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Entertainment Geekly Mailbag: Batman vs. Superman vs. Captain America vs. Iron Man

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Batman

Two weeks ago, in the span of about 24 hours, the universe of superhero movies rapidly expanded in a series of bizarre new directions. First came news that Marvel was actively considering making the next Captain America movie into the next Iron Man movie, in a story arc that would cull material from the mid-2000s mega-crossover “Civil War.”

Coincidentally or probably not, Warner Bros. chose that precise cultural moment to announce that they were planning a whole bunch of DC superhero movies. Wonder Woman? Aquaman? Cyborg? Check, check, checkeroo! Several readers wrote in with their own thoughts on the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes. (You should, too! Remember, if you want to yell at me for something, my email address is darren_franich@ew.com.)

Let’s start thing off with Captiron Manmerica:

I just read your article on Downey Jr. joining the film. It is conceivable that, with Marvel’s grand vision, Cap 3 could spend the majority of the film focusing on the search for Bucky, with the pre-Civil War government story playing out in the backdrop and only coming to the forefront in the last quarter of the film. Stark could be woven throughout championing his cause on TVs in the background and such. Once the Bucky story line has come to a head, the Iron Man v. Captain America fight could begin and end in a cliff hanger, much like Attack of the Clones ended. It could also leave Rogers in a state where he is no longer able to continue as Captain America thus setting up Bucky taking over the role.

Daren

A fair point, Daren. Fair enough that I’m almost willing to overlook the fact that people have been misspelling my name as your name my entire life.

I’m not convinced, though. For one thing, the still-ongoing negotiations between Marvel and Downey represent untold millions of dollars passing from the studio to their most valuable star—I can’t believe that, if they get Downey into Cap 3, they’ll just have him in a background role. Also, Marvel Studios as a rule doesn’t really do cliffhangers. They might end every movie with a sequel-baiting tease, but all their films tell a complete character-focused story. I have to believe that at least some of this is due to the influence of Joss Whedon, Avengers writer-director and Marvel’s go-to script polisher, who told EW’s James Hibberd that he hates the cliffhanger ending of The Empire Strikes Back.

It’s possible that the film will focus on the search for Bucky; the end of Winter Soldier certainly implies that that’s Cap’s next move. I’m skeptical, though. I loved The Winter Soldier, but Bucky is far from the most compelling character. For the same reason, I’m skeptical of the idea that Marvel is long-game building up to the point where Bucky/Sebastian Stan stars in Captain America 4. This is quickly becoming a cardinal truth for a certain branch of Marvel fandom: The idea that Marvel Studios gave all their superheroes samey-sidekicks with the express purpose of replacing their stars once they get too expensive. (See also: Don Cheadle/War Machine starring in Iron Man 4.) I don’t believe it for a second, mainly because I can’t believe anyone seriously thinks it’s a good idea to let Sebastian Stan star in a movie. No disrespect to Carter Baizen, but I think he’s a solid supporting presence in the Cap franchise, not the guy you want in charge.

The Civil War story in Marvel Comics is one of the worst in the company’s recent history, which is littered with terrible stories.

Better idea: Cap has to be the one to stop an alcoholic Tony out of control in armor and a threat to not only himself, but national security. It would be an homage to the classic “Demon in a Bottle” story and get the hero vs. hero fight that everyone seems to want, though I don’t understand why. Can’t good guys just be good guys anymore? The world is too postmodern for me.

Daniel

Shots fired on all of postmodernity! I have read exactly one single solitary issue of the whole “Civil War” epic, so I can’t comment on its quality or lack thereof. I definitely think that any attempt to explore Tony Stark’s alcoholism would make for a fascinating movie; I also definitely think that Marvel Studios will never explore Tony Stark’s alcoholism, never never never. Marvel doesn’t do bummers. You could argue that they sort of tipped their hat to “Demon in a Bottle” in the first part of Iron Man 3, which saw Tony suffering from PTSD and becoming an inveterate workaholic. But even though Iron Man 3 was sold as “the dark Iron Man movie,” it wound up being even frothier than the first two movies: Tony and the witty-bantering kid, sozzled Ben Kingsley.

RE “Can’t good guys just be good guys anymore?”: I’m not sure that good guys were ever just good guys, per se. Or anyhow, I think the conventional wisdom that superheroes turned “darker” in the last ten years (if you’re a movie fan) or the last thirty years (if you’re a comic book fan) isn’t quite accurate. The early Batman stories portrayed the character using guns to kill bad guys. Mort Weisinger’s Superman spent less time saving Earth than finding new ways to break Lois Lane’s heart. Really, part of what’s fun about the idea of a movie where two superheroes fight is that the movie becomes about something more interesting than just Good and Evil. If Captain America and Iron Man both think they’re doing the right thing, then who are we supposed to root for?

Basically, the hope for Captain America 3 is that it’s Rush with superheroes instead of racecar drivers. Have you guys seen Rush yet? It’s awesome.

I’m just not sure how I feel about an MCU version of Civil War. Personally, I enjoyed the tie-in issues so much more than the main event. Also, the relationship between Cap and Tony in the comic world is completely different than the one they have in the MCU. Civil War is essentially the break down of these two characters’ long, complicated relationship. One with a lot of crazy (only in comics) history. I’m just afraid, we only finally have the Avengers together as a team, tony and cap have had hardly any screen time together and suddenly we are going to break up the whole team after their second movie together?!

However, I have to admit, Marvel Studios has not let audiences down yet. I guess they know what they are doing, but death in the MCU better be just like it is in the comic universe! They better get Chris to sign on for more films! I can’t keep going without him as Cap! Because RDJ’s Tony is great and all, but Winter Soldier was way more interesting then all three of the Iron Man movies put together!

-Ana

Beg to differ on the whole “Marvel Studios has not let audiences down yet.” Thor: The Dark World would’ve been unwatchable without Tom Hiddleston; even with Tom Hiddleston, it’s one of the shabbiest 170-million-dollar productions ever. But I think you’re right on about Cap and Iron Man’s relationship. These are not two characters we’ve seen engage in a long, fascinating relationship; these are two characters who’ve had like maybe a couple one-on-one scenes together.

But again, that’s really why Captain America 3 could be interesting. We’ve seen exactly two kind of superhero movies so far: Solo superhero movies where the only really compelling characters are the superhero and maybe the supervillain, and superteam movies where the whole thing is basically an ensemble sitcom. The only real exceptions to that rule are The Dark Knight (where Harvey Dent is practically the movie’s hero for the first 2/3) and X-Men: First Class (which could’ve been a great movie about just Magneto and Professor X.) Imagine a lot of sharp, trenchant scenes between Downey and Evans; Downey, the hyperverbal cynic and preaching a gospel of Science Can Save The World; Evans, the rock-solid true believer who thinks America needs to believe in itself again. Or whatever “Civil War” is about.

1. This seems to promise at least a temporary ceasefire on the MacGuffin siege that’s been going strong since Cap 1 and took a brief armistice for Cap 2 before coming back stronger than ever in Guardians of the Galaxy. If the plot – as it exists separately from the immense charms of the various actors involved, as y’know, the list of things that actually happen – is about something other than everyone playing monkey in the middle with an affectless bad dude driven to get that thing just because, then that’s a big win right? I imagine Winter Soldier’s ability to be about something other than a glowing stone is a big part of why it’s so high in your regards, and a film that promises conflict between the heroes because of government interference promises a similar respite. Unless the civil war is over some necklace of power – then I’m out.

2. As I’m sure you’ve seen a bunch of times in the comments, the idea of the Civil War doesn’t really work if you don’t see Tony’s position as something more than antagonistic. Which is part of why the Civil War series sometimes feels like a tremendously ambitious, one-sided failure that we can still argue about in theory all these years later while still admitting that, yeah, Tony was a jerk. I think the Civil War series tried really hard to make Tony equally right in principle, but it stacked the deck against him from the outset in practice – it made his side the side of entitled, wealthy, over-educated, logical whiteness, and Cap’s side a band of multiracial, street-level revolutionaries in touch with the will of real Americans. It’s a fascinating dynamic to delve into and one the movie might touch on judging from early rumors of “the sides”, but probably won’t make it a big deal. I think the shading of Tony during and after that series was a result of the times, of the milieu in 2006, and it’ll be interesting to see how that dynamic changes 10 years on and with RDJ towing the government line, whatever that line may be in the movie.

Which is where I do agree with you – I think RDJ’s inherent and immense charm will allow him to take Tony to some dark places while still maintaining audience sympathy, even in a movie named Captain America. I feel like I’ll be shocked if we actually leave the theater in 2016 and go “He was a villain!” and I feel like I’ll be even more shocked if we leave the theatre going “You know what, they both had equally valid points!” but I also think that a film with smarmy-but-upright Tony as the primary antagonist will give us the most even matchup of protagonist-vs-antagonist since Thor-Loki. Which as you point out, was also personal and nuanced in ways that face-offs with Malekith and blue Lee Pace could never ever dream of being, since they all they cared about was that thing that did that thing.

Charles

AGREE ON ALL COUNTS. Marvel Studios is great at characters and weirdly horrible at plots. There’s nothing wrong with a MacGuffin, but the whole idea of a MacGuffin is that it’s not supposed to be important. It’s just supposed to be this thing that motivates the more interesting character dynamics. Imagine if, in The Maltese Falcon, there were like eight scenes where everyone took a pause from the plot to talk about how the Maltese Falcon grants incredible power to whoever uses it. Now just go see Guardians of the Galaxy again, where there are like a million scenes where everyone takes a pause from the plot to talk about how the Infinity Stones are stones of infinity or whatever. More reason to hope for our future: Avengers 2 seems to actually just be about Ultron being Ultron, and not about Ultron searching for the Soul Gem.

Now then, onto DC!

Do you think Warner Bros. is making a mistake by entrusting the ENTIRE Justice League franchise to Zack Snyder? Sure, Man of Steel made a lot of money. But the film had some pretty glaring flaws. Marvel had individual directors set up their characters one-by-one before entrusting the overall mashup to pop culture maven/nerd god Joss Whedon. Should WB have considered someone else for the JL franchise and allowed Snyder to continue with the Superman one-offs?

Brandon

I want to be positive about Zack Snyder for a second. I really enjoy his Dawn of the Dead, which is funnier and looser and more colorful than any of the multitude of zombie movies that followed it. I respect that he decided to turn his version of Watchmen into more of a celebration of Dave Gibbons’ artwork than Alan Moore’s storytelling. There are a couple scenes in 300 I don’t despise. Man of Steel was not the worst Superman movie ever made.

What I’m getting at is, Zack Snyder is not the guy I would choose to run a superhero franchise, or a McDonald’s franchise. And Man of Steel is an extremely unsteady foundation upon which to build an entire megafranchise. And there’s definitely a sense that Warner Bros. is hurrying into its superteam franchise. In hindsight, Marvel Studios’ approach looks remarkably patient. (Remember how we all thought that the Thor solo film was crazy?) But I also think that we should all remember that in superhero franchises, the second movie is usually much better. My perspective on Batman v Superman hasn’t really changed since January: The movie sounds crazy, and it will either be crazy in a good way or crazy in a Sucker Punch way.

Read your article. I think DC is missing the boat here. By that I think Warners has its priorities wrong.  The Doom Patrol would make a fantastic film. Martian Manhunter, The Atom, Justice Society. All would make great films! Even Hawkman would be great. Give up on Superman. Green Arrow is more interesting than Superman, he and Batman have been done to death.

Paul

I was with you until “Hawkman would be great.” But I think you’re onto something, Paul. The big secret about DC is that their most famous characters are weirdly generic but their less famous characters are gloriously weird. Remember Firestorm? Nuclear man with fire-themed superpowers, but here’s the twist: Firestorm is actually two people, who form a single split-personality superhero. Now that is a movie.

I love the original seven members of JUSTICE LEAGUE, I mean the other two leaders of JUSTICE LEAGUE: JOHN JONES, THE MARTIAN MANHUNTER & HAWKGIRL. I love to see them in the JUSTICE LEAGUE movie. Thank you from the biggest fan of DC UNIVERSE.

Afroz

Martian Manhunter is the best DC superhero. He’s Superman with Batman’s brain, except he’s also a shapechanger, except he can also read minds. I once put forward the idea that Martian Manhunter could win in a fight against Superman and Batman, at which point my hero Grant Morrison told me I was being foolish, because Martian Manhunter’s weakness is fire. This actually happened:

In conclusion, Grant Morrison is wrong, Martian Manhunter could totally just wear a flame-retardant supersuit, and Guillermo Del Toro should direct Martian Manhunter starring Michael Chiklis as John Jones. The End.

Couldn’t agree more with most of your opinions (especially Aquaman, assuming that wasn’t sarcastic). What do you think of Ezra Miller as the Flash? I saw him in Perks Of Being A Wallflower and thought he’d be perfect for Nightwing. Also seems a little premature for DC to announce all these films right after Marvel announces Iron Man is in Cap 3, they’re making a bunch of promises here. Can’t wait to see a stand-alone Batman film if Affleck is directing (please please please please DC don’t screw that up). Really interested to see how they stick with their gritty-down-to-earth-everything-is-definitely-not-awesome attitude with a Flash movie.

James

Ezra Miller definitely feels like the kind of unusual-choice-for-a-lead-role that used to define the superhero movie genre, back in the Michael Keaton/Tobey Maguire/Christian Bale days.

“unless Ezra Miller is playing Jay Garrick, and the DC Cinematic Universe is “Earth-One” to the DC TV Universe’s “Earth-Two.” (See here.)”

Actually, it would be the other way around as Jay Garrick is from Earth-2 traditionally, except for the years between Crisis on Infinite Earths and The New 52 when the entire DCU was on the same Earth, but even then there were always hints that there had been multiple Earths in the past which was confirmed in Infinite Crisis.

Sorry for the fan-boy correction for what is most likely a moot point as they would never use Jay in a multi-million dollar movie. Wally West on the other hand…

Dan

You can’t see it, but I am lowering my head in shame.

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