films is that they are too safe. No one is in any real danger of dying. And no Quicksilver’s demise in Age of Ultron, or Tony Stark’s possible poisoning from Iron Man 2 count. I’m talking about the major players: Thor, The Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow—all of them—have about as much chance of shrugging off their mortal coils as I do of being Angelina Jolie’s rebound guy. Granted these guys face mortal danger in each of their films, but I’ve never once gone into a Marvel film thinking, “Welp this is the one where Hawkeye finally gets killed,” and neither do most audience members.
Say what you want about the DCEU, but you can’t deny they take risks. Zod dies at the hands of Superman in Man of Steel, Superman is killed by Doomsday at the end of BvS, Jared Leto’s take on The Joker in Suicide Squad, and having a well-established mythos in the DCEU rather than Marvel’s formula of origin stories leading into ensemble films. That takes testicles of solid adamantium. Do they all work? Of course not. But it’s better than Marvel playing it safe.
Which brings us back to Civil War. Man there were so many awesome things about that movie, whether it was Tom Holland’s fantastic Spider-man or the kick-ass fight on the airport tarmac. Even Vision and Scarlet Witch’s romantic dynamic was interesting. And of course the plot setup was intriguing: should The Avengers and other people with powers operate with autonomy or should there be oversight? Emotions were high on both sides and the ad campaign building up to the film reflected that. In fact the implication was that either Cap or Tony would die in Civil War.
And then Marvel completely screwed the pooch by having them make up at the end of the movie. Steve Rogers goes into hiding but leaves Tony with a cell phone to call him if he’s needed. So essentially this was Cap and Iron Man at the end of the movie:
The more I reflect on this, the more I realize how much of a missed opportunity this was by Marvel. For those of you who don’t follow comics, in the Civil War graphic novel, Captain America is actually arrested at the end of the book and subsequently assassinated by Crossbones. I’m sorry but this would have really raised the stakes leading into the third Avengers film. Tony killing Cap may have been even more satisfying, because then you’re dealing with the emotional aftermath of Stark killing one of his best friends. But nope, Crossbones dies way too early in the movie and audiences get an “it’s all good” fistbump between the two Avengers.
Marvel cannot continue to bask in their complacency. Now I know the dump trucks of money aren’t going to stop flowing to Marvel and Disney anytime soon. Kevin Feige will continue to bathe in dragon blood and exfoliate with unicorn horn body wash for years to come. However, that’s no reason to rest on your laurels. Cash cow or not, Marvel has to address this problem. Whether that’s killing off a major character and replacing them with a new actor (ala Sam Wilson/Falcon taking over for Steve Rogers/Captain America) or something else, I don’t have the answer. Only Marvel can answer that question. To misquote Heath Ledger from The Dark Knight, the world deserves a better class of superhero film.
And Marvel needs to give it to them.
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