Captain America: Civil War

This feels like a franchise installment. That is to say that this feels like what franchise installments seem to have become: focussed on the future instead of the present. Civil War is nowhere near as much of a cluttered mess as Batman Vs Superman because the story and characters are compelling. However, the universe becomes heavy-handed in a way that it never has before within the MCU. This isn’t a case of there being too many characters—Avengers: Infinity War proves that there’s no such thing—but rather that there are too many introductions. New characters, new locations, returning characters, and returning plot threads all collide through an otherwise good, character-driven story.

On another mission to a foreign country, Wanda Maximoff accidentally destroys a portion of a building containing innocent civilians. As the latest in a long line of damage left behind by The Avengers, the US Government decides to step in, asking that they sign a document compiled by the United Nations. The Sokovia Accords (named after the city that The Avengers dropped from the sky in Avengers: Age of Ultron) would switch control of the team from themselves to the UN and, primarily, the US. This prompts a moral battle between Earth’s Mightiest Heroes which culminates in a straight-up fight, when Steve Rogers/Captain America commits an unsanctioned act. As this is happening, Sokovian Helmut Zemo is framing Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier for the murder of Wakanda’s King T’Chaka and unveiling a dark secret to destroy The Avengers’ friendship.

This is a lot to pack into two and a half hours, but it works because the characters are previously established and grounded in this universe. It is the members of The Avengers and the emotional conflict between them that is at the heart of this story. At the time, the advertising was very similar to Twilight, dividing people into “Team Cap” or “Team Iron Man”. How righteous are The Accords, and should they be signed? The film never gives an explicit answer, treating both sides as equally valid opinions. Cap’s argument is that the Government would use The Avengers for their own means and not in the best interest of the American people. He has lived experience in the area of ‘organisations doing what they think is best’ and has seen how poorly it can end. Meanwhile, Tony’s argument is that The Avengers have inadvertently killed too many people during their battles and that they should be held to account. His decision is fueled by pure guilt, and ignores that civilians would still be hurt if the team was under Government control. The film sits on the fence, trusting the audience to make up their own minds, but there is a correct answer… and it’s not signing The Accords.

This confrontation between Cap and Tony almost reaches an amenable end before Zemo strikes the final blow. Having lured them and Bucky to a secret base in the mountains where Winter Soldiers were trained, he reveals that Bucky murdered Tony’s parents. Their deaths had been unveiled as suspicious to the audience in Captain America: The Winter Soldier but now it is finally revealed to the characters along with the tragic truth. It’s a brilliant plan on Zemo’s part. He is, to date, the only person to defeat The Avengers, who will continue feeling ramifications until Avengers: Infinity War. He knew that emotional scars often cut as deep, if not deeper, than physical ones because he too has suffered. His family was killed when Sokovia fell and it drove him to revenge. When this mission is complete and he is at peace, he feels like his story can come to an end. Peace like this won’t be seen again until the ending moments of Infinity War, but this resonates more emotionally.

Whilst Civil War is telling its story, it is also setting up several others. The fictional African country of Wakanda has been mentioned before, but this is the first time that its people are present with the introduction of Prince T’Challa – The Black Panther. He’s cool and calculating but is overcome with vengeance when Bucky is framed for his father’s murder. This is an interesting element that deserves more time, but there simply isn’t enough to give to it. On top of this is the introduction of Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Aunt May to the MCU. This is the third iteration of these characters in 20 years, so the film assumes that the audience is familiar enough with them to drop them in here. While it’s true that Spider-Man is a popular character, nobody is familiar with this iteration. Audience awareness does not a character make.

This isn’t to say nothing of returning characters who are crossing over for the first time. Scott Lang/Ant-Man has been fleshed out by his own origin movie, but this is his first time with big players like Captain America. It’s clear that he is excited, but there’s barely any time spent on this. Then there is General Everett Ross, whose return here is a significant moment. Until this point, the MCU has felt like it is ignoring the existence of The Incredible Hulk, but including Ross puts that to an end. He is the first character from that film to make his way into the wider MCU, discounting The Hulk himself because he was re-cast. Finally, there is the return of Sharon Carter/Agent 13 from The Winter Soldier who is here to act as a love interest for Cap. She also provides information from SHIELD but her primary existence is as a love interest, which is gross considering she is the niece of Peggy Carter… who was Cap’s last love interest. 

Captain America: Civil War is an enjoyable action-adventure with impactful character moments but it is prevented from being great by setting up too many future stories. It’s an acceptable aspect when done generically and in smaller doses, but there is a limit to how much can be crammed into 2 and a half hours. It leaves this Captain America story feeling more like an Avengers one.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Iron Man 3

*Dedicated to the underappreciated and underpaid Mental Health services around the world. You deserve better* TW: Panic Attacks *

From what I can recall, there are a vast number of people who don’t like Iron Man 3. However, as I researched opinions for this piece, I found that many of those who disliked it at the time had softened to it over the years. Personally, I’ve always thought that Iron Man 3 was good, and have defended it to friends who disagreed, although I’ve never had to put as much effort into defending this as I have Iron Man 2. I think the threequel is the best in the trilogy, and it would appear that this opinion has gained some traction within the fanbase lately. When it comes to “bad” MCU films, I think this is the one that people have come around on the most.

The plot follows Tony Stark as he struggles with PTSD and panic attacks after coming close to death during the Battle of New York whilst attempting to foil a terrorist leader known as The Mandarin, without the aide of his mechanical suits. The film focuses on the elements of Iron Man within Tony Stark , much like the Dark Knight trilogy focuses on the Batman within Bruce Wayne. I’ve seen this levied as a criticism of the film because “you can’t have an Iron Man movie without Iron Man” but that is literally the central theme. Captain America once asked what Stark would be if stripped of his toys and, as this film shows, he would still be a genius capable of holding his own in a fight, and whose sole aim is to protect people. The suits are simply an extension of him, and that only becomes more true the further into the timeline we get with his nano-suits.

I also feel like this film does an excellent job of handling his PTSD and panic attacks. Mental Health is something that the MCU has attempted to handle on several occasions, with mixed results, but I think that Iron Man 3 gets it right. As somebody with a history of panic attacks, I can assure you that they are terrifying to experience. You can attempt to find various triggers, but even then there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to avoid them. In my experience, there is no knowing how long they will last, and the best you can really hope for is that you don’t breathe too quickly and pass out. It’s no joke, and this film never plays it like one, which is greatly appreciated. They also do a decent job of demonstrating that children might not fully comprehend what is happening, and that they may inadvertently trigger an attack without knowing how. Let me reiterate that panic attacks suck, and if it’s happening to someone you know, the best thing you can do is provide whatever they need. They may want space, reassurance, fresh air, or silence, and it’s important that you give them that.

The second complaint I’ve seen is the one that the most people seemed to get hung up on. If, as a fan of Marvel, you were angry with Iron Man 3, then there is a good chance that it was their depiction of The Mandarin. Throughout the course of the film he has been committing terrorist attacks and hijacking the television airwaves to lecture President Ellis of the United States about the lessons he can learn from these attacks. As we enter the third act, it is revealed that The Mandarin is being portrayed by an actor named Trevor Slattery with the “real” Mandarin being Aldrich Killian-CEO of Advanced Idea Mechanics. It’s a hell of a plot twist that I don’t think many people saw coming, and I think that some felt like they had been lied to. I can understand the frustration, especially given Sir Ben Kingsley’s stellar performance, but it feels like a sign that the plot twist did what it was designed to. I also saw some saying it was disrespectful to the original comic book character and I can understand that too. Whitewashing is a very real issue in Hollywood and Marvel has played it’s part in that, but it seems to be something that they were aware of. Neither Slattery or Killian are really The Mandarin, it is simply a title that they stole. The co-writer for Iron Man 3-Drew Pearce- also wrote a Marvel One-Shot titled All Hail The King.

The short film takes place shortly after the events of Iron Man 3, with Slattery in prison for his crimes. Here he is interviewed by an amateur documentarian who is secretly a member of The 10 Rings, sent to break him out on behalf of the real Mandarin. It is often presumed that this short was created as a response to the backlash faced by Marvel for botching The Mandarin, but this isn’t really the case. Plans for this short were already being discussed during production of Iron Man 3, and only a few lines were altered due to backlash… though I have no idea which ones. It left open the door for The Mandarin to one day make his first appearance, and he will finally get that chance, 8 years later, in Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It’s genuinely exciting to me and I wouldn’t be upset or surprised if Trevor Slattery gets name dropped.

In terms of continuity, there’s more closure than there is set-up. Obviously, there is the return of The 10 Rings who made their first appearance 8 films ago in Iron Man. It’s worth noting that they aren’t really The 10 Rings, and are only appropriating their existence, but this group is a decent threat nonetheless. War Machine returns in a supporting role with a brand new paint job for his armour, and a new less-impressive name: the Iron Patriot. Neither of these remain going forward. There’s only one character cameo in this film, bar the end credits, which is Yensen from the original Iron Man in a flashback, and it’s genuinely lovely to see him again. Probably the biggest continuity introduction is the removal of the bomb shrapnel from Stark’s chest, which was a divisive decision as some felt like this should have happened sooner. Personally, I never had an issue with it because it marks a brand new chapter in his life and provides him with emotional closure. He may be present in practically every MCU film, but his trilogy is where most of the character progression takes place so it’s nice to put a little bow on it.

Iron Man 3 is all about closure. It’s the final instalment in the Iron Man trilogy, and the last time that we’ll see Tony Stark take on a threat without a team surrounding him. After this it’s mostly team-up ensemble movies and, whilst that isn’t inherently a bad thing, there’s something special about solo adventures. As solo adventures go, this may have the most heroic score which has been masterfully composed by Brian Taylor. Much like the theme from The Pirates of the Caribbean, I feel hyped listening to it, and I think that this hype is something Iron Man 3 provides. I’d list this as one of the most underrated films in the entire MCU alongside The Incredible Hulk and I’m glad that people are finally feeling the same.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 is often considered to be one of the worst films in the MCU, and the thing is… I don’t think that’s wrong. However, I disagree with anybody saying the film is straight up awful. There are certainly criticisms I can (and will) make, but to write it off entirely kills any real discussion. This mentality of “the film is bad so don’t watch it” is the polar opposite of the ethos that I believe so firmly I made it this blog’s tagline; every film is worth something. It’s a mentality that will crop up a few more times in this franchise, so allow me to say, not for the last time, that even the “worst” film in the MCU is still of average quality. If you see films on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best, then I believe at worst that the worst film in this franchise is still a 5.

Iron Man 2 takes place roughly 6 months after Iron Man and shows Tony Stark grappling with his own mortality as the palladium in the arc reactor in his chest slowly kills him. Meanwhile, he is attempting to prevent the US Military from taking his suits that they have classified as weapons, and surviving attacks from disgraced Russian scientist Ivan Vanko.

The son of Anto Vanko, who had helped create the original arc reactor with Howard Stark in the 1970’s, Ivan has also miniaturised the technology and is using it to electrify a pair of metal whips, whilst disgracing the Stark legacy. All of these events are escalated by weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer who has been hired to build Iron Man suits for the Military and brings Vanko in to assist him.

The film was released in 2010 as the third entry in the MCU, but it sits fourth chronologically. This essentially provides us with a two part story when coupled with the original Iron Man that details the origins of Tony Stark and his struggles. This is also the first of these stories that doesn’t feature an Infinity Stone, instead focussing on the world’s biggest superpower – money. Having watched Tony save his own life and decree himself a superhero in part one, we now get to see the full blown repercussions of those actions. The decaying of his body and his relationships, the attempts by Justin and Ivan on his life, and the overbearing presence of SHIELD are all his own fault. There’s this running joke within the MCU Fandom that everything is Tony’s fault—something worth keeping an eye on as we go forward—and with Iron Man 2 it’s definitely true. Not only has he let his ego run wild, but with his death imminent, he has chosen to let that trait dominate him. It’s only by the film’s climax that he’s even remotely attempting to reel himself in and, despite him being a jerk, it makes him a compelling character.

If the first 3 films in the MCU chronologically are hinting at a larger universe then Iron Man 2 is where we see the first actual signs of set-up. It’s here that we are introduced to Natasha Romanoff, otherwise known as The Black Widow, who is a top tier spy and very attractive and… that’s is all we learn about her. There’s a very real effort on behalf of the filmmakers to let us know how deadly she is, which I won’t fault them for, however it’s done from a very masculine perspective. Her clothes are tight and her hair is frizzy but not messy, and her costume is noticeably unzipped so as to give us cleavage. You would presume that because this was over a decade ago that her character and the way she is treated would change, but this is incorrect and, trust me, we’ll get to that. As far as 2010 character introductions go, this one is fairly solid.

Speaking of character introductions, we are re-introduced to Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes. We had already spent a large amount of time with him in Iron Man but between films actor Terrance Howard was replaced by Don Cheadle, who has played the role ever since. At the time, it was unclear as to precisely why this had happened, and the specifics still aren’t known to anybody outside of the situation, although it appears as though the issue was money related. It’s no secret that Robert Downey Jr was given a significant pay rise between films, and it appears to me as if Marvel was unwilling to extend that same courtesy to Terrance Howard, although that is just a theory. Whilst Cheadle has been brilliant in the role, I can’t help but wonder how much more imposing Howard’s Rhodey would have been. This was the first time that Marvel re-cast a role, but it was by no means the last and we’ll get to them soon enough.

I still have a soft spot for Iron Man 2, as I made clear up front I don’t think it’s bad, but its biggest impact is that it sets up a couple of elements that will crop up again. This isn’t to say that I think the film is boring, I find Ivan Vanko a really interesting contrast to Tony Stark and Justin Hammer is so ridiculously entertaining that I’m a little sad he hasn’t been brought back yet. However the way that the film choses to treat Vanko is far from perfect, seeming to have more interest in the drones that he helped create than the man himself. Ultimately his “climactic battle” is only a couple of minutes long, and it results in his death, making him the 3rd MCU villain to hold this fate and the 2nd by Tony’s hand. The really big takeaways from the plot seem to be that Black Widow is here now, that Agent Coulson is about to handle the discovery of Thor’s hammer Mjölnir and that SHIELD/Nick Fury doesn’t entirely trust Stark. It’s worth noting that Stark doesn’t leave this film as an Avenger, he leaves it as a consultant.

I think this one gets a bad rap, along with a couple of the following films, and I don’t think that’s fair. Like I said, I find it to be really reductive to just write a film off because it’s bad and there are some standout moments. Justin Hammer’s entire character is one of them, along with the way it shows Tony’s insane ego and how smart he is. The guy literally creates a brand new element based on decades old research from his dad. The final thing that gets mentioned a bunch is the theory that the kid in the Iron Man helmet at the Stark Expo is Peter Parker. It’s something that was “confirmed” by current Spidey Tom Holland and MCU Helmsman Kevin Fiege in 2017, but I don’t agree. I think that it’s a nice theory, but that it remains just that. Further, just because you state something retroactively, doesn’t make it true. I’m definitely a little biased on this because I’m not really a fan of the way that Tony Stark has replaced Uncle Ben in the MCU, but that is an issue for another time. As it is, I like Iron Man 2 and I like the way it leads into Tho,r but first it’s time for something incredible.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Iron Man

2008 truly was a different time. When Iron Man was released during the summer of that year: there were no sprawling cinematic universes, The Dark Knight was still in post-production, and I was an 11 year old heterosexual. Over the past 13 years, all of that has changed. Cinematic Universes seem to be a dime a dozen, The Dark Knight has gone down in history as one of the greatest superhero films of all time, and I have become a 24 year old bisexual with a marvellous fiancé. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is how good the original Iron Man is. The origin story of weapons manufacturer-turned-vindicator Tony Stark has found its way into the mythos of popular culture, kickstarting a decade-long franchise that shows no sign of slowing down. Batmen have come and gone over the years but it seems like Robert Downey Jr is practically irreplaceable as Iron Man.

It’s easy to forget just how much was riding on the success of this film. At the time, Marvel Studios was best known for its infamous 1986 movie Howard the Duck, and as a result had sold off many of its most popular characters. The rights for Tony Stark in particular had spent time with Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and New Line Cinema before Marvel reacquired the rights in 2006. Even then, Marvel was relying on Paramount Pictures to actually distribute the film. Meanwhile, the casting of Robert Downey Jr was a major deal considering he was making a career comeback after his well publicised arrest relating to drug possession in the late 1990s. All of this was riding on the shoulders of director Jon Favreau, hot off of the heels of Zathura, and Kevin Feige, who had been present for every Marvel-related film since X-Men. Feige hoped that if this and the following film The Incredible Hulk did well, that perhaps they could make several other films to culminate in a project about The Avengers: Earths Mightiest Heroes.

Needless to say, Iron Man was a success, raking in $585million at the Box Office and earning the title as the 8th highest grossing film of that year. It kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which at the time of publication, has grossed $22.56billion and has practically single-handedly ensured that nerdy film critics continue to have things to write about. I know it sounds like I’m gushing, but I really feel like I can’t overstate how important Iron Man was, and still is. Without it, there is no MCU, and there might not even be an Avengers. There’s an alternate timeline where Kevin Feige’s experiment failed and it is seen as their Dark Universe, but I am so thankful that it’s not this one. With all of that history laid bare, let’s take a look at the film itself to see how it sits within the universe it created.

Chronologically, Iron Man is the 3rd film in the MCU, taking place in 2009. At the time, it was presumed to take place in the year it was released but, with further MCU releases, the timeline became a little bit murky. The official Marvel timeline has it taking place in 2010, closer to the events of the following films. The main reason that Iron Man, and the rest of those “Phase 1” movies, work, is that it stands alone instead of setting up a grander universe. I could write an entire article about why practically every single Shared Universe fails these days, but the main reason is that they attempt to recreate Avengers Assemble instead of Iron Man. Yes, Avengers Assemble was instrumental to the MCU’s success, but it was built on the foundations of Iron Man. This film didn’t set up the universe as much as the universe extracted elements from this film. As a result, this also works as part of the larger story by showing us what happened to Howard Stark, Nick Fury, and Phil Coulson, whilst introducing us to Howard’s grown son Tony who will become a lynchpin going forwards.

Iron Man really isn’t about the MCU, it’s about Tony, so as a result there isn’t much chronology to discuss here. Perhaps the biggest seeds planted are The Ten Rings, and the treatment of villains. In retrospect, this introduction to The Ten Rings is fairly understated. They’re presented as your run of the mill villainous organisation, but they’re never actually “defeated” as such. A couple of seemingly key players die, but the organisation itself will live on to appear again in Iron Man 3 and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The real villain here is Tony’s mentor Obidiah Stane as a representation of Capitalism, which is an irony not lost on me. Special shout out to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, named after the man but not owned by the company, which feels like a reminder of what is to come. Stane ends this film by dying, which is something we’re going to see happen to a lot of these MCU villains, and he’s one of the best ones. Previously we’ve seen Red Skull die but Yon-Rogg survive, so this feels like the start of a pattern.

Iron Man is a film that I have no issues gushing about. It led to a franchise that I love, is arguably one of the most important films in pop culture history, and still genuinely holds up today. It works on its own and as part of a larger narrative that hadn’t even been written yet. The soundtrack is noticeably 2008, which sets it apart from the rest of the film (so is the CGI, though that is consistent through the franchise). I know that what came after has become an unstoppable behemoth and there are some who tire of it, but damn Iron Man is good.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer