Film Crit Hulk Smash: CIVIL WAR, SPIDER-MAN 2, And The Dangers Of Assumed Empathy

This will probably cause an argument.

THERE IS A FAIRLY COMMONPLACE SENTIMENT AT THIS POINT AND IT GOES SOMETHING LIKE THIS: "WOW! IN JUST 15 MINUTES, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR DID WITH SPIDER-MAN WHAT ALL OF THE MOVIES COULDN'T DO WITH THEIR ENTIRE RUNTIMES!"

FIRST OFF, HOW DARE YOU ALL BESMIRCH THE GOOD NAME OF SPIDER-MAN 2! BUT DON'T WORRY, HULK GETS THE INTENT OF THE STATEMENT. FOR IT IS TRUE IN THE SENSE THAT EVERY MOMENT SPIDER-MAN OR PETER PARKER IS ON SCREEN IN THIS FILM, THEY GOT EVERYTHING "RIGHT" IN TERMS OF HIS CHARACTERIZATION. SO HOW DID THEY PULL OFF THIS FEAT?

... HULK THINKS IT'S BECAUSE THEY WERE ACTUALLY TRYING TO DO IT.

THAT MAY SOUND MEAN OR SIMPLISTIC, BUT IT ACTUALLY GETS TO THE HEART OF WHAT MAKES THESE LATER STAGE MARVEL MOVIES BOTH WORK AND... WELL... NOT WORK.

1. STORYTELLING AIMS

NOW, IT'S NOT AS IF CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR ISN'T "TRYING," FOR IT'S OBVIOUSLY TRYING IN THE WAY THAT ALL BIG HOLLYWOOD MOVIES TRY. THE FILM IS MADE BY FREAKING PROFESSIONALS WHO VERY MUCH WANT TO BE GOOD. IT'S ALL JUST A QUESTION OF WHAT KIND OF "GOOD" IT'S ACTUALLY WORKING TOWARD. SO HULK WANTS TO ZOOM IN AND TALK ABOUT ALL THE THINGS GOING ON IN THESE TWO SPIDEY SCENES IN ORDER TO ESTABLISH THE FIRST KIND OF GOOD.

FOR STARTERS, THE SCENES ARE GENUINELY FUNNY. TONY STARK AND PETER PARKER ARE ENDEARING AND SHOW AFFECTION FOR EACH OTHER. THE PERFORMANCES ARE EARNEST AND PRESENT A RANGE OF CAPABILITY AND SUBTLE UNDERSTANDING OF EACH OTHER. BUT IT'S EVEN MORE THAN THAT ON A WRITING LEVEL, FOR THE INTERACTION BETWEEN TONY AND PETER ACTUALLY HAS MEANING AND AN ARC OF UNDERSTANDING. THERE ARE EVEN LITTLE SLIGHT REVERSALS IN THEIR POWER DYNAMIC. AND WHAT'S SO REFRESHING IS THAT THEY'RE MOVING TO OVERALL GOALS HERE: THE AUDIENCE MUST GET TO UNDERSTAND WHO THIS PERSON IS / WHAT THEY WANT / HOW THEY WILL FIT INTO THE NEXT SCENE. BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, IT DOES ALL THAT WHILE BEING ECONOMICAL AS HELL. IT KNOWS IT HAS TO GET YOU TO BUY INTO THE CHARACTER IN JUST A FEW MINUTES, SO IT FREAKING MOVES ON A PURE INFORMATION AND STORY LEVEL, WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY LETTING IT HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO BREATHE AND FEEL LOOSE ON A TEXTURAL LEVEL. HULK CALLS THIS "OCEAN'S 11 WRITING" BECAUSE ON THE SURFACE IT'S ALL FUN AND GAMES, BUT UNDER THE SURFACE IT'S ALL BUSINESS. AND AS A RESULT, IN JUST 15 MINUTES, THE FILM DOES EVERYTHING IT NEEDS TO DO TO MAKE THE SCENE WORK LIKE GANGBUSTERS ON PRETTY MUCH EVERY LEVEL. SUCH ARE THE BENEFITS OF EMPLOYING GOOD STORYTELLING TACTICS!

HULK ONLY WISHES THE SAME COULD BE SAID FOR NOT ONLY THE REST OF THE MOVIE, BUT WHATEVER THE HELL MARVEL SEEMS TO BE DOING THESE DAYS.

BECAUSE MARVEL STUDIOS SEEMS TO HAVE FIGURED OUT THE SECRET OF WHAT HULK WILL CALL "BASIC AUDIENCE PLACATION." I.E. YOU MAKE FUN CHARACTERS. YOU HIRE GREAT ACTORS. YOU PUT IN THEM IN SITUATIONS WHERE THEY ALL HAVE TO INTERACT. THEN YOU LET THOSE SITUATIONS PLAY OUT IN AS FUN AND DELIGHTFUL A MANNER AS POSSIBLE. WHICH HULK READILY ADMITS IS NOT AN EASY THING TO DO. AND THE HEART IS IN THE RIGHT PLACE. THERE IS REASON PEOPLE GRAVITATE TOWARD THIS STUFF, ESPECIALLY IN THE WAKE OF CHRISTOPHER NOFUN AND THE CURRENT DC SYNDER-SMORGASBORD. WHEN FACED WITH THE TWO EXTREMES, HULK WILL TAKE THE "BE DELIGHTFUL" WITH CHARACTERS PATH EVERY TIME. BUT HULK HAS TO POINT OUT THAT THERE'S NOTHING ABOUT THE "BE DELIGHTFUL" MANTRA THAT INHERENTLY MAKES FOR GOOD STORYTELLING EITHER. IT'S JUST AN AFFECTATION. AND IT'S GOOD FOR ENGAGING AN AUDIENCE ON A BASIC LEVEL.

BUT HULK WOULD ARUGE THAT AS THIS PARTICULAR BRAND OF DELIGHTFUL ENTERTAINMENT CONTINUES TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH THE ESTABLISHED MARVEL FRANCHISE, EVERYTHING IMPORTANT TO TRUE-BLUE STORYTELLING HAS STARTED TO FALL BY THE WAYSIDE.

... IT WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS.

PLEASE REMEMBER THAT THE "PHASE ONE" MARVEL MOVIES (THAT WOULD BE IRON MAN, HULK, CAPTAIN AMERICA, AND THOR) WERE A PRETTY TALL ORDER ON THE STORYTELLING LEVEL. THEY HAD TO INTRODUCE FOUR WILDLY DIFFERENT CHARACTERS FROM FOUR WILDLY DIFFERENT WORLDS AND NOT ONLY MAKE THEM LIKABLE, BUT MAKE THEM COMPELLING. AND THEN THEY HAD TO FIGURE OUT A WAY TO MAKE THEM ALL SOMEHOW COME TOGETHER IN THE AVENGERS. AND WHILE HULK WOULD EASILY ADMIT THAT ALL FIVE MOVIES WERE UNEVEN (SOME MORE THAN OTHERS), THEY ALL STILL WORKED AS BASIC STORIES (NOT JUST IN THE WAY THAT THEY WERE CHARMING). MEANING THE CHARACTERS STARTED IN ONE PLACE AND THEY ENDED UP IN ANOTHER. THEY HAD LOSSES. GAINS. GROWTH. REAL CHARACTER ARCS. AND ALL THE STUFF THAT TRULY MATTERS WHEN IT COMES TO DEFINING NOT ONLY WHO A PERSON IS, BUT THE CHOICES THEY MAKE.

AND HULK WOULD ARGUE THAT'S HOW YOU ACTUALLY GET SOMEONE TO COME ON BOARD AND LOVE A CHARACTER IN THE FIRST PLACE. THAT'S THE REASON HULK CAN REMEMBER SO MUCH ABOUT THESE PHASE ONE MOVIES. THEY WEREN'T A BLUR OF GENIAL GOOD FEELINGS. THEY WEREN'T JUST DEFINED BY CHARACTERIZATION AND JOKES. THEY WERE STORIES. AND AS SUCH, THEY WERE DEFINED BY GREAT MOMENTS. THERE'S THE SURPRISING DEPTH AND REFLECTION OF TONY'S LEGIT ARC IN THE FIRST FILM. THE BOLDNESS OF "I AM IRON MAN." CAP'S JUMPING ON THE GRENADE. THE DRESS AND THE ARRANGEMENT OF THE DATE. THOR'S SMASHING OF THE CUP. THE LAYING OF THE HAMMER ON LOKI. COULSON'S DEATH. "PUNY GOD." THESE AREN'T JUST GREAT CHARACTER MOMENTS, THEY'RE GREAT STORY MOMENTS WHERE BOTH OUR PERCEPTIONS, AND PERCEPTIONS OF THOSE CHARACTERS BY OTHER CHARACTERS, IS CHANGED. 

BUT THEN MARVEL PROCEEDED TO STOP TELLING STORIES.

THAT MAY SOUND EXTREME, BUT FROM THE VERY BEGINNING, PHASE TWO BECAME THIS WEIRD, CYCLICAL EXERCISE IN "LOTS OF THINGS HAPPENING" BUT "NOTHING ACTUALLY HAPPENING." BAD GUYS WOULD SHOW UP. CHARACTERS WOULD SEEM TO STRUGGLE WITH THINGS. BUT IT WAS ALL SURFACE-LEVEL STUFF. MERE LIP SERVICE TO THE IDEA  OF CHANGE. ENDLESS YET TEMPORARY INVERSIONS ALL BEFORE RESETTING THE TABLE WITH EVERYTHING STILL IN PLACE (OR AT LEAST PROMISING IT THAT WOULD BE TO MAKE THE AUDIENCE FEEL BETTER). AND IT WAS DONE COMPLETELY HAPHAZARDLY. HECK, ENTIRE CHARACTER RECONCILIATION MOMENTS WOULD BE PUT IN AS POST-CREDIT STINGERS INSTEAD OF IN THE ACTUAL GOD DAMN MOVIE.

NOW, HULK REALIZES THAT MANY PEOPLE WOULD ARGUE THE TABLE-RESETTING APPROACH "MAKES SENSE" FOR THE MOVIES BECAUSE WE'VE BEEN TELLING COMIC BOOK STORIES LIKE THIS FOR DECADES NOW. WE HAVE THE ESTABLISHED CHARACTERS AND EVERY WEEK WE GO ON THEIR ADVENTURES, RIGHT? SO WE MIGHT AS WELL JUST DO THAT WITH THE MOVIES TOO!

BUT MOVIES ARE INHERENTLY MORE COMPLEX THAN THAT. THEY HAVE DIFFERENT NARRATIVE DEMANDS AND IN FACT, TEND TO THRIVE ON ENGAGING THOSE DEMANDS. REMEMBER, THERE'S A REASON "THE TRIALS" IS ALWAYS THE MOST PRECARIOUS AND MEANINGLESS SPOT IN THE OL' HERO'S JOURNEY. BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO MAKE IT BE MORE THAN MERE WHEEL-SPINNING WITH EXTERNAL CONFLICTS. THE CHARACTERS HAVE TO ACTUALLY FACE THEIR FAULTS AND LEARN LESSONS. THERE HAS TO BE SOME WEIGHT AND HEFT TO THE DECISIONS. THE RULES OF BASIC DRAMA STATE THEY HAVE TO HAVE CHOICES AND CONSEQUENCES. AND WHEN YOU DON'T REALLY DO THAT? THEN THE CHARACTERS AROUND THEM MOST DEFINITELY HAVE TO AND TAKE THE BRUNT OF THE STORYTELLING WEIGHT. GOING BACK TO RAIMI'S SPIDER-MAN 2. THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH OF THAT FILM WAS DEDICATED TO THE STORY / CHARACTER ARC OF DOCTOR OCTOPUS. THINK ABOUT HOW THE FILM WAS REALLY HIS STORY, AND THINK ABOUT THE WAY IT CLEARLY AFFECTED PETER PARKER AND HELPED INFORM HIS OWN ARC. TO MAKE THE POINT CLEAR, THERE ISN'T MUCH THAT'S "NEW" IN TERMS OF PETER'S STRUGGLES WITH HEROISM HERE, BUT THE FILM ENGAGED IN THE SAME QUESTIONS WITH PROFOUND SUCCESS BECAUSE IT CLEARLY DEMONSTRATED CAUSE AND EFFECT WITH REGARDS TO HIS CHOICES. AND AS SUCH, THE STORY / CHARACTERIZATION ENDS UP FEELING EARNED, PERSONAL, AND REAL. SUCH IS THE NATURE OF SPINNING ANY GOOD YARN, ESPECIALLY WITH ESTABLISHED CHARACTERS.

BUT INSTEAD OF SPINNING YARNS, THESE NEW MARVEL MOVIES HAVE BECAME EXHIBITIONS.

GREAT MOMENTS HAVE EVER SO SLIGHTLY BEEN REPLACED WITH GREAT JOKES. ACTUAL CONFLICTS HAVE BEEN REPLACED WITH GENERAL FEELINGS. AND TO LOOK AT THE DOCTOR OCTOPUS APPROACH, YOU'LL NOTICE TOO THAT SO LITTLE ATTENTION IS PAID TO THE VILLAINS OR THEIR STORIES SINCE THE SECOND PHASE STARTED. AND THAT'S BECAUSE THE VILLAINS ARE NOW CONSIDERED MERE OBSTACLES TO THE CHARACTERS "DOING WHAT THEY WANT / BEING THEMSELVES." MEANING IT'S NO LONGER ABOUT VILLAINS BEING OBSTACLES TO THEIR GROWTH, THE VILLAINS ARE JUST OBSTACLES TO THE ENTERTAINMENT. SO THEY TAKE A BACK SEAT AND BECOME BORING FUDDY DUDDIES THAT THE HEROES CAN EFFECTIVELY MAKE FACES AT.

THERE'S A WEIRD KIND OF GENIUS TO THIS IN THAT IT MAKES THE AUDIENCE FEEL GOOD AND LIKE THEY'RE HANGING WITH THE HEROES, THEM AGAINST THE WORLD (HECK IT'S M.O. OF A LOT OF SHANE BLACK MOVIES) - BUT HULK WOULD ARGUE THERE'S A REAL DRAMATIC COST. AND THE FILMS TRY TO ACCOUNT FOR IT. FOR IN PLACE OF DRAMA, THE FILMS ARE DENSELY PACKED WITH AS MUCH POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE AS POSSIBLE. AS SUCH, THERE'S A REASON HULK CAN BARELY REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENS IN MOST OF THE PHASE TWO / THREE MOVIES AND HULK'S SEEN SOME OF THEM MULTIPLE TIMES.

DON'T THINK THAT VERY SMART MINDS DIDN'T KNOW THIS APPROACH WOULDN'T BE FRUITFUL. FOR THE ORIGINAL INTENT WAS TO HAVE THINGS ACTUALLY HAPPEN IN AGE OF ULTRON, LET ALONE CREATE A MENACING BAD GUY WHO COULD ACTUALLY WREAK HAVOC ON THE HEROES. BUT IT WAS ALL STAMPED OUT SO THE COSMIC MONEY MAKING DANCE COULD GO ON. SO INSTEAD OF TONY STARK GETTING ANY REAL COMEUPPANCE FOR HIS HORRIFIC DECISIONS (THAT, YOU KNOW, HAD DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCES), HE JUST LITERALLY DOES THE SAME EXACT THING THAT WENT HIDEOUSLY WRONG THE FIRST TIME AND JUSTIFIES IT WITH A "TRUST ME THIS TIME!" AND IT WORKS FOR PRECISELY NO DRAMATIC REASON OTHER THAN "WELL, WE HAVE TO MAKE THE VISION... SO... UH, HERE HE IS! ISN'T HE GREAT!?!" AND YEAH HE IS GREAT, BUT IT'S NOT JUST LAZY, IT RENDERS THE ENTIRE DAMN POINT OF THE MOVIE / CHARACTER / WHATEVER IT WAS TRYING TO DO, TO BE UTTERLY MEANINGLESS.

REPEAT. UTTERLY MEANINGLESS.

SERIOUSLY, HULK WALKS OUT OF EVERY PHASE 2 MOVIE AND HULK CAN'T HELP BUT FEEL LIKE THE THEMES OF EVERY ONE OF THESE FILMS IS CLEARLY STATED BY CHARACTERS / INITIAL CONFLICT, YET COMPLETELY UNDONE BY THE ACTUAL DRAMATIC TEXT OF WHAT HAPPENS. FOR EVERY DILEMMA / STATEMENT IS ALWAYS "LET OFF THE HOOK" SO THE AUDIENCE CAN BE MADE TO FEEL BETTER. EVERYTHING IS RENDERED TOOTHLESS, ESPECIALLY WHEN THE PHILOSOPHY OF VILLAINY IS CONSTANTLY UNDERMINED TO BE SURE THERE'S AN INFINITY STONE IN THERE SOMEWHERE.

BY THE WAY, THE INSTINCT TO INTRODUCE THE INFINITY STONES IN EVERY MOVIE IS SUCH A WEIRD CONCEPT TO HULK. IT'S LIKE THEY WERE AFRAID TO INTRODUCE SOMETHING LIKE THE WEIRDNESS OF THE INFINITY GAUNTLET SO THEY JUST-HALF ASS A QUASI-INTRO EVERY MOVIE SO AUDIENCES GET USED TO IT / FEEL LIKE THEY'VE BEEN BUILDING TO SOMETHING. BUT BECAUSE THERE'S NO DISCERNIBLE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TESSERACT, THE AETHER, THE MINDSTONE, OR THE WHATEVER, IT JUST FEELS LIKE THE SAME EXACT FUCKING PLOT HAS BEEN DONE NINE TIMES NOW. THEY'RE ALL THE "VAGUELY POWERFUL OBJECT THAT CAN DESTROY THE WORLD." WHICH IS NOT ONLY BORING WHEN THERE'S NO MEANING BEHIND THE URGENCY, BUT IT WILL JUST MAKE THE ACTUAL INFINITY GAUNTLET FEEL LIKE MORE OF THE SAME. SO NOW WE'VE BASICALLY MADE EVERY MOVIE TANGIBLY WORSE IN THE NAME OF EXPLAINING SOMETHING THAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER EXPLAINED WITH A CLEVER INTRO IN THE ACTUAL INFINITY WARS MOVIE (WORSE, THAT COULD HAVE ACTUALLY FELT LIKE IT RAISED THE STAKES). BUT IN THE END, THEY TOOK ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING SCI-FI POSSIBILITIES IN COMIC-DOM AND MADE IT WEIRDLY MEANINGLESS AND ROTE.

HULK'S SORRY BUT WE CAN'T TELL STORIES LIKE THAT AND EXPECT THIS WHOLE SHEBANG TO LAST. YES, ONCE THE VISION SHOWS UP HE'S A CHARMING, WEIRD, AND FUN CHARACTER IN HIS OWN WAY, BUT THERE'S NOTHING THAT STICKS OR MAKES US TRULY CARE ABOUT HIM BEYOND THAT PLAYFUL CHARACTERIZATION. IN FACT, TRYING TO DO ANYTHING THAT GETS IN THE WAY OF THE CHARMING / FUN ANGLE WOULD ONLY HURT MARVEL'S WHOLE "LIKABILITY" THING, SO THEY NOW TEND TO STAY AWAY FROM THAT TOO. WHICH MEANS WE ARE AT THE POINT WHERE MARVEL MOVIES OPERATE FROM A POINT OF BELIEF WHERE ACTUAL DRAMATIC STORYTELLING EFFECTIVELY GETS IN THE WAY OF THE PLACATING "STORY' FORMATS THAT BEST SERVE FOR FUN CHARACTER EXHIBITION.

2. EXHIBITION

MAKE NO MISTAKE, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR IS SUPPOSEDLY GROUNDED IN THE IDEA THAT OUR HEROES ALLEGIANCES ARE COMING TO A HEAD WITH SOME SORT OF DIVISION-WORTHY CONFLICT. THE FILM DRAMATICALLY JUSTIFIES SAID CONFLICT WITH TWO REASONS.

THE FIRST IS AN IDEOLOGICAL BATTLE INVOLVING GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT, WHICH PRETTY MUCH SETTLES ON THE NEXUS OF UNDERSTANDING BOTH SIDES OF THE ARGUMENT FAIRLY EARLY AND IN EQUAL MEASURE BETWEEN TONY AND CAP. MORE DAMNING, THERE IS NOTHING ABOUT THAT ARGUMENT THAT DRAMATICALLY MAKES US THINK WE CAN COME TO BLOWS OVER IT (SPECIFICALLY BECAUSE CAP'S FEARS OF NOT BEING TO PROTECT THE LITTLE GUY ARE NEVER DEMONSTRATED IN THE ACTUAL FREAKING FILM). WHAT'S WORSE, THE REST OF THE CHARACTERS ALL FALL IN LINE ON THIS DEBATE WITH BARELY AN IDEOLOGICAL JUSTIFICATION OF THEIR OWN, LET ALONE ONE THAT ISN'T CONSTRUCTED FROM A PLACE OF BACKWARD COMPATIBILITY. HECK, SOME CHARACTERS SIGN UP LITERALLY FOR NO OTHER REASON THAN "SOMEONE SHOWED UP AND TOLD ME TO." TO JUSTIFY IT, THEY CALL ATTENTION TO IT AND SHRUG IT OFF WITH A JOKE.

IT'S A GOOD THING PAUL RUDD IS REALLY GOOD AT JOKES!

BUT NO WONDER THE AIRPORT SCENE SEEMS LIKE AN EXHIBITION. HULK GETS THE IDEA THAT IT'S SUPPOSED TO FEEL LIKE TWO BROTHERS WRESTLING, BUT AS A RESULT IT JUST FEELS LIKE... YOU KNOW... TWO BROTHERS WRESTLING. NO ONE IS REALLY MEANING IT AND HULK'S SORRY, BUT THAT REALLY DOES UNDERCUT WHAT THEY'RE TRYING TO DO HERE. SURE THE FUN STUFF IS FUN, BUT LIKE THE MAX / FURIOSA FIGHT, SHOULDN'T THERE SHOULD BE SOME KIND OF REAL URGENCY? IS THE ARGUMENT THAT IF THEY ACTUALLY GET DRAMATICALLY ANGRY AT EACH OTHER THEN THE AUDIENCE WILL GET UPSET? AND IF THAT'S THE CASE, THEN WHY DOES THE SCENE END IN THE TRAGEDY OF A CHARACTER GETTING REALLY HURT (BUT NOT DYING, NEVER DYING IN THESE FILMS)? IS IT TO DIRECTLY STEER INTO THE "ROUGH HOUSING" GONE TOO FAR TROPE? WHICH AGAIN, THAT MIGHT BE THE ACTUAL GOAL BECAUSE IT KEEPS THINGS AMIABLE AND FUN THEN SWOOPS IN THE TEXTURE OF CONSEQUENCE, BUT PLEASE DON'T TELL HULK IT MEANS ANYTHING ON AN ACTUAL STORY LEVEL. BECAUSE SET-BACKS REALLY HAVE TO MEAN SOMETHING AND CHANGE MINDS.

SADLY, THE SAME EVEN GOES FOR CAP AND IRON MAN'S FINAL BATTLE. IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE ANGRY AND DEVASTATING. BUT THE "TWIST" FEELS UNSUBSTANTIATED ON A DRAMATIC LEVEL OTHER THAN BASIC FORESHADOWING. WE GET SOME LIP SERVICE, BUT IT DOESN'T FEEL LIKE REAL VENGEANCE FROM TONY UNLESS THE AUDIENCE FEELS LIKE THEY LOST SOMETHING TOO. JUST AS WE KNOW IT WASN'T "BUCKY" WHO WAS ACTUALLY RESPONSIBLE. MEANING EVERYONE HAS THEIR STATED MOTIVATIONS IN THE SCENE, BUT THOSE MOTIVATIONS AREN'T DRAMATIZED TO THE POINT WHERE THEY ARE OUR MOTIVATIONS. SO THE COMPLICATION FALLS FLAT. AND THEN IT'S JUST EMOTIONS RISING TO THE POINT THAT CAP SLAMS HIS SHIELD INTO TONY AND... BREAKS HIS SUIT... THAT'S IT. AND THEN THEY JUST GO ON WITH THEIR HALF-HEARTED STALEMATE WITH NO REAL IMPACT. JUST THEN, THE VILLAIN DELIVERS A SPEECH ABOUT HOW HE HAD REAL IMPACT CAUSE HE MESSED THEM ALL UP AS A TEAM REAL GOOD!

ONLY, NO HE FUCKING DIDN'T. CAP LEAVES TONY A PHONE AND GIVES A SPEECH ABOUT ALWAYS BEING THERE FOR HIM IN ORDER TO... PLACATE THE AUDIENCE AND LET THEM KNOW EVERYTHING IS COMPLETELY FUCKING FINE? ... BLUUUUUURGH. SORRY. IT'S JUST WHEN YOU SEE THIS SORT OF HALF-DRAMATIZED NONSENSE IT CAN'T HELP BUT MAKE HULK'S HAIR STAND ON END. EVERYTHING ABOUT THESE FILMS HAS BECOME A HALF-MEASURE. AND DON'T MAKE HULK GIVE THE MIKE EHRMANTRAUT SPEECH ON HALF MEASURES.

BECAUSE THIS ALL BRINGS US TO THE SECOND AND FAR MORE STORY-CRITICAL REASON FOR WHY THIS ENTIRE CONFLICT TOOK PLACE: THE WINTER SOLDIER HIMSELF, BUCKY BARNES. AND WHAT TRULY DAMNS THAT STORY DECISION, HECK, WHAT EXISTS AS THE TRUE CARDINAL SIN OF THE WHOLE MOVIE AND PRETTY MUCH THE ENTIRE MCU IN GENERAL RIGHT NOW, IS THAT THEY DON'T DO ANY ACTUAL CHARACTER WORK FOR BUCKY. MEANING THEY DON'T REMEMBER WHAT THEY DID IN THOSE SUPER FUNCTIONAL SPIDERMAN SCENES...

THEY DON'T WORK FOR YOUR EMPATHY, THEY ASSUME IT.

ASSUMING EMPATHY IT IS THE MOST DANGEROUS THING YOU CAN DO IN A MOVIE, ESPECIALLY ONE THAT IS TRYING TO GET BY ON CHARACTERIZATION ALONE. BUCKY BARNES IS ALL ASSUMED EMPATHY. AND LOOK, HULK LOVED THE FIRST CAPTAIN AMERICA MOVIE BUT HULK COULD NOT TELL YOU A DAMN THING ABOUT BUCKY FROM IT. WHICH IS WEIRD BECAUSE CAN TELL YOU THE DETAILS OF EVERY SCENE BETWEEN HIM AND PEGGY CARTER. BUT ALL THE BUCKY STUFF IS MERELY SERVICEABLE TEXTURE. HE'S A PROP BEST FRIEND WITH A PROP DEATH IN THAT MOVIE. AND WHEN THEY BROUGHT HIM OUT FOR THE SECOND ENTRY, HULK CAN'T TELL YOU HOW MANY PEOPLE (WHO LIKED THE FIRST MOVIE) COULDN'T REMEMBER WHO HE WAS OR WHY HIS COMING BACK MATTERED. IT WAS ONE BIG "WHO IS THAT AND WHY DO I CARE?"

AND RATHER THAN ACTUALLY DIVE INTO THIS QUESTION IN WINTER SOLDIER AND ANSWER IT DRAMATICALLY, AS IN RATHER THAN GET INTO BUCKY'S REDEMPTION AND RETURNING TO FORM, THEY STAVE IT OFF COMPLETELY FOR THE NEXT MOVIE WHERE... THAT DOESN'T QUITE HAPPEN EITHER. AS SUCH, HE BECOMES YET ANOTHER PROP. WITH CIVIL WAR THIS IS TWO MOVIES NOW WHERE HE DOESN'T HAVE A DAMN THING GOING ON. HE IS AN OBJECT THAT IS EITHER IN CONTROL OR OUT OF CONTROL. ALL THERE IS IN TERMS OF MEANING IS CAP'S DEDICATION TO HIM. AND WE ARE SUPPOSED TO CARE ONLY BECAUSE CAP CARES. YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO HEAR TWO LINES OF DIALOGUE ABOUT THE GOOD OLD DAYS AND BE READY TO GO AGAINST THE BELOVED TONY STARK FOR THIS... WHY?

AGAIN. THIS WOULDN'T BE SUCH A BIG DEAL, BUT THIS CHARACTER IS THE LINCHPIN OF THE ENTIRE MOVIE, NAY THE LAST TWO MOVIES.  AND YET HE HAS NO REAL ARC, JUST MERE TEASING OUT OF THE POSSIBILITY OF AN ARC - AND WONKY MOVEMENT BACK AND FORTH DEPENDING ON WHAT IS MORE CONFLICT-ORIENTED TO THAT MOMENT ASSUMING YOU'LL CARE... BUT HULK'S SORRY, IT HAS TO BE MORE THAN STEVE ROGERS CARING ABOUT BUCKY.

WE HAVE TO CARE ABOUT HIM TOO.

IT'S ALMOST LIKE MARVEL SAW ALL THE TUMBLR SHIPPING ART OF THE TWO OF THEM AND WAS LIKE "GREAT! EVERYONE LIKES THEM SO WE DON'T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING ELSE!" AND IT MAKES YOU THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH WORK THEY DID IN ESTABLISHING THESE CHARACTERS IN THE FIRST PHASE. JUST AS IT REALLY MAKES YOU REALIZE HOW MUCH THEY'VE STOP ESTABLISHING AND ARE JUST COASTING WITH THEM NOW. ARE WE GENUINELY SUPPOSED TO CARE THAT BUCKY WAS THE ONE WHO KILLED TONY'S PARENTS? AGAIN, WE KNOW IT WASN'T "HIM." AND IN TERMS OF PARENTAGE, WE CLEVERLY WE GET A SCENE THAT JUSTIFIES IT ON A BASIC LOGIC LEVEL. BUT HULK'S SORRY, IF WE ARE TO GENUINELY CARE, THEN WE NEED MORE THAN THAT TOO. THE LINE "HE KILLED MY MOM" IS THE LINE TO SEAL IT TOO, A GREAT LINE. BUT WE NEED TO SEE WHY MOM WAS SO IMPORTANT TO HIM.

AND THAT REVEALS SOMETHING ELSE: WE HAVE NO COHERENT IDEA WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON WITH TONY IN THIS MOVIE, DO WE? WE GET A LOT OF GLIMPSES, BUT IDEOLOGICALLY, HE'S PING PONGING BACK AND FORTH WITH WHAT THE STORY DEMANDS. DOES HE NOT WANT TO PUT KIDS IN HARMS WAY? "HEY, PRE-TEEN SPIDERMAN, COME FIGHT A VOLATILE MAGIC WITCH WHO ACCIDENTALLY KILLS PEOPLE!" JUST AS HIS PERCEPTIONS PING-PONG BACK AND FORTH AS WELL. WE NEED MORE THAN AFFECTATION AND TEXTURE. WE NEED TO KNOW THE WAY THIS PERSON WAS SHAPED SO THAT IT CAN INFORM THE CHOICES HE'S MAKING. THAT'S HOW STORIES WORK BEST. BUT INSTEAD, THEY'RE JUST COASTING WITH THESE MAIN CHARACTERS NOW.

WHICH MAY BE EXACTLY WHY THEY ARE TRYING TO FILL THE MOVIES WITH SO MANY OTHER NEW CHARACTERS. WHICH IS, IN TURN, PROBABLY THE REASON BLACK PANTHER AND LIL BABY SPIDERMAN (BEST SAID LIKE LIL BABY JESUS) ARE THE MOST EXCITING PEOPLE IN CIVIL WAR. IT'S NOT JUST THAT THEY'RE "NEW," IT'S THAT THEY'RE THE ONLY TWO CHARACTERS WHO SEEM TO HAVE ANYTHING HAPPENING ON A STORY ECONOMY LEVEL. MEANWHILE, IT SEEMS LIKE EVERYONE ELSE IS WORKING OFF ASSUMED EMPATHY. CAN HULK JUST STATE AGAIN THAT ANT-MAN IS LITERALLY THERE FOR NO REASON? THEY KNOW THIS TOO, SO THEY READILY CALL ATTENTION TO IT IN ORDER TO MAKE THINGS MORE CHARMING. TO WORK WITH THE FACT THAT YOU OF COURSE LOVE SEEING THEM ALL TOGETHER SO MUCH. THAT YOU WANT TO SEE THEM FIGHT. THAT YOU WANT THEM TO CLASH TOGETHER THE WAY YOU WOULD FIGHT WITH ACTION FIGURES, BUT AGAIN, IT ALL JUST REACHES THIS CRUX WHERE: YOU CAN NEVER STOP LIKING ANY OF THEM. AND EVERYTHING HAS TO BE MEANINGLESS IN ORDER FOR THAT TO BE TRUE. ALAS, EVEN THE FUN SPIDER-MAN SUBPLOT IS A NOTHING MORE THAN AN EXCUSE TO PUT SPIDER-MAN IN IT... BUT THAT'S BECAUSE EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS MOVIE IS AN EXCUSE TO DO "______."

HULK WOULD ARGUE THIS COMPLAINT ISN'T SOME DUMB LOGICAL POINT. THIS ISN'T A "MOVIE STOPPER" NITPICK. THESE ARE THE TENETS OF BASIC DRAMATIC CONFLICT. AND THE FILM PURPOSEFULLY WORKS OF THE FLIMSIEST OF FLIMSY CONSTRUCTS IN ORDER TO DELIVER YOU IN THE SPOT IT KNOWS YOU WANT TO BE.

MEANING THE ENTIRE MOVIE IS AN EXCUSE FOR ITSELF.

AND AS COMFORTING AS THAT MOVIE IS, HULK WOULD ARGUE THERE IS A REAL OVERALL EFFECT TO TELLING STORIES LIKE THIS. ESPECIALLY AS MARVEL IS JUST GETTING MORE AND MORE CONFIDENT GOING DOWN THIS PATH. RATHER THAN HITTING YOU WITH THE IN-THE-MOMENT "THIS FEELS WRONG" OF A BAD STORY CHOICE (OR EVEN JUST A TRULY EFFECTIVE ONE THAT SIMPLY MAKES YOU FEEL BAD), THEY'D RATHER YOU JUST FEEL GOOD AND SAFE. HULK WOULD ARGUE THERE IS A KIND OF NUMBING EFFECT TO THIS CHOICE. REMEMBER THAT THE LAST ACT OF THE AVENGERS WORKS LIKE GANGBUSTERS WITH THRILLS AND CHILLS, PRECISELY BECAUSE IT ENGAGES AND SELLS THE DRAMA. BUT IN COMPARISON, HULK WATCHED CIVIL WAR WITH A KIND OF DULL, PLASTIC SMILE. HULK SHOULD HAVE SPENT THE MOVIE FRETTING FOR EVERYONE'S SAFETY AT EVERY GODDAMN MOMENT. INSTEAD, HULK GOT A MOVIE WITH LIP-SERVICE CONFLICT AND A SERIES OF GENUINELY AMUSING QUIPS. AND YUP, THAT'LL PLACATE HULK RIGHT AND GOOD, BUT IT DOESN'T SATISFY IN THE CORE WAY THAT EVERY PHASE ONE MOVIE KNEW IT NEEDED TO IN ORDER TO GET AUDIENCES ON BOARD. AND AS A RESULT, HULK GENUINELY BELIEVES WE'RE EXPERIENCING THE "PIN IN THE AIR MATTRESS" - AN EFFECT THAT SLOWLY DECOMPRESSES WITHOUT YOU REALIZING.

AND NEXT THING YOU KNOW YOU'RE SLEEPING ON THE FLOOR.

3. ELEVATION

... IT'S WEIRD TO BECOME A HULK WHO SAYS ALL THIS STUFF.

TO GO FROM CHAMPIONING WHAT MARVEL WAS DOING TO GLANCING AROUND THE ROOM TO SEE WHO ELSE CAN SMELL THE POOP. AND IN CASE IT ISN'T OBVIOUS, ALL OF THESE STANDARDS COMES FROM THE FACT THAT HULK LOVES THE MARVEL UNIVERSE. HULK GREW UP READING THE COMICS, WATCHING THE OLD TV SHOWS, ALL THAT STUFF. AND TO GROW UP AND SEE THE WAY ALL THESE CHARACTERS CAME TO THE FOREFRONT OF THE POP LEXICON IS, AS A FAN, A DREAM REALIZED. THE HIGH POINT OF WHICH IS PROBABLY THE AVENGERS, WHICH IS A NOT SO MUCH A GOOD MOVIE AS IT IS A SPECTACULAR CONCLUSION.

AND SINCE THEN, MARVEL HAS FIGURED THIS WEIRD WAY OF MAKING SERVICEABLE MOVIES BY TAKING THE LESSONS OF THAT LAST ACT AND WORKING BACKWARD TO EMULATE IT AT ALL TIMES, BUT NOT DOING THE REAL WORK THAT GETS YOU THERE. MEANING IT HAS BECOME THE STUDIO'S WEIRD QUEST TO REMOVE THE 'BAD SCENES" AKA THE SCENES AUDIENCES DON'T "LIKE" AND AS SUCH IT HAS INDOCTRINATED ONE OF THE WEIRDEST WORKING MODUS OPERANDIS HULK CAN THINK OF. THIS IS THE GENUINE PROCESS BTW: THEY PUT TOGETHER INOFFENSIVE CHARACTER-CENTRIC SCRIPTS WHERE NO ONE SEES THE HUGE STORY PROBLEMS ON THE PAGE (PEOPLE ARE BAD AT READING SCRIPTS ACROSS THE BOARD). THEY HIRE GREAT ACTORS. THEY PUT ACTION SCENES INTO SECOND UNIT HANDS. THEY SHOOT THE SUCKER THEN GET INTO THE EDIT. AND BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE BETTER WITH SEEING MOVIES THEN THEY ARE AT READING SCRIPTS, THEY THEN REALIZE THE STORY DOESN'T WORK. SO THEY RE-SHOOT HALF THE MOVIE (THIS IS ALL PLANNED BEFOREHAND) AND INCLUDE A LOT OF THE STUFF THEY THOUGHT THEY NEEDED IN THE FIRST PLACE TO MAKE IT WORK. THEY THEN TAILOR THE FINAL PRODUCT TO BE AS ROUND AND SAFE AS POSSIBLE. THE MOVIE IS THEN GREETED WITH EITHER WITH A SHRUG OR A HEARTY LAUGH AND A SLOW SLIDE INTO FORGETTING.

THE END RESULT OF THIS IS RATHER THAN GROW TO UNDERSTAND THE MEDIUM AND WHAT MAKE PHASE ONE FILMS SUCCESSFUL ON A DEEPER LEVEL (ALONG WITH ALL THOSE PESKY UNLIKABLE ASPECTS), THEY INSTEAD LEARNED HOW TO EXPLOIT THIS MEDIUM TO GET THE RIGHT AUDIENCE-PLACATING RESULT.

HULK KNOWS THIS SOUNDS SUPER CYNICAL. AND WHO KNOWS, MAYBE THEY'RE RIGHT. HULK GENUINELY WISHES HULK COULD ABIDE BY ALL THIS AND GET ON BOARD AND AGREE THAT THE RESULT IS CHARMING ENOUGH TO MERIT VALIDITY... BUT IT'S JUST NOT ENOUGH FOR HULK. HULK LOOKS BACK AT SPIDER-MAN 2 AND SEES ACTUAL STORYTELLING AND ITS BEAUTIFUL EFFECT. AND EVEN WITH MARVEL'S SUCCESS, HULK JUST SEES IT ALL DISSIPATING SO SLOWLY, EVEN IF IT'S TO THE TUNE OF HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS AND GENERAL ACCLAIM. JUST AS HULK CAN READILY ADMIT THAT THE PROBABLE WORST RESULT OF ALL THIS IS PROBABLY NOTHING MORE THAN A SQUANDERED STORYTELLING OPPORTUNITY.

BUT WHEN IT COMES TO THAT STORYTELLING, HULK IS CERTAIN: THESE CHARACTERS HAVE STOPPED MAKING ANY KIND OF REAL CHOICES THAT MATTER. TO THEM. OR TO THE WORLD AROUND THEM.

AND HULK WOULD ARGUE THAT MATTERS.

BECAUSE WHEN HULK THINKS BACK TO WHAT MAKES FOR THE BEST RUNS OF FAMOUS SUPERHERO COMICS, WHETHER IT'S ALAN MOORE'S SWAMP THING, KIRBY AND LEE'S "COMING OF GALACTUS", BRUBAKER'S DAREDEVIL, GRANT MORRISON'S ALL STAR SUPERMAN, OR GAIMAN'S SANDMAN.... IT'S BECAUSE THEY ARE ALL INCREDIBLE STORIES. MOMENTS OF REAL CHANGE AND LOSS, INTEGRATED INTO THEME. THE STUFF WE DREAM ABOUT WHEN WE THINK ABOUT THE CAPACITY OF THE MEDIUM.

AND WHEN HULK THINKS OF SOME FUTURE WHERE HULK WILL LOOK BACK ON THESE MARVEL MOVIES, HULK WILL REMEMBER... LIKING THE ACTORS? THAT FACT ALONE SHOULD BE TELLING. YES, HULK KNOWS YOU CAN DEFEND THE LIKABILITY OF THESE MOVIES. HULK KNOWS YOU CAN DEFEND THE PLAY-TIME ASPECTS AND THE CHARACTER EXHIBITION... BUT WHY OH WHY WOULD YOU NOT WANT MORE THAN THAT? WHY DO WE SETTLE FOR THE DAY TIME SERIAL REALITY OF THE MCU? WHY WOULDN'T WE WANT THESE STORIES TO ACTUALLY FEEL EPIC INSTEAD OF JUST BEING ABOUT EPIC THINGS? WHY WOULDN'T WE WANT THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF ACTUAL DRAMA? IN THE END, ALL HULK HAS IS AN ARGUMENT:

WE NEED MORE THAN STORIES THAT SIMPLY FEATURE GREAT CHARACTERS.

WE NEED GREAT STORIES THAT ELEVATE THEM.

<3 HULK

Related Articles

Comments