Hey Marvel, wtf?

Do you enjoy angry nerd rants about rumors and unfinished products? If you answered no, then this post probably isn’t for you. But if you answered yes, then hey, we should really hang out more.

civil war 1Today’s subject is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the recent strong rumor that the MCU is gearing up to bring us a big screen adaptation of the bestselling comic book event Civil War. The gist of the news is that Robert Downey Jr. will sign another lucrative deal to join Captain America 3 in a large role, setting the scene for him and Cap to recreate their Civil War feud. As rumors go, this seems like a pretty likely one to become reality; Variety’s report is filled with enough details to suggest their sources are coming from someone very much in the know. It also jibes with Downey’s recent hints that he was working on an agreement for something else with Marvel, just not an Iron Man 4.

Which leads me to: dammit, really? I can barely express enough how much I hate this news, but I’ll try anyway. But only after using this as an excuse to also rant about the growing number of frustrations I have with the Marvel master plan.

To begin with, the MCU kinda gets a free pass among us fans of superheroes and superhero movies. Marvel has had so much success in putting together a number of wildly entertaining films, with perhaps a couple of arguable clunkers but no true disasters. Just a couple months ago, they turned freaking Guardians of the Galaxy into a smash hit, not to mention one of the funnest movies in recent years, inspiring all manner of Marvel-can’t-lose takes that are all the more amusing because they seem fairly true.

The success of Guardians also inspired a fair amount of trash-talking directed at WB/DC’s own belated attempt to create a cinematic universe. And that’s pretty fair, too; DC has already fallen well behind, and it’s not yet clear whether they’re on the right track now. But I was perplexed by variations on one particular comment I saw a lot of this summer: “Marvel can turn a talking raccoon into a star, and DC can’t even officially greenlight a Wonder Woman movie.” Again, not unfair, but the follow-up should be obvious: Marvel can turn a talking raccoon into a star, yet Marvel also won’t give a female character her own movie.

The parallels are admittedly not perfect; Wonder Woman is the most famous female hero ever, far more famous than anyone in Marvel’s stable (particularly since the MCU doesn’t have the X-Men women like Storm and Jean Grey), so the lack of development for Diana is arguably more egregious. But I daresay Marvel’s track record with women is actually becoming worse. DC has the excuse that it’s just now figuring out how to make Batman and Superman, the most popular heroes in the world, work in a movie together. But Marvel already has its shit together, and continues to show that women are simply not a priority. Sure, Black Widow kicks ass, but she’s still relegated to no more than a prominent supporting role. Beyond her and Gamora, Marvel’s best female character is…? I guess Lady Sif from the Thor movies, who’s an even lesser sidekick role. Oh, and Pepper Potts got to kick some ass for all of about 15 seconds at the end of Iron Man 3. Woo! MCU head Kevin Feige continues to make vague noncommittal statements about maybe someday doing a Captain Marvel movie, but noting that the time isn’t right now. No, right now, the time is right to search for another middle-aged white guy to play Doctor Strange.

Meanwhile, the longest-tenured female Avenger, a founding member of the team and one of Marvel’s oldest heroes, might never exist in the MCU. Janet van Dyne, the Wasp, not only won’t be in next year’s Ant-Man, she might even be fridged off-screen. And seriously, what a fucking shame. I can get over Edgar Wright leaving the movie despite being the driving force for its very existence, but I’m having a much harder time getting over the fact that Wasp is a far better character than any iteration of Ant-Man, yet she’s the one being left out.

One of these characters is about to star in a movie. The wrong one.

One of these characters is about to star in a movie. The wrong one.

I’m even finding myself wary of geek god Joss Whedon, which is literally unchartered territory. Whedon added the comics Avengers second-longest tenured female member, the Scarlet Witch, to the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron. Scarlet Witch used to be an awesome, strong character but is now the worst thanks to a sexist hack writer named Brian Michael Bendis, who did a story 10 years ago called House of M where Wanda went insane and ruined everyone’s lives, all because, and I shit you not, she was literally baby crazy. As offensive as this shitty story was, it’s also canon, and now Wanda is always written as being at least a little unhinged (not to mention hated, because of that whole life-ruining thing). This despite about 40 years before House of M of being pretty un-crazy. So it’s a little worrisome to me that Elizabeth Olsen describes her character by saying: “It’s not that she’s mentally insane, it’s just that she’s just overly stimulated.” If you have to clarify that your character isn’t quite crazy, chances are she’s going to at least walk the line, which is the exact opposite of progress — both for Wanda in particular and the MCU in general. And again, I love Whedon, but he does have a history of giving into the “woman can’t handle her power, goes crazy” angle.

And here’s the thing: the MCU has a choice in how it characterizes these women. That should be an obvious statement, but it bears emphasizing. The company could look at the flighty, fashion-obsessed Janet Van Dyne of the 1960s (written by men with bad track records on women) and decide she was no great loss to their cinematic universe, or it could look at the tough badass Wasp of Kurt Busiek’s run and realize what a cornerstone she should be. It could look at the past 10 years of Scarlet Witch being unhinged, or it could look at the previous 40, including her stint as the effective team leader. And we know the MCU is willing to make those kinds of choices because of the choice they made for Tony Stark.

Yes, I’m finally ready to circle back around to Civil War. Tony Stark was a fucking asshole for much of the years leading up to his big-screen debut, especially in the story that Marvel now wants to adapt. Civil War is a story I hate. It basically tossed aside years of characterization, not to mention a lot of logic, in order to find a way to show us heroes fighting heroes. And Tony was absolutely the worst part of it all. He cloned one of his best friends without permission, fought against numerous other friends for an at-best questionable cause, and helped result in the deaths of multiple heroes (albeit unintentionally). Most importantly, he was just a total cunt.

So seriously, why the fuck would you bring that story into the MCU?

For starters, whatever minimal logic the story had going for it in the comics wouldn’t be available in the movies. The “problem” Tony had with his fellow heroes in Civil War was that there were too many, too untrained, and too hard to track or hold accountable. That isn’t the case in the MCU, at all. By the time Captain America 3 rolls around, we won’t even be at double digit superheroes in the entire MCU. And none of them currently have secret identities! What the hell are they even going to be fighting about?!

Secondly, let’s go back to the choice Marvel made when bringing Iron Man to big screens. It was still only shortly after Civil War when the production process started to get going. They could have stuck with the shitty then-recent characterization of Tony, like they might (at least partially) be doing with Wanda, but they didn’t. They made him a charismatic rogue, a narcissist but a wholly lovable one. What’s more, his entire arc in the first Iron Man revolved largely around learning to stand up for the little guy and what’s good, instead of being content to profit from being the head of a massive, destructive organization. Iron Man 2 opened with him telling a Congressional hearing to basically fuck off. He’s been kind of the poster child for not respecting authority. That’s who you want to champion the registration act that starts the Civil War? The comics event was largely an eff you to Tony’s previous characterization, but doing an adaptation for the movies would be an even bigger departure from the MCU Stark.

stark gif

I’ve already seen speculation for how Marvel could pull this off. If Age of Ultron turns out to be Tony’s fault (likely), then he has a change of heart and wants more oversight to protect against similar problems in the future. It’s a plausible arc, but why do it? Why take arguably the most well-liked superhero in movie history and take him down a road that leads to him hunting and fighting his fellow heroes?

I suppose the most obvious answer is that heroes fighting heroes brings in viewers; again, Civil War was a bestseller despite being absolute garbage. But bringing in viewers isn’t exactly a problem for Marvel’s movies. There are plenty of cooler stories they can adapt, not to mention the MCU’s willingness and proven ability to do original plots. Not the least of these alternative stories is Infinity Gauntlet, which has already been set up considerably, and it’s unclear how or if bringing in Civil War would affect that. You would think the Civil War event would stretch beyond one movie, which may delay Infinity Gauntlet; and if it doesn’t delay it, could you really do Civil War in Captain America 3 and then just hop back to Infinity Gauntlet for Avengers 3? Would there even be an Avengers left for Avengers 3? It could be a new group, but it seems a waste to not keep the gang together for at least one trilogy.

Again, Marvel’s track record is obviously impressive, so the popular reaction is to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m usually willing to do that to some extent, but they’re still fallible humans whose track record isn’t spotless. Marvel has proven they can turn big risks like Guardians into smash hits, yet have chosen not to take any “risks” on movies with the lead role as a woman or even person of color. They’re cutting out one of their oldest and best superheroines and might be inadvertently marginalizing another one by giving into the “woman can’t handle her power” trope. And now they’re greenlighting an adaptation of a shitty story that necessitates turning their most liked and likable character into a dangerous prick. If this shit blows up in their faces and DC finally catches up, it’ll be their own damn fault.

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  1. While not the main point of the above post, it’s still interesting timing that a day after I published this critique, DC announced it’s full slate of movies, including making that Wonder Woman solo movie official at last (in 2017). So it appears Marvel has blown its chance to deliver the first movie of the current era starring a superheroine in the lead role.

    However, I should have mentioned and given credit to Marvel for Agent Carter, a show I’m very excited for, and she is indeed a great character. Though I would still point out how much less investment they have to put into a 15-minute short and a short-order series than a full-length action blockbuster. Agent Carter is a great step, it’s just not enough for me to amend my stance that Marvel is showing that developing properties with women or minorities is simply not a priority for the company. Especially not when every day brings a new rumor of another middle-aged white guy in the running for Doctor Strange.

  2. I do enjoy nerd rants, and we should hang out more.

    I think you’re dead on with all your points, concerns and criticisms of the MCU. Civil War was a shitty crossover, like most crossovers, and I abhore the government crackdown on super-powered/”gifted” trope. We’ve seen it in fucking Smallville for Darkseid’s sake. Most importantly, Civil War makes no sense within the construct of the MCU as it stands. Nobody Marvel has introduced so far has a secret identity (do they?); they all work for SHIELD and are government agents. This is the Ultimates, not the Avengers. They are already kind of registered with the government.

    And so, Civil War (if it’s done in any sort of capacity) will certainly be done in the inverse: in the wake of SHIELD’s destruction, that has given the Avengers autonomy, and the result is Ultron. The public’s justifiably pissed/scared/upset, and following Tony Stark’s massive mistake with Ultron, Steve Rogers sees the government and Tony as the problem. From what he’s seen since coming out of the ice, he’s not wrong, and his opinion will fracture the team.

    I’m mostly concerned with what this will do to Tony’s character, as you said, but it kind of makes sense that if he blames himself for Ultron, that he’ll be the one who wants registration. In the comics, it smacked of egotism, power and basically Norman Osborn. In the movies, perhaps they can sell it as Stark punishing himself, constricting himself, preventing himself from making any more mistakes…leading him to make another one by not trusting his fellow heroes to help through his grief/shame/pity party. It’s obvious through their overall chummery and the fact that Bruce Banner is more than familiar with Tony’s feelings that he’d stand by his pal Tony on this one.

    Then Cap and Tony will have a tiff, and it’ll go to blows, Cap will prove he’s right, because Cap is ALWAYS right, and hopefully that’s pretty much the end of it. Honestly, that’d be fairly compelling, and gives these characters a lot to wrestle with, and another feud would be fuel for another team-building exercise like in Avengers, when Thanos/Kang/whomever shows up to rally them all together again. BUT, if it’s not, and it’s an entire manipulative movie dedicated to heroes fighting each other, that’s stupid and insensitive to the heroes we grew up with. WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE IS THIS TO CHILDREN?! Beat up your buddies? Betray your friends? Gulp, kill them? If this leads to Cap’s death, they will have done a massive injustice, rather than simply adapting Ed Brubaker’s Death of Captain America storyline.

    But, there are certainly evidence/rumors that it’s more than that. There’s the fact that Marvel and Sony are in negotiations to share Spider-Man (coinciding with the Civil War news); normally, that would be worth about 13 minutes of pretending to websling around one’s apartment in your Spidey underoos, but under the hospices of Civil War, it makes me feel dirty. I hated that Spider-Man shed his secret identity, and hated even more that Tony Stark tricked him into it/used him to promote a cause. It also, again, would feel disjointed and out of nowhere if Spider-Man was brought into the fold all of a sudden in Civil War. Hey, this guy’s been a thing, and what, his name is Peter Parker? What a mess. I’m thinking the timing on this was just unfortunate, and that even if Sony and Marvel SOMEHOW came to an agreement on sharing webhead, that it wouldn’t come into play for awhile yet.

    The more concerning factoid is that there’s been chatter that Avengers 2 introduces a new team in the end credits sequence: Cap, Falcon, War Machine, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow and probably Vision. This indicates a much longer falling out, with Hulk, Tony, Wasp/Ant-Man (?) and Hawkeye on the other side, which sounds convoluted (and comicbook-y), and inevitably leading to the massive blockbuster, West Coast Avengers. 😉

    Plus, as we’ve discussed and agreed on multiple times in the past: Marvel has struggled to develop interesting and dynamic villains. Outside of Loki, the best villain in the MCU has probably been Bill Paxton’s Clairvoyant/Agent Garrett, and he was on a few episodes of their low-rated TV show. Or Dr. Zola, and he’s been in like 3 scenes in two Captain America movies. This trend, unfortunately, might be why they settled on this (potentially misguided) solution: we can’t make good villains, but we’re incredible at creating heroes. Why not make them antiheroes, or choose America to figure out who the villain is? America loved Walter White, after all. I shudder at this entire paragraph, but if Civil War is what Marvel’s set on for Captain America 3, this logic follows.

    But if the new Avengers lineup is simply a change in the status quo (and a nod to the ever-shifting Avengers rosters in the comics), to allow RDJ to slowly exit the picture, I’m onboard, with of course, the added caveat that a new Avengers team without Captain Marvel or Black Panther is a crock. I’d almost guarantee that those would be the two that will find themselves filling the Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch shoes in Avengers 3, leading into their own solo movies. Yes, it’s taking longer than it should, and DC/WB beat them to the punch with Wonder Woman, and all the reasons you said about Feige’s plan are valid, but I’m still certain that it will happen. If Marvel pulled a WB and announced their slate through 2020, I think many of your concerns/complaints about female heroes and minorities would be momentarily assuaged. Of course, if not, then they have some ‘splaining to do, and it’s easy to ponder if the Civil War news is the chink in Iron Man’s Mark 146 armor that causes Marvel’s cinematic universe to implode.
    Even so, who knows when we’ll learn the rest of Phase 3, which seems more and more like a sequel showdown. Marvel won’t play WB’s game (at least not the same way; and it doesn’t need to, yet), and for now, we’ll have to settle with Agent Carter, the incomparable badassness of Melinda May, perhaps Elektra on Daredevil and Netflix’s forthcoming Jessica Jones show, and brush aside that of the three notable characters Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has killed, two of them were lesbian women in the comic books (Victoria Hand, Izzy Hartley).

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