*stares at the ceiling*
Hey. Are crossovers actually the stupidest thing ever?
Reviews have started coming in for Captain America: Civil War, and they’ve been so glowing, they might as well be radioactive (if we go by cartoon logic, where radioactivity does that). That’s in stark contrast to, say, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which effectively started off in the 30% range on Rotten Tomatoes and never recovered. That’s good news, of course. As a guy who unabashedly loves Captain America and thinks that the Marvel movies -- despite their groan-inducing status as “mainstream entertainment” -- are pretty good overall, it’s nice to know that I’ll be in for a good time if and when I see it. That’s a lot more than I can say about Batman v. Superman, which filled me with a sense of dread months before it even got released.
Still, how absurd is it that the two biggest comic book houses both have movies where two of their biggest figures go head-to-head? It’s a major selling point for both, really. Batman doesn’t like Superman, so now they have to have a punch-up. Cap and Iron Man have a disagreement, so now they have to have a punch-up. Is it a happy coincidence, or two rivals trying to one-up each other in the battle for consumer dollars? Or is it like that one time in 2013 when two of the highest-profile video games both featured gruff gunmen voiced by Troy Baker playing the surrogate father to secretly-empowered brown-haired girls whose names start with E?
It’s probably a coincidence, but I’m just going to go ahead and pretend that it was part of a web of corporate conspiracies, espionage, and sabotage. It’s more fun that way.
So the thrust of Civil War -- the movie or the comic, take your pick -- is that the superheroes have lines drawn in the sand on certain political issues (i.e. a Superhero Registration Act that’ll limit their freedoms/mobility, or something to that effect), and things escalate to a point where they can’t talk things through. I guess a punch to the face is the ultimate form of conflict resolution, or something. Anyway, the promos out now are hyping up the main event -- this team of heroes is going to fight that team of heroes, and it’s gonna be rad. But is it really, though?
BvS casts that appeal into doubt. It was blatantly obvious going in that the title fight wasn’t going to be the movie’s be-all and end-all. Bats and Supes would disagree, Bats and Supes would fight, Bats and Supes would make up in the face of greater perils; naturally, it would lead to Bats and Supes conclusively teaming up to fight a villain that neither of them could beat alone. Even if the movie was perfectly executed -- trust me, it isn’t -- it’d still be a very basic story with a very basic path to the end. It’d be an exercise in futility, depending on your point of view. The heroes have a spat, but so what? They’ll patch things up before the credits roll.
That might not be the case with Civil War, but this is a Marvel movie we’re talking about. And while I’ll still contend that they’re pretty good, I won’t pretend like they’re not inherently simplistic. The minds behind it have every right to have Cap and Iron Man patch things up by the end of the movie -- doubly so, because Avengers: Infinity War is waiting in the wings. In the worst case scenario, the fight between these heroes is just going to end up as a minor diversion, a bump in the road that gets sped past on the way to the next movie. (As a corollary: even though I enjoy the Marvel movies, you’ve got to have a hell of a lot of hubris to chart out every movie you’ll make for the next half-decade.)
Maybe the bigger question here is a basic one: why do we want to see two big names fight? I’d think that it’s for the sake of seeing contrasting ideals intersect, and the insights gained for both the characters involved and the audience watching. But again, BvS showed just how easily that could go awry. Everything was in service of getting two good characters (not in that movie, but good over the course of eight decades) to hate each other enough to opt for murder, and assume that murder would solve everything. And it’s just like, is that what we want to see?
Do we want to see Batman riddle Superman’s body with kryptonite? Do we want to see Cap and Bucky double-team Iron Man and take turns bashing his face in?
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if allies should never, ever fight; if they didn’t duke it out, then a lot of gaming’s greatest rival battles would cease to exist. But it almost seems like the selling point for these marquis movies is “This is a character you love! This is also a character you love! Now watch them try to beat each other to death, and love it!”
Hell, they’re even getting audiences involved. The Screen Junkies team made an informal voting system where fans could show their support by watching a Superman video over a Batman one. Meanwhile, there’s a Twitter campaign that asks whether you’re on Team Cap or Team Iron Man -- even though I’d imagine that’s a hard choice to make without seeing the movie beforehand and understanding the context of their arguments…but screw that noise. Vote for who you like more! Loyalty to the end!
If it seems like I’m preemptively dumping on Civil War, I don’t mean to. It’s probably going to be a good movie, like The Winter Soldier and The First Avenger before it. But maybe for all the hype that gets generated by seeing two disparate characters come from two disparate worlds, it’s all for nothing. And really, it doesn’t just have to apply to “two guys meet, and now they fight”. Not anymore.
I’ve played enough video games to know that crossovers aren’t exactly known for their narrative heft. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 had some amazing trailers, but its story (such as it was) ended up told in three or four images following a cleared arcade mode run. Doom, Wesker, and the other baddies wreaking havoc together? Nah, son. Oh, but Street Fighter X Tekken has the Pandora element, which could make for a GREAT storyline, and one that’d justify those pricey trailers. Nope. Just SF guys fighting Tekken guys, sometimes in team formats that just barely make a lick of sense. It’d be a hell of a lot of work to make a story for a cast in the 50+ range, but I would’ve taken something over nothing…and I basically got nothing.
Video games aren’t exactly a sterling example, I know. But in the movie space, what’s the biggest crossover we’ve had in a decade? The Avengers. And as fun as that movie was, what substance did it have? Lots of laughs, and lots of action…but did it get the most out of its characters? Did it get the most out of its plot, world, and themes? You could argue that it didn’t really have to -- and that probably would’ve been pretty hard, what with needing to assemble the team and introduce a brand-new Hulk -- but no one would’ve thrown a tantrum if the story went beyond the expected “these guys hate each other, then trouble happens, and now they’re a REAL team!”
Crossovers bring characters together, but the core question is whether or not they’re willing to do anything with them. That’ll always be the question -- and without a proper answer, it’ll just lead to disaster. Maybe not immediate cries of “betrayal”, but someday, someone somewhere might go “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaait…that was kinda bullshit.”
Maybe Civil War will be different. It probably will be different, particularly if Marvel Studios plans to use it as a foundation for future movies. Maybe this will be the signal that they’re moving away from the breezy tone they’ve shoehorned themselves into -- and what better way is there to show that than having dear friends pulverize each other with actual consequences afterward? Going out for shawarma is gonna be a lot more awkward, knowing that the living embodiment of patriotism tried to feed you your own teeth.
So yeah, maybe Civil War is the pivot Marvel’s been waiting to release for a good while. They’ve got the market locked down. They’ve got the resources. Now they need to prove that they can’t just make one movie over and over, with the occasional crossover to feed soma to the masses. Can they do it? If they try, yes. The execs are probably still riding high off of the eleventy zaptillion dollars brought in by The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, but hey. Who are they to purposely go out their way to disappoint fans?
And that’ll just about wrap things up. Let’s all hope for the best -- and that someday, our heroes will all be able to get along again.