This post is a reaction to the overwhelmingly weird reaction many critics are having to the inclusion of SHIELD and pre-Avengers continuity hustle in the various Marvel movies to date. If you doubt that there is such a reaction, go take a peek at a few reviews from the more geek-savvy blogs, sites, and critics out there. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Convinced? Good. I really didn’t want to have to link a pile of reviews and seriously ask you to read them before reading what I have to say here.

So here’s the thing. One of the reasons people are willing to forgive some of the mistakes made in the production of Thor, Captain America, or the Iron Man movies is that we are collectively invested in this shared universe project. No one has ever attempted, let alone accomplished, an exercise of this magnitude. Not in Hollywood, at least. Not with this caliber of talent, with this caliber of collaborators, and so on. There have been mistakes, like I said, and each movie has flaws and often the same ones which are part and parcel with a timid approach to risks and scale brought about by Marvel’s frugality. The consequences, apparently, of Marvel’s frugality is an unwillingness to go as big as is necessary in terms of set-pieces and scale for these movies. Compared to Raimi’s Spiderman movies or Nolan’s Batman, the Marvel movies have been out-done every time. Even the X-Men have more satisfying climactic battles even when they are poorly justified.

For all of that, we’re on board with the shared universe. We want to see an Avengers movie. Marvel is trying to keep that in mind as they make these movies, knowing that audiences are fickle and more than just a post-credits fan service scene or two is required to build momentum toward the centrality of SHIELD and the inception of the Avengers once all is said and done. As a result, SHIELD is present in these films. The inclusion of SHIELD, some say the shoehorning in of them, is generally the scapegoat for problems in these movies, especially Iron Man 2 and Thor. That both movies have second act problems is indisputable but these are scripting problems, not inherent to the inclusion of SHIELD or a loyalty to the eventual Avengers project. Even if they could be alleviated by less service to that larger goal, I think it’s very disingenuous to badger these movies over it.

I mean, we all wanted The Avengers. To me, complaining about Marvel keeping faith with that project by using SHIELD and specifically Coulson and Nick Fury as bridges is the height of fandom bullshit. You can argue that it’s done poorly or feels forced if you want. I might even agree with you in some cases, but that is not the conversation. The conversation is that these elements are inherently bad for these movies. The Marvel movies are characterized as not being “real movies” as a result of this inclusive attitude toward the shared universe. They are also characterized as nothing more than commercials for the larger enterprise. It’s nonsense.

I’m writing this now because of Captain America. As I said in my review, it is the pinnacle Marvel movie to date. It also has the best ending. Yes, even better than Iron Man‘s awesome ending and definitely better than Thor’s missed opportunity (somewhat rectified by truly spectacular end credits). I seem to, among internet critics at least, be in the minority on that. Many are saying the ending is terrible because it includes SHIELD. Some waving has been done in the direction of the way Cap’s survival is so poorly handled (it really is, which I forgot to talk about in my review) but it keeps coming back to Nick Fury, SHIELD’s fake 1940’s hospital room meant to stagger the future shock Cap is about to endure, etc.

But it’s a great fucking ending. And here’s my case:

It’s a great ending because it ends the chapter of Cap’s origin and his adventures in WW2 Europe. This is done in part to get him where he needs to be for The Avengers but we know from Thor that there is no slavish devotion to this. Thor is still in Asgard at the end of his movie. If Marvel was really rabid about making sure all their pieces were on the board just so, they wouldn’t have done that. Captain America‘s ending is really about the next chapter of Cap’s life, the proper superhero chapter. It’s also a spot of sad closure with Peggy Carter and adds dimensions to that relationship which, after Thor’s bungled love story, makes Cap a tragic figure. That last line is solid gold, too.

For an example of how staging for continuity fucks up a movie, look at X-Men: First Class. No Marvel movie has ever sinned against its audience in service to a larger continuity to that extent. It is the low benchmark of that kind of obligation, one that X-Men: First Class handily proved was unnecessary for that property only to squander a significant amount of that goodwill and acceptance of a reboot trying so hard not to be a reboot at all. Writers and directors responsible for individual Marvel Movieverse movies may have a hard time incorporating SHIELD et al and this difficulty may be the source of whatever awkwardness is carried over into the final product but I am encouraged by it all the same. It may be awkward sometimes but shit, it shows that they really mean it about going for this ridiculously ambitious thing.

A flaw is a flaw, though. I am not saying let’s just forgive these movies for placing these elements awkwardly. I’m saying, let’s remember why they’re doing it and stop this disingenuous whining while at the same focusing on more specific (and constructive) criticisms about how this shit could be better incorporated. Again, the point is that this is a problem with incorporation and not inherently with the inclusion of bridging elements and setup for The Avengers.

I feel like some people are complaining about this because they just want Captain America, Thor, etc to have their own movies without fealty to The Avengers. I don’t get that. We knew this was how things were going to go since 2008 when Iron Man made us believe in Marvel as a viable cinematic player and not the idiot kid brother to WB’s success with the Batman franchise (which is really Chris Nolan’s success). You didn’t hear anyone clamoring for SHIELD or Nick Fury to be kept out of Marvel movies back then.

I do get, to some extent, that the nature of this project poses problems for conventional thinking about franchises as well as singular movies. I get that we are so unused to thinking of movies that aren’t sequels or reboots or remakes as parts of a context that isn’t made up by critics to bracket things like artistic movements, genre categories, etc. But the very notion of a cross-over film of the magnitude of The Avengers requires an adjustment in thinking. It means that you shouldn’t complain about the edges of these movies which plug into that enterprise rather than being wholly self-contained.

Like Don Draper puts it, if you don’t like what they’re saying… change the conversation.

The conversation about Marvel’s big project shouldn’t be bellyaching and commiserating about how SHIELD ruined another movie but rather a fair-minded discussions about how Marvel can improve the interplay between franchises and the shared Avengers shingle (which will no doubt spawn a franchise of its own). I say fair-minded because people seem to want to forget what this is all about. The complaints can be summarized as “ugh, why are they saddling us with these boring SHIELD subplots and stamping them all over all these movies”. These people are talking about SHIELD like it’s a bunch of muddy footprints on their nice clean floor. But we already know why SHIELD is in every Marvel movie and we know why there are other connections, like the Tesseract in Captain America or Hawkeye popping up (and this was handled poorly, but it doesn’t mean it is inherently wrong to have a cameo of this kind in Thor).

So it’s a bullshit way of looking at this. Let’s do better and have a little faith in Marvel. Let’s see how this Avengers thing plays out. They put it in good hands. They’ve got a great cast, almost all of whom are proven in their own characters and franchises. They have built up connections, layers, and bridges to make sure we believe these titans are going to feasibly share a room. There are stumbles along the way and let’s remember those without being dismissive little cunts about it.

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