Never play poker with Kevin Feige.
That man could be standing in front of the actual Captain America answering hard questions and never give up anything. I just saw him, and he never let on even slightly that they were close to dropping news of this magnitude. While the Russos have been dropping some clues about how important “Captain America 3” would end up being to the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe, they really didn't prepare people for the news that broke tonight.
Robert Downey Jr., who so carefully clarified last week that he is not going to be making “Iron Man 4,” was studiously avoiding the real news that was brewing the entire time, and now Variety has the story that Downey is going to join “Captain America 3,” which will most likely be officially subtitled, “Civil War.”
And if that's exciting to you, that's because you have some idea of just how serious the ramifications are for all of the Marvel characters that we've met so far.
I am perfectly happy for the Russos to step up and become the next main honchos of the Marvel movies with Joss Whedon most likely moving on after “Avengers: Age Of Ultron.” Their work on “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is confident and aggressive, and it suggests that they're perfect Marvel directors. They're used to the assembly-line qualities of television, but they're able to deliver something that fits into the house style while still working as a movie first. That's not easy. As much as I wanted to see Edgar Wright's “Ant-Man,” I'm starting to suspect that both Edgar and Marvel dodged a bullet. I think Edgar's voice is so particular, so personal, that I almost hate the idea of him taking some big franchise picture. It'd be a great payday for him, but it would also be a compromise of the freedom that has produced his best work so far.
And that's not a slam on the Russos, either. Like I said, I think they did a really good job on “Winter Soldier,” which I'm rewatching right now. They've got a sense of scale, and they also understand what's fun about the Marvel universe. Whether it's something as simple as Bucky catching the shield when Cap throws it at him or it's the human relationships between Sam and Cap or Cap and Natasha, they know how to play just the right notes.
They may be in it to win it, too. Devin Faraci is reporting the rumor that the Russos will direct “The Avengers 3” and possibly the film that comes afterwards, which speculation has as “Infinity Gauntlet,” or some variation on that basic storyline.
It's important to note that even if “Captain America 3” is officially called “Civil War,” it won't be a straight adaptation of the comic. It's been clear now since they started making their own movies that Marvel isn't too precious about comic continuity or that they're terribly interested in doing direct adaptations of the storylines. It's really fiendishly smart, because they get the best of both worlds. When they announce a storyline or a new character, active fans get excited because they know what it means. If you were in Hall H on the day they announced “Age of Ultron,” it was a crazy wall of sound. People lost their damn fool minds. Ultimately, all fans really know is that they're bringing in Ultron and they're making a bigger movie than the first “Avengers.” The way they're taking familiar characters and story mechanics and using them is totally new, totally different.
That's why people got so mad at me earlier this year when I talked a bit about some of the plans that have been floated at Marvel about the Hulk and his fate in the larger MCU. I certainly wasn't trying to ruin things for people. I'm fascinated by the juggling, by the way each choice they make in these films is tied to a dozen other things. Something like “Guardians Of The Galaxy” may stand on its own, but it also has ramifications for the larger storyline that's already in motion. Because it succeeded, Marvel's got permission to double down on any plans they had. I guarantee they had contingency plans in place just in case the film missed completely. Then again, maybe not. Marvel exudes a certain confidence that the things they're interested in are the things that the audience is going to enjoy. They aren't reacting to anyone. They are doing what they want to do, on their timetable, and there is an intense focus to it.
Someone complained in my last comments section that I keep writing the same story about Marvel. Not completely true, but not completely false, either. Marvel's the one writing the story. I just report on it. Marvel deserves to be where they are right now, both creatively and commercially, because of the chances they're taking and the chances they've taken and the way they've stayed true to the ideas they have. By the time they get to whatever the Thanos event movie is, they will have pulled off of the biggest interlocked narrative experiments in movie history. I'm not sure how anyone ever competes with it, either. If they do it really well, it's going to be such a weird magic trick that we're going to see fall-out from it for the next 40 years of pop culture. That's how big the thing they're attempting is. Marvel has changed the landscape, and if you're not aware of just how fundamentally they've altered it, you're not paying attention.
I may roll my eyes at many of the recent announcements from other studios about their interlocked universes they're trying to create. I think the idea of a shared Robin Hood universe is straight up stupid. I think the notion of trying to spin off a bunch of stand-alone King Arthur movies is ridiculous. I don't care about the Universal Monsters enough to get baited into seeing a movie that looks as plastic as “Dracula Untold” just so they'll get a chance to make a bad “Creature From The Black Lagoon” remake in three years. I think there are very few narratives that demand two or three or six or ten films. I think they come along once in a long while.
One of the reasons the Marvel Cinematic Universe works is because you can explore so many different themes using the archetypes they've established. Any story you want to tell, about any issue, about any type of dynamic, you can do it. You can find the right heroes and the right villains, and you can explore both broad and subtle ideas.
“Civil War” was a great big idea when Marvel Comics used it, and Mark Millar deserves credit for laying out the framework that Marvel will most likely be using. In the comic, there is an incident in which children die, and the reaction from the US government is both inevitable and immediate. They institute a Superhero Registration Act, and all superpowered beings are ordered to register with the government for both training and employment. It led to a rift between Iron Man and Captain America, and considering how important both of them are to the ongoing Marvel Cinemtaic Universe, it would be hard to watch the two of them be fundamentally split by an ethical issue. Both Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans feel indispensable to the larger series as a whole, so it's exciting to think of the two of them going head to head over the direction of the universe's choices.
There is a good chance we're seeing the beginning of one of the biggest of all big canvass movie trilogies of all time. Forget the numbering. The real trilogy here is “Captain America 3,” “The Avengers 3,” and whatever Marvel's untitled big event is for the follow up to those two.
“Secret Wars,” anyone? Sure, Thanos will be involved, but does that mean things will retain the name we know them under? No way to be sure. “Infinity Gauntlet.” “World War Hulk.” “Secret Wars.” There are a number of titles that might be repurposed for the movies. For now, what is certain is that adding Robert Downey Jr. to the mix for “Captain America 3” is another strong and confident move by Marvel to change the way we think about ongoing big-screen storytelling.
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” is in theaters May 1, 2015.