Marvel Studios may have finally crossed the point of no return.
With the release of Captain America:The Winter Soldier, the Disney/Marvel powerhouse has given us the first page to film adaptation that truly mimics the internalized feeling of reading a comic book. Avengers came close, I will admit, but Winter Soldier is the first film where established characters mingling organically within a shared universe isn’t treated as a gimmick. There is a significant difference in the way Captain America handles the idea of our central character teaming up with other heroes and the way Avengers did. Specifically, here it is treated as the status quo. In the Avengers, everyone teaming up to save the day seemed like a novel approach to deal with the threat at hand. Here, it’s simply the way things are and it is for that reason that anyone who reads Marvel comics on a regular basis can attest to why Winter Soldier felt the most like an actual comic brought to the screen than even Avengers did.
In any given Marvel book these characters will cross paths and help each other with their various ordeals and the reader doesn’t bat an eye. That is just how things work in the Marvel universe. Winter Soldier is the cinematic equivalent of that phenomenon. The world building that has been in development since Ironman back in 2008 has finally peaked with Captain America:The Winter Soldier. Marvel has successfully translated not only their characters but the overall feeling of their shared comic book universe onto film. A bigger accomplishment than successfully adapting these characters to another medium has been Marvel’s ability to change the way the modern movie-going audience thinks about the idea of franchise films and the importance of each sequel moving forward. Just look at the way audiences react here in 2014 compared to 2008. Now, the idea of leaving a Marvel film before the credits end is absolutely ludicrous. As an audience, we’ve been trained like Pavlov’s dogs to salivate at each teaser sting. We know Marvel’s films are woven together like a web and we’re all just waiting to see where the next thread goes. When Man of Steel was released last year, several reviews remarked at how DC didn’t even attempt to make any hints at connecting a larger universe. Marvel has associated the idea of the larger universe with their own brand and marketed the idea of the interconnected world of superheroes as the only way to be successful in the comic book movie world. In short, much like their reinvention of storytelling in the sixties, making movies “the Marvel way” has become synonymous with success.
In honesty, Captain America : The Winter Soldier is a success on multiple fronts. As a standalone film it breaks the mold set by its predecessor and becomes bigger and bolder than the first film ever attempted to be. When the news broke that the film would be directed by Communty alum Joe and Anthony Russo, the internet seemed ready to decry the move as Marvel’s first major misfire. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Left field choices for directors often yield amazing results and Marvel is never one to shy away from odd choices. Let us not forget that the fella who directed Elf gave us Ironman. Wild-card director James Gunn is bringing us Guardians of the Galaxy later this year. Essentially, what films like Winter Soldier show is that Marvel is gaining ground by making bold choices and trying new things. The Russo brothers show that they can stage an action scene better than anyone else in the game. The fight scenes are phenomenal and, what’s more, they are edited in a manner that makes them vibrant and aggressive without being incomprehensible. The action in the first Captain America film was passable, but not truly memorable. That film was helmed by veteran director Joe Johnston, who brought us action classics like The Rocketeer, and while I don’t want to take away from how effective The First Avenger was, it stands in a very dark shadow cast by its sequel. Everything about Winter Soldier is bolder than First Avenger. The only thing anyone can say about Captain America : The Winter Soldieris that by virtue of being a sequel to, in truth, a number of other films, it doesn’t earn its own effectiveness by its own merits. The film simply could not exist without the rest of the Marvel cinematic universe evolving to create the DNA from which it was spawned. While the film could be viewed by itself on its own, so much of what makes it truly sing is how well it builds on the ideas of others.
That is truly what makes it an honest to god “comic book” movie.
The world of comic books have been building upon what came before for the better part of seventy five years. Ed Brubaker turned Captain America on its head when he wrote the Winter Soldier storyline in the comic series. Nobody can deny that. But the effectiveness of that story arc also owes to decades of sentiment built up over the Captain America/Bucky dynamic that dozens of writers had toyed with in the pages of multiple comics. Dismissing Captain America because it embraces its place in a shared cinematic universe is a mistake. A few reviewers have lamented the ability for new viewers to hop on board the Marvel train because of how dense the world is becoming, and yet those same reviewers are quick to dismiss the idea of rebooting a franchise like Spider-Man or Fantastic Four so quickly. Essentially, walking into a Marvel film from this point on requires the audience to be on board and in a mindset that is not asked of the audience of any other major franchise. Marvel has made movie fans into comic book nerds without them even noticing.
Captain America : The Winter Soldier is equally as ambitious as Avengers was, simply in a different manner. It is a subtle difference, which might seem odd considering that the film is as loud and bombastic as it is, but in the end I feel like it is also will go down as one of Marvel’s biggest victories as it firmly establishes a mindset that the audience has to embrace to enjoy the total package. Only time will tell if theater goers have truly embraced that mindset. I would say the opening numbers for Guardians of the Galaxy will tell the whole story. Until then, Marvel still has a lot to be proud of. This is truly a massive achievement, and comic book fans should be very, very happy about the future of comic book films. At least as long as they’re produced by Marvel.
If I had to give one endorsement to the new Robocop movie
It’s the best Robocop anything we’ve gotten since 1987.
I really am not the person who needs to be writing this review. There are many people who have more right to tell you why this book existing is good for Marvel, good for comics, good for diversity, good for female readership, just plain good. I am not the person who should be typing these words. I am a straight, white, male. There are plenty of books on the shelves for me. I can read just about any mainstream title and enjoy a sort of wish-fulfillment fantasy by swapping myself out with the title character. I could be Batman. I could be Captain America. I could be Peter Parker or Tony Stark. I could be Bruce Banner or Wolverine or Superman or Cyclops. The generic template for the superhero is one of the straight white male. We are the default, the blank slate. The starting point for 99.99% of mainstream comic characters. There are some wonderful characters that are more diverse and I am sure they are inspirations to the younger generation of readers discovering comics in this sort of geek renaissance that we are experiencing, but the comic book world needs and deserves more. As a white straight male I understand this. I know that seeing the same white straight male characters ad nauseum gets repetitive and boring. I myself am guilty of being repetitive and boring. I imagine that folks who do not identify as straight white males find it frustrating, to say the least, that there aren’t a greater number of characters out there for them to identify with. Marvel seems to be attempting to rectify that by not only developing new characters that stand apart from their white male brethren, but giving them real focus in their own books. We’re getting a Latino Ghost Rider solo book soon, people. Sit and think on that for a minute.
So Ms. Marvel is indeed a refreshing book. We have a female lead, still a teenager dealing with school and family issues in the tradition of great Marvel heroes like Peter Parker. We have a character who is of Pakistani descent living in New Jersey in a post-9/11 world, dealing with the ramifications of her own culture as it relates to her social life or lack thereof. If anything, this book is one of the most honest looks at the perception of “the foreign other” in the high school structure that I can remember in recent memory. I had a good friend in high school who went through much of the same struggle that our protagonist, Kamala, goes through in this issue; the balance of faith and family with school and societal norms. Kamala is a very realized character. She wears her inner conflict on her sleeve. Who she is and who she wants to be are at odds with each other in a way that feels very human and real. She is a teenage girl dealing with serious issues, the escapism that she seeks through writing Avengers fan-fiction is a solid indicator of what Kamala truly is like as a person. She longs for power as a means of control, not of others but of herself. She sees strength in The Avengers and admires it.
From a writer’s standpoint the issue is quite strong. We are introduced to the character and we organically learn her motivation. We take the journey with her and we can empathize with her because even if everyone reading the book isn’t Muslim, we all can sympathize with being a teenager and disagreeing with our parents over the level of trust and responsibility we were mature enough to bear. That is why it is so important to have books and characters like these, because there is an across the board connection that we can feel with the character regardless of our race or upbringing. There is a universal quality to any character in a comic book. We can relate to a talking raccoon and his sapling BFF so we should easily be able to identify with another human being, regardless of their nationality or heritage. But it is important that these characters exist for that one comic reader who is the real-life iteration of Kamala who wants to be represented in graphic fiction. She deserves this character. We all deserve this character.
Artistically speaking the book is an A-plus effort. Adrian Alphona puts some gorgeous artwork on display. It takes me back to the days when Runaways was still being published and makes me wish there was more stylistically emboldened artwork like this on more titles. The colors and the expressiveness of the characters blend together to make a truly astonishing debut issue that sets it apart from the myriad other first issues that hit the stands on any given week. Honestly, the book is simply gorgeous.
I shouldn’t be the one saying this but everyone should buy this book. It is an important book. But it is also a good book. Sometimes we have to suffer through importance but this time around we actually get to enjoy it. So please take the time to do so.
I won’t be watching the Super Bowl tomorrow. Not because I’m against sports or the usual drivel tossed out by need folk whenever the general population gets excited about something but because #nursemchurt and I will be recording a new #popandschlockpodcast around that time.
Basically, I’m really bad at planning things y’all.