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Let’s get this out of the way first: so many spoilers ahead, you guys. So very many spoilers.
I saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier last night, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. So please bear with the incredible amount of spoilers ahead in this week’s Fifth Color, not to mention the rampant speculation about what’s ahead of us yet. This one is big, perhaps the biggest Marvel movie since the first Iron Man.
The short and spoiler-free version is this: Go see the movie. It’s brilliant, very well thought out, and if you’re a fan of the Ed Brubaker years on Captain America, you’ll not only enjoy the tone of the film, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the twists they throw in. #itsallconnected is the simplest way to put it.
This isn’t traditional cinema any more, not with Marvel Studios. Each of its films have been both sequential and separate, with a slowly rising degree of success. By all rights, you should be able to watch The Avengers without watching all of the solo movies that came before it, but you get a grander enjoyment if you’ve seen more. Iron Man was a fun movie, but now it’s even more fun in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Trilogies come close to this kind of storytelling, but even then there’s a commitment to seeing at least the first one to get the idea of what’s ahead. With Marvel, audiences already knows the theory behind superheroes to enable them to jump in when one catches their eye. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, at its best, should be able to be viewed as separate movies and as parts of a whole. However, after Captain America: The Winter Solider, there’s not much of that whole left.
WARNING: Not joking on the spoiler thing. If you are spoiler-fearless, already saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier or just want to jump into the speculation pit with me and float around in a very well constructed cinematic universe, read on!
Holy cats, they blew up S.H.I.E.L.D.!
They blew up S.H.I.E.L.D, both physically and integrally, sending all of their crazy-evil patrol Helicarriers into the Triskellion for a big explosion-y mess and by releasing all of its secrets onto the Internet. There’s little to nothing left, and this is a super-ballsy move on Marvel’s part to basically scrap the underpinnings of its cinematic universe. The studio could rebuild, but that’s going to take a lot of movie and TV time that’s definitely now being spent on a new future. Removing S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t just eliminating a set piece from future projects, it’s knocking out the foundation on which the Marvel Cinematic Universe was built.
With S.H.I.E.L.D. — in the large part, the connective tissue between the Marvel films — now gone, the Avengers can theoretically pick up some of the slack of finding new heroes and legitimatizing them, but there’s no longer an outside governing body. Superheroes will have to step up to protect the world, as global security is going to take a nose dive. But who gives superheroes the authority to do that? Who is in charge of world security now? Who do the Avengers answer to? I’m not saying we’re looking at Civil War in a few years, but … OK, I’m totally saying there’s a Civil War movie story arc on the horizon, and this just might be the first shots fired.
S.H.I.E.L.D. was how we gained the Avengers; the agency started the Initiative, after all. Now that we know the truth about how far the organization had been infiltrated by Hydra, it kind of brings their gathering into suspicion. Maybe that’s why Phase Two of the MCU is clearly centered around destruction of the old and rebuilding with the new. Iron Man 3 had Tony blowing up his armored suits and becoming a new man. Thor: the Dark World told us that the thunder god chose Midgard over Asgard, rejected the throne and returned to our world to be a better man (plus there’s the very subtle regime change after the death of Frigga). In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there’s a moment where they literally tell Cap that sometimes you have to start over from scratch. Phase Two is about letting go of the past and embracing the future.
How is that going to carry over into what’s ahead? Well, Guardians of the Galaxy is clearly about outlaws who decide to start over as heroes. Ant-Man could have a father wanting to be a better man for his daughter, plus that could even refer to Hank Pym or Scott Lang in the movie’s backstory. Perhaps The Avengers: Age of Ultron is about taking that concept too far and Ultron trying to destroy humanity to make way for a robotic future. If that’s the case, and the world finds out that Iron Man nearly destroyed us all by creating Ultron, some sort of government oversight like a Superhero Registration Act doesn’t sound like that bad of an idea. And S.H.I.E.L.D. may just rise again …
From one movie we have so many possibilities for future stories, films and TV series. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. just might become Marvel’s Secret Warriors (if it’s not canceled). I remain impressed and astounded by the detail Marvel Studios has in its movies and the trust it has in its audience. We’re not being given what we like in varying flavors of “dark and gritty”; there’s a whole world of themes and story styling that has an linking element of superheroics. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is different from Captain America: The First Avenger in style and theme, but yet they retain the heart of the central character. The studio trusts audiences to pay attention, sprinkles films with Easter eggs (yay, Stephen Strange name drop!) and ends Captain America: The Winter Soldier in an open world with so much left to explore, knowing we’ll be along for the ride.
Iron Man started the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and all the pieces came together in The Avengers. The previous two films, Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, effectively shut the door on the Phase One story. Captain America: The Winter Soldier blew a new door wide open and got me super-hyped for what Phase Two has in store.