I’m not going to give a full review on Civil War today, but I just want to pose a question.
Is Marvel bloat reaching critical mass?
The obligatory: There are spoilers ahead. Minor ones, but spoilers nonetheless. If you’re that type of person, make sure you see the movie before you read on.
In recent years, the film franchise has been growing and growing in popularity, not just among comic books nerds or even geek culture at large, but among perfectly normal members of the perfectly normal populace. For example: my wife. She hates most nerdy things I love (Doctor Who, Orphan Black, Mythbusters) and can at best be said to tolerate geek monoliths like Star Wars. But she’s fully on-board with the Avengers franchise.
Problem is, the Avengers isn’t just about the Avengers movies. Now there are tie-ins with other films, shows running in parallel, characters appearing in other characters’ individual franchise films … okay, I get it, that’s how the comic books work, and that’s probably fine for comic books, but I don’t think the movie-going public is fully on board for the films bloating out in the same way.
The newest Captain America film has been billed as Avengers 3, and with good reason: it features the entire cast of Avengers 2 minus Thor and the Hulk. And the events of Civil War, without getting too spoilery, leave things in a pretty precarious place for the Avengers going forward. Which is … okay, great, but it basically means that if you want to get the most mileage out of your viewing of future Avengers flicks, you have to be up to speed on the Captain America films. And that leaves the door open for saying the same of all the other films.
Which is a problem, I think. Because until recently, you could enjoy the Avengers franchise without necessarily watching the Thor films, or the Captain America films, or whatever. But if a Captain America movie can be a canon tie-in, then a Thor movie can be necessary viewing, and a Black Widow movie (hey, I hear it’s in the works!) can be necessary viewing, and and and … hell, this movie brings Ant-Man and Spiderman into the mix as well, so … where does it stop? That’s a whole lot of ancillary films to watch, when all I really wanted was more Avengers.
Which brings me to a second point. It’s pretty clear at this point that Marvel is becoming a self-perpetuating nightmare machine, using its established films to drum up audiences for its lesser-known properties and vice-versa. As I said a moment ago, Civil War brings Ant-Man and Spiderman into the middle of an Avengers conflict. I’ll disclaim that I don’t know anything about the comic books, so I don’t particularly know or care whether this is accurate or justified. The problem is that in the story that the film tells, the inclusion of these characters is completely unjustified.
Captain America needs a bit of help, so he brings in a fanboying Ant-Man … for exactly one battle. Iron Man also wants a bit of muscle on his side, so he hunts down a somewhat reluctant Spiderman … for exactly the same battle. Now, I’ll admit that as far as that set piece in the film goes, it’s spectacular cinema. Tons of fun to watch. Great stuff. Problem is, if you remove Spiderman and Ant-Man from the film entirely, the narrative thrust of the film is completely unchanged. (Not to mention about fifteen or twenty minutes shorter, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.) Having a dead weight character in your book is usually narrative suicide, so why are they there?
Easy. That one shot in the preview — Spidey with Captain America’s shield — was geek gold, and the battle with an enormous Ant-Man made an otherwise pretty stock battle in an Avengers movie unique and hilarious. It also doesn’t hurt that Spiderman has built-in cred as one of Marvel’s most well-known and well-liked characters ever, and Paul Rudd turned Ant-Man from a joke into a sort of culty curiosity.
And, oh, by the way, Ant-Man just had a pretty successful run this last year, and … isn’t Marvel sending up some new Spiderman films in the near future?
It’s a little too convenient, a little too blatant, a little too obvious. Ant-Man gets shoehorned in because audiences really enjoyed Paul Rudd, and why not bring him in? Spiderman gets tossed in because audiences love Spiderman already, so let’s get them excited about the new Spiderman.
The first Avengers movie was a fantastic thrill-ride that stood entirely on its own without cameos by the X-Men or whatever other heroes or backstory from a dozen subsidiary movies. Avengers: Age of Ultron was much the same, though I felt a bit in the dark as to the whole SHIELD v HYDRA conflict (fleshed out in other properties, maybe?) at the beginning.
But if you go into the next Avengers without seeing this installment of Captain America, you’ll be completely in the dark as to what brought them to their new starting point. I didn’t dislike Civil War, but I don’t like at all the precedent Marvel is setting by not calling Civil War an Avengers movie. This is an Avengers movie masquerading as a Captain America movie. Which means any future movie featuring any one of the Avengers could go the same way.
Man, am I thinking too hard about this? These little hangups are ruining my enjoyment of what was in all truth a pretty good movie.