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“Before We Get Started, Does Anyone Want To Get Out?

I was watching CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER the other night, because my wife and kid were visiting her grandmother and I was holding down the fort and it is my favorite of all the Marvel films. Captain America has been my favorite Marvel character since before I could actually read; S.H.I.E.L.D. has been my favorite part of the Marvel universe since I actually could. I’m totally in love with Robert Redford thrillers from the 1970s like THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, and this one has actual Robert Redford in it, in case you missed that the Russo Brothers were doing a love letter starring Cap and S.H.I.E.L.D. to Robert Redford thrillers from the 1970s.

You basically couldn’t do a Marvel film more targeted to my interests.

So I’m digging the film for the thousandth time, and loving the introduction of Mackie and seeing the Widow and loving seeing the Bantu Wind or the Lemurian Star or whatever that ship was called from the episode of AGENTS OF SHIELD from the Tuesday before its theatrical release, and Arnim Zola and Batroc (zee Lee-PAIR!) and the “Before we get started, anybody want to get out?” elevator scene, and all the Hail Hydra and oh, my God, Agent 13, and the whole film is one giant progressive complication for Steve Rogers and and and

…and I realize, in a movie with Robert Redford and Jenny Agutter and all the mighty pantheon of franchise carriers, in one pivotal scene, starring a nobody dayplayer with a couple lines… the Russo Brothers, the screenwriters, and that actor whose name I should really look up because he acted the HELL out of this line:

“Sorry, sir. I’m not going to launch those ships. Captain’s orders.”

I swear to God I tear up when we get to that bit in the flick EVERY TIME.

It’s all right there in that one scene; how Marvel Studios keeps churning out billion dollar grosses like it’s just another day at the office, and DC films are mostly satisfying little confections if you have a sweet tooth, but nothing to tell your friends about, really. At first, it really doesn’t make sense. How do you mess up films with Superman and Batman? There have been good Superman and Batman movies for forty years.

You know what Marvel is doing DC isn’t? Telling personal stories with characters they understand. Characters they’ve taken the time to make the audience care about, if not outright love.

DC Comics characters have always been about escapist entertainment; a modern pantheon of Greek gods. An Ubermensch, an impossibly rich man stooping to help the poor. A guy with a magic ring; Zeus’ actual daughter. Power fantasies for the powerless.

Marvel Comics characters have always been the ordinary guy in the extraordinary circumstance. A dopey teenager… bit by a spider. A 98 pound weakling… given an Olympic-class physique. A frumpy Dr. Jekyll… who can’t escape his Mr. Hyde. Dang, even the Norse god, who should be above, has been sent to the ground to learn humility.

The arrows point different ways: DC heroes are above and look down to help; Marvel heroes are on the ground looking up, and… aspiring. This makes all the difference.

And none of the characters aspire more than Captain America. He fights for truth, justice, and the American way. Which used to be the tagline of Superman. And that’s what DC has abandoned. Heroes should inspire, sure. But in their inspiration, they should aspire to greatness, too. Lead by example.

So when all the crap is going down, and you’re just a guy, sitting in your seat at your computer console, and you realize you had to wear yesterday’s socks because you didn’t have time to do that last load of laundry. You remembered to feed your fish RIGHT when you were locking the front door on your way to work, and you figured, you know, they can wait until you get home tonight to eat last night’s leftover Chinese take out, and all of a sudden Crossbones has got a gun to your head and you’re not that guy.

You’re not Captain America. You don’t know what you’re doing. You haven’t punched Adolph Hitler two hundred times. You’re just a guy with hungry goldfish in a tank you haven’t cleaned in two weeks. Things are hard. You can’t do this all day.

Except, you know? Maybe you can.

“Sorry, sir. I’m not going to launch those ships. Captain’s orders.”

THAT’S what Marvel gets everybody else doesn’t. It’s not the capes and the fighting and the CGI spectacle.

It’s the people in the seats believing in the tale.

 

 

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