Thursday, 26 May 2016

FILM CRIT HULK RESPONSE: THE TRUE MEANING OF A COMIC BOOK MOVIE

THE GREATEST CRITIC OF OUR TIME, FILM CRIT HULK TAUGHT ME PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT CINEMA AND - MORE IMPORTANTLY - THE CRAFT OF STORYTELLING. ONE OF THE MANY, MANY THINGS I APPRECIATE ABOUT HIS WORK, HOWEVER, IS THAT I ONLY AGREE WITH HIM ABOUT 90% OF THE TIME. THE THINGS THAT WE DISAGREE ABOUT ARE OFTEN PARTICULARLY REVEALING AND INTERESTING TO ME, FORCING INTROSPECTION AND ANALYSIS THAT I WOULDN'T OTHERWISE HAVE ATTEMPTED, ALWAYS RESULTING IN GREATER UNDERSTANDING OF THE ISSUES.

RECENTLY HULK POSTED ABOUT THE VITAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MAD MAX: FURY ROAD AND THE REVENANT, AND IT WAS... PERFECT. SIMPLY A JOY TO READ, EXPERTLY CAPTURING THE ELEMENTS OF THESE MOVIES THAT ILLUSTRATE HOW AND WHY WE MAKE COMPELLING STORIES. IT WAS POSSIBLY THE MOST INSIGHTFUL EXAMINATION OF MODERN CINEMA I HAVE EVER READ.

BUT THEN EVEN MORE RECENTLY HULK POSTED A PIECE THAT FITS INTO THE 10% OF DISAGREEMENT (HONESTLY IT MIGHT BE MORE LIKE 5 OR 3%). CIVIL WAR, SPIDER-MAN 2, And The Dangers Of Assumed Empathy. FOR ONCE I HAVE DECIDED TO GET OFF MY ASS AND HARNESS THE CREATIVITY THE HULK ALWAYS INSPIRES FOR ME. HERE I INTEND TO DO TWO THINGS: 1. ATTEMPT A DANGEROUS AND ILL-CONCEIVED HOMAGE TO THE STYLE AND THOUGHTFULNESS OF A FILM CRIT HULK "SMASH", AND 2. TRY TO RESPOND TO SOME OF THE THINGS I DID NOT AGREE WITH IN THE CIVIL WAR ARTICLE. I'M GOING TO ARROGANTLY ASSUME THE MANTLE OF RED FILM CRIT HULK BECAUSE A) RED HULK CAME AFTER, B) RED HULK WILL ALWAYS LOSE TO REAL HULK IN THE END AND C) RED HULK OWES EVERYTHING HE IS TO REAL HULK.

1. "PHASE TWO"

SO MUCH OF HULK'S CIVIL WAR ARTICLE WOULD BE FIXED - FOR RED HULK'S TASTES - IF HE SUBSTITUTED MOST INSTANCES OF THE PHRASE "PHASE TWO" FOR "AGE OF ULTRON AND CIVIL WAR".

HONESTLY, RED HULK WAS HORRIFIED BY THIS LINE:
THERE'S A REASON HULK CAN BARELY REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENS IN MOST OF THE PHASE TWO / THREE MOVIES AND HULK'S SEEN SOME OF THEM MULTIPLE TIMES.

HE CAN'T REMEMBER MOST OF THE PHASE TWO MOVIES?! THIS IS A COLLECTION THAT INCLUDES GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, PROBABLY THE MOST INNOVATIVE AND CLEARLY STORY-DRIVEN SUPERHERO MOVIE EVER. A MOVIE THAT MATCHES IF NOT SURPASSES THE AVENGERS IN MASTERFULLY CRAFTED AND WELL-EARNED "TEAMWORK!" MOMENTS - HULK HIMSELF ATTESTED AT LENGTH HOW WELL THE "DELIGHTFUL" ASPECTS OF THE COMEDY WORK SYMBIOTICALLY TO FURTHER THE DRAMA OF THE STORY.

AND DO NOT TELL RED HULK THAT GUARDIANS IS THE EXCEPTION. WITNESS IRON MAN 3, A MOVIE THAT COULD ALMOST HAVE BEEN MADE IN DIRECT RESPONSE TO THE CRITIQUE OF HULK'S CIVIL WAR COLUMN. IS IT DELIGHTFUL? YOU BET! DOES THE DELIGHTFULNESS EXIST ONLY ON THE SURFACE LEVEL, BELYING A VOID WHERE THE CORE OF THE STORY SHOULD BE? ABSOLUTELY NOT - THE FILM TAKES AN ESTABLISHED CHARACTER AND CONFRONTS HIM WITH THE DIRECT CONSEQUENCES OF HIS CHOICES. THE MOVIE IS ABOUT THE VERY ESSENCE OF DRAMA (AS HULK DEFINES IT) - CAUSES HAVE CLEAR AND HARD-HITTING EFFECTS. EVERYTHING IS AT STAKE, AT BOTH THE INTENSELY PERSONAL AND THE GRANDER "END OF THE WORLD" LEVELS. THE THEME OF PAYING FOR MISTAKES IS ARTICULATED THROUGH EVERY PART OF THE FILM'S STRUCTURE, FROM THE STRAW-MAN VILLAIN TO THE OPENING AND CLOSING VOICE-OVERS.

BUT THE REST OF PHASE TWO IS CRAP, RIGHT? WRONG. FOR ALL ITS FAULTS, THOR: THE DARK WORLD DOES MUCH OF THE STORYTELLING 101 STUFF ABSOLUTELY RIGHT: STAKES, URGENCY AND GOALS DRIVE THE THING FROM START TO FINISH. YES THE VILLAIN IS CRAP, BUT MANY OF THE OTHER CHARACTERS GET FASCINATING LITTLE ARCS OF THEIR OWN, WITHOUT GETTING IN-YOUR-FACE (IN FACT, THE MOMENT THAT WORKS LEAST WELL FOR RED HULK IS ACTUALLY A SIGNIFICANT CHARACTER'S DEATH - EXACTLY WHAT HULK CLAIMS THERE IS NOT ENOUGH OF).

THEN THERE IS THE WINTER SOLDIER. RED HULK IS SORRY, BUT THIS MOVIE IS A HUNDRED TIMES BETTER AT STORY THAN THE FIRST CAP MOVIE (RED HULK LIKES THE ORIGINAL, BUT DOES NOT THINK IT IS ANYWHERE NEAR AS STRONG AS REAL HULK DOES). WHERE CAP 1 SETS UP THE CHARACTER, CAP 2 REALLY GETS TO THE CORE OF WHO THIS GUY IS. WHAT HE IS WILLING TO DO FOR HIS IDEALS. WHAT HE IS WILLING TO SACRIFICE. THE EFFECT HE CAN HAVE ON HARDENED CHARACTERS LIKE FURY AND ROMANOFF. EVEN ON THE ULTRA-HARDENED WINTER SOLDIER HIMSELF (MORE ON BUCKY SOON). LET'S BE CLEAR: WHEN IT COMES TO CAPTAIN AMERICA MAKING CONSEQUENTIAL/DRAMATIC DECISIONS, HE'S ONLY EVER GOING TO DECIDE TO DO WHAT'S RIGHT. WHICH MEANS THAT DRAMA HAS TO COME FROM THE PRICE HE PAYS FOR THIS - AND THAT OTHERS COULD END UP PAYING TOO. SO THE WINTER SOLDIER TAKES EVERYTHING FROM CAP IN THE WORST WAY POSSIBLE - EVERYTHING HE BELIEVED IN WAS A SHAM. IN TERMS OF MAINSTREAM SUPERHERO MOVIES, IT'S UNPRECEDENTED AND IT WORKS.

FINALLY, WE HAVE ANT MAN. I'M NOT GOING TO SPEND LONG ON THIS, SUFFICE TO SAY THAT ANY PRAISE ONE MIGHT SING FOR CAP 1 CAN BE EQUALLY APPLIED TO ANT MAN - IT'S FUNCTIONAL. THE FINAL ACT IS A GREAT "THREATEN TO KILL THE PUPPY" PIECE THAT DOES WHAT IT SAYS ON THE TIN. NOT THE MOST BRILLIANT STORY EVER BUT CERTAINLY ENGAGING AND DEFINITELY OPERATING ON MORE THAN JUST THE SURFACE-LEVEL "BE DELIGHTFUL" STUFF HULK IS TALKING ABOUT.

PHASE TWO CONSISTS OF SIX MOVIES, ONE OF WHICH RED HULK WOULD CALL A STONE-COLD MASTERPIECE OF THE GENRE; THERE ARE FOUR OTHERS RANGING FROM "GOOD" TO "EXCELLENT", BUT ALL DEFINITELY MEMORABLE IN THEIR OWN RIGHT. AND THEN FINALLY THERE'S AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. HULK'S CIVIL WAR COLUMN IS A PERFECT TAKE-DOWN OF THIS LATTER MOVIE. WHAT'S UPSETTING IS THAT HE BLANKET-APPLIES THE SAME CRITIQUE TO ALL THE OTHERS AS IF THEY'RE THE SAME THING. FOR SOMEONE USUALLY SO NUANCED, THIS IS A BIZARRE AND COMPLETELY LEFT-FIELD MOVE THAT IS, RED HULK IS AFRAID, VERY MISLEADING.

RED HULK MIGHT ALSO AGREE THE COLUMN WORKS FOR CIVIL WAR ITSELF, WITH SOME IMPORTANT CAVEATS.

2. PEOPLE AND PROPS

RED HULK FINDS HULK'S INSISTENCE ON THE NEED FOR BETTER CHARACTERISATION OF BUCKY PUZZLING. YES, WE HAVE LITTLE REASON TO CARE ABOUT BUCKY HIMSELF, BEYOND THE NATURAL DESIRE TO SYMPATHISE WITH SOMEONE WHO'S BEEN FORCED TO DO EVIL AGAINST THEIR WILL. BUT THE CHARACTER IS SO PATENTLY NOT INTENDED TO BE CARED ABOUT. HE'S A PROP, BUT HE'S SUPPOSED TO BE A PROP. HE COULD BE REPLACED WITH, RED HULK DOESN'T KNOW, MAYBE CAP'S MOTHER'S PEARL NECKLACE?

NO EMPATHY IS ASSUMED FOR BUCKY. WE'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO CARE HE MIGHT DIE OR WHATEVER BAD THING MIGHT HAPPEN TO HIM. HE IS MERELY AN OBJECT THAT FACILITATES US CARING ABOUT OTHER CHARACTERS. WE CARE THAT TONY MIGHT BECOME A MURDERER BECAUSE OF BUCKY. IN THE CHASE SEQUENCE WITH BLACK PANTHER, TENSION DOESN'T COME FROM DANGER TO BUCKY, IT COMES FROM THE ENORMOUS CONSEQUENCES WE CAN SEE ARE ABOUT TO BEFALL CAP FOR HELPING HIM. IN THE APARTMENT, WHEN THE SWAT TEAM ARE MOVING INTO POSITION, THERE IS NO SENSE THAT EITHER CHARACTER COULD BE PHYSICALLY HURT - YET RED HULK WAS ON THE EDGE OF HIS SEAT, BEGGING FOR CAP TO GET OUT OF THERE, COS IF HE'S CAUGHT THEN HE IS, AS RHODEY SAYS, A CRIMINAL. AND THAT'S A GENUINELY WORRYING THOUGHT FOR A CHARACTER LIKE CAP, WHO DOES EVERYTHING TO UPHOLD WHAT'S GOOD. BUT NO - CAP MAKES A DECISION AND STICKS TO IT, AND THE HEART-WRENCHING CONSEQUENCES DO INDEED BEFALL HIM.

RED HULK BELIEVES THE RUSSO BROTHERS HAVE USED BUCKY MASTERFULLY. IN EVERY SCENE HE APPEARS, BUCKY SERVES CLEAR DRAMATIC PURPOSE. HE FORCES CHARACTERS TO MAKE TOUGH CHOICES. HE THEMATICALLY EMBODIES CAP'S WORST NIGHTMARE - THE CORRUPTION OF THE GOOD OLD DAYS. THE DIFFICULTY OF CONTINUING TO FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT IN THE FACE OF THIS. IN CARING ABOUT THIS LAST VESTIGE OF A LOST WORLD, CAP REVEALS HIS HEART. WHEN CAP SAYS "HE'S MY FRIEND" AND TONY RESPONDS "SO WAS I" - WE SEE THAT ALL OF CAP'S SPECIFIC BATTLES IN THE MODERN DAY ARE AS NOTHING COMPARED TO WHAT HE FEELS HE HAD ONCE UPON A TIME. HE WILL ALWAYS PICK BUCKY OVER HIS MODERN-DAY FRIENDS BECAUSE BUCKY IS CAP. GIVING BUCKY HIS OWN SEPARATE CHARACTER WOULD BE UTTERLY NON-SENSICAL.

IT SEEMS WEIRD TO HAVE TO SAY THIS: NOT EVERY HUMAN IN A MOVIE IS A CHARACTER. ARISTOTLE DEFINED CHARACTER AS "that which reveals decision" - IT'S NOT THE PERSON HERSELF WHO MATTERS, BUT HER DRAMATIC ESSENCE. THE CHANGING THROUGH CHOICES. AND CLEARLY IN ANY MOVIE THERE ARE ONLY SO MANY DRAMATICALLY ENGAGED INDIVIDUALS THAT CAN BE SUSTAINED. THERE ARE ALWAYS GOING TO BE MORE HUMANS THAN CHARACTERS. IT'S A FALLACY TO BELIEVE THAT EVERY FICTIONAL PERSON ON SCREEN NEEDS TO HAVE THEIR OWN DEVELOPMENT, THAT THE AUDIENCE NEEDS TO REALLY CARE ABOUT EACH AND EVERY PERSON. RED HULK DOESN'T BELIEVE HULK BELIEVES THIS HIMSELF. HECK, LOOK AT SPIDER-MAN 2, WHICH RED HULK COMPLETELY AGREES IS EXCELLENT. SEVERAL MAJOR CHARACTERS ARE SIMPLY PROPS - AUNT MAY, OCTAVIUS' WIFE, JONAH JAMESON, THE LANDLORD'S DAUGHTER, PROBABLY EVEN MARY JANE. MARY JANE DOES HAVE A LITTLE BIT OF DEVELOPMENT, BUT MOSTLY WE DON'T CARE ABOUT HER FOR HER OWN SAKE, WE CARE ABOUT PETER'S (NON-)RELATIONSHIP WITH HER.

THERE IS NO NEED FOR EVERY PERSON IN A FILM TO BE ROUNDED AND DEVELOPED. BUCKY WORKS MAGNIFICENTLY AS A PROP. TRYING TO GIVE HIM HIS OWN ARC WOULD ONLY DETRACT FROM THE REAL STORY.

3. THE STORY OF CIVIL WAR

IT FEELS LIKE TOTAL SACRILEGE TO SAY THIS, BUT RED HULK BELIEVES THAT REAL HULK IS FALLING FOR HIS OWN TANGIBLE DETAILS TRAP. PICKING OUT THINGS LIKE BUCKY BARNES, THE INFINITY STONES, AND ANT MAN'S INCLUSION AND SOMEHOW POINTING TO THEM AS EVIDENCE OF A FAILURE OF STORYTELLING. THAT'S A VERY RARE INSTANCE OF POOR CRITICISM ON HULKS PART. THESE ARE ALL THINGS THAT WOULD NOT BE PROBLEMATIC IN THE LEAST IF THE REAL STORY ISSUES WERE WORKING FINE.

THE TRUTH IS THAT WHEN IT CAME TO AGE OF ULTRON AND CIVIL WAR - HUGE ENSEMBLE PIECES BY RETURNING DIRECTORS - MARVEL WENT CONSERVATIVE, OPTING TO OVERRIDE CREATIVE INSTINCTS IN ORDER TO RETAIN THE SAFER "MAKE THE AUDIENCE FEEL GOOD" APPROACH THAT HULK OUTLINES. THIS IS THE REAL PROBLEM. BUT UNLIKE AGE OF ULTRON, WHICH MAINTAINS ONLY A VENEER OF FUNCTIONALITY, CIVIL WAR DOES ACTUALLY HAVE MANY MOVING PARTS THAT WORK.

MARVEL IS A FILM STUDIO THAT IS TRYING TO REPLICATE A STORYTELLING PROCESS DESIGNED FOR COMIC BOOKS. IT INTRODUCES CHARACTERS OVER TIME, BUILDING UP EMPATHY AND FAMILIARITY SO THAT THESE DO NOT HAVE BE CREATED FROM SCRATCH WITH EACH NEW INSTALMENT. WHILE IT IS POSSIBLE TO DO BIG DRAMA FOR A SPECIFIC CHARACTER WITH A MAJOR ARC, MOST OF THE STORYTELLING IN AN ENSEMBLE COMIC COMES AT A MUCH LESS "GRAND" SCALE. CHARACTERS CAN SEE IMPORTANT AND MOVING DEVELOPMENT OVER THE COURSE OF JUST A FEW PAGES, OR SOMETIMES PANELS. OFTEN, DOZENS OF DIFFERENT BALLS ARE BEING JUGGLED AS EACH CHARACTER'S MOTIVATION PLAYS OFF THAT OF ALL THE OTHERS. AND THESE SMALLER STORIES ARE THEN THEMATICALLY LINKED OR TIED TOGETHER IN A LARGER CONFLICT.

CIVIL WAR MAY NOT BE THE GREATEST EXAMPLE OF THIS KIND OF STORYTELLING, BUT IT'S NOT ENTIRELY A FAILURE EITHER. IT JUGGLES ALL ITS BALLS MUCH MORE ADEPTLY THAN AGE OF ULTRON, NATURALLY WEAVING STORIES RATHER THAN FORCING THEM INTO PLACES WHERE THERE IS NO DRAMATIC SUPPORT. CONSIDER THE CHARACTERS THAT HAVE A STORY IN THIS MOVIE: BLACK PANTHER AND SPIDER-MAN, AS HULK SAYS, GET EXCELLENT TREATMENT FOR THEIR INTRODUCTIONS. BLACK WIDOW FINALLY GETS SOME DIFFICULT CHOICES TO MAKE, CHANGING AS A CHARACTER AS A RESULT OF THE CONSEQUENCES SHE EXPERIENCES FROM THESE DECISIONS (SHE STARTS SEEKING STABILITY AND BY THE END HAS REALISED SHE IS WILLING PRIORITISE HER OWN TEAM EVEN IF IT MAKES THINGS DIFFICULT). SCARLET WITCH AND VISION ARE ACTUALLY WELL-ARTICULATED, RATHER THAN FORCED AS HULK CLAIMS. BOTH HAVE TO MAKE DECISIONS THAT DEFINE THE TYPE OF PERSON THEY WANT TO BE, AGAIN AT PERSONAL COST, AND COMPLICATED BY THEIR OBVIOUS MUTUAL AFFECTION. ANT MAN IS HARMLESS COMIC RELIEF. FALCON AND WAR MACHINE ARE ADMITTEDLY JUST WINDOW DRESSING, BUT LIKE BUCKY, THEIR LACK OF DEVELOPMENT IS NOT HARMFUL - IT WOULD HAVE BEEN FAR WORSE TO GIVE THEM SOME PERSONAL STORY THAT FEELS EMPTY OR FORCED.

HULK HAS ENTIRELY MISSED THE POINT OF THE AIRPORT FIGHT. FIRSTLY, RED HULK DOES NOT KNOW HOW, BUT HULK SEEMS TO HAVE COMPLETELY FAILED TO NOTICE THE URGENCY THAT IS PRESENT, AND CLEARLY SIGNPOSTED THROUGHOUT. CAP'S TEAM IS TRYING TO REACH THE QUINJET IN ORDER TO FIGHT THE REAL ENEMY - THE OTHER WINTER SOLDIERS. AT SEVERAL MOMENTS THE TIME-SENSITIVE NATURE OF THIS MISSION IS UNDERLINED, MEANING THAT THE OBSTACLE REPRESENTED BY TONY'S TEAM IS REALLY QUITE IMPACTFUL - AT LEAST THAT'S HOW RED HULK EXPERIENCED IT. RED HULK FELT A LOT OF TENSION IN THE NEED TO TIE UP THE FIGHT AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.

NOT ONLY IS THERE REAL URGENCY FOR THE OVERALL FIGHT, BUT EACH BEAT OF THE ACTION MASTERFULLY CREATES ITS OWN MICRO-STORIES. AGAIN, THE INFLUENCE OF COMIC BOOK ACTION STRUCTURES IS VERY CLEAR; YOU CAN ALMOST SEE THE PANELS. EACH PAIRING OF COMBATANTS TELLS ITS OWN MINI-DRAMA. EACH BEAT IS BASED ON ITS OWN "LITTLE STORY", AS HULK ONCE DESCRIBED THE TRAIN FIGHT IN CAP 1. SPIDEY WEBS UP FALCON; FALCON KNOCKS HIM OUT THE WINDOW WITH AN UNEXPECTED REDWING. OR: BLACK PANTHER TRIES TO GET PAST GIANT MAN; IS MET BY STAFF-WIELDING HAWKEYE WHO INTRODUCES HIMSELF. RESPONSE: "I DON'T CARE". RED HULK COULD BASICALLY LIST EVERY BEAT IN THE FIGHT AS AN INSTANCE OF PERFECT CHARACTERISATION AND DRAMATIC USE OF CAUSE AND EFFECT.

HULK CHALKS UP THESE MOMENTS AS BEING GREAT CHARACTER MOMENTS WITHOUT THE SUBSTANCE TO MAKE THEM GREAT STORY MOMENTS. RED HULK AGREES THAT THIS IS AN IMPORTANT DISTINCTION, AND THERE ARE MANY PLACES IN THE FILM (AND EVEN MORE IN AGE OF ULTRON) WHERE RED HULK BELIEVES IT'S A VALID POINT. BUT WHEN YOU HAVE A SET PIECE SECOND ACT FIGHT (WHICH IS GOING TO HAPPEN NO MATTER WHAT) THAT IS ALREADY SERVING ITS OWN LARGER STORY PURPOSES, THEN YOU HAVE TO CHOREOGRAPH THE VARIOUS ELEMENTS OF THAT FIGHT AS DRAMATICALLY AS POSSIBLE. AND RED HULK BELIEVES THAT INSTEAD OF COMPLAINING, WE SHOULD BE THANKING MARVEL FOR MOVING AWAY FROM THE MICHAEL BAY STYLE THAT WAS SO POPULAR IN EVERY ACTION MOVIE UNTIL RECENTLY, AND TOWARDS SOMETHING THAT ACTUALLY LOOKS A LOT MORE LIKE FURY ROAD - CLARITY AND PURPOSE IN EVERY BEAT. AS FAR AS RED HULK CAN SEE, THE ALTERNATIVE TO THESE GREAT CHARACTER MOMENTS IS SIMPLY THE UTTER BLANDNESS OF THE BATMAN VS SUPERMAN FINALE.

OF COURSE THAT DOESN'T MEAN THAT CONSTRUCTING A GOOD FIGHT CAN REPLACE THE NEED FOR A STRONG UNDERLYING STORY THAT MOTIVATES THE FIGHT IN THE FIRST PLACE. BUT THAT MOTIVATION DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THE MOST PROFOUND THING IN THE UNIVERSE - THERE MERELY NEEDS TO BE GOALS, URGENCY AND STAKES, SAME AS ALWAYS. HULK TREATS THE AIRPORT SCENE LIKE THE WHOLE MOVIE IS RESTING ON ITS ABILITY TO ARTICULATE THE TWO MAIN CHARACTERS' INNER STRUGGLE - WHEN IN FACT THE SCENE IS TRYING TO ACHIEVE NO SUCH THING. RATHER, IT'S DRAMATISING THE COMING-TO-A-HEAD OF VARIOUS STORY LINES WHILE PROPELLING THESE CONFLICTS TOWARDS A SHARED RESOLUTION. THAT'S WHAT A SECOND ACT SET-PIECE IS SUPPOSED TO DO, AND IT DOES.

RED HULK AGREES THAT THE RHODEY GETTING HURT THING IS ILL-JUDGED, BUT RED HULK BELIEVES IT IS A RED HERRING. THE SCENE WORKS WITHOUT IT.

WHAT RED HULK GETS EVEN LESS, HOWEVER, IS REAL HULK'S TAKE ON THE FINAL FIGHT. HE SAYS THE MOTIVATION HERE "FEELS UNSUBSTANTIATED ON A DRAMATIC LEVEL OTHER THAN BASIC FORESHADOWING". RED HULK DOES NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT MORE HULK COULD POSSIBLY WANT HERE. THERE IS AN ENTIRE FLASHBACK SCENE AT THE BEGINNING WITH TONY'S PARENTS WHERE IT'S MADE COMPLETELY CLEAR JUST HOW MUCH THEY MEANT TO HIM - HOW THEY REPRESENT ALL HIS DEEPEST INSECURITIES AND REGRETS. HOW MUCH HE STILL RAGES AGAINST THEIR LOSS. IT SEEMS SO WEIRD THAT HULK IS NOT SEEING THIS. RED HULK FELT MASSIVE EMPATHY FROM THE AUDIENCE RED HULKED WATCHED WITH. WHEN BUCKY WAS REVEALED TO HAVE KILLED THEM, RED HULK HEARD AN AUDIBLE GASP ACROSS THE THEATRE. IT'S IMMEDIATELY FELT BY EVERY VIEWER EXACTLY HOW POWERFUL A MOMENT THIS IS. AND YES, THE "HE KILLED MY MOM" LINE DOES DRIVE IT EVEN FURTHER HOME. IN RED HULK'S OPINION, ANY EXTRA "WHY DOES THIS MATTER" MATERIAL INCLUDED IN THE MOVIE WOULD HAVE BEEN POOR STORY ECONOMY - IT'S ALREADY DONE EVERYTHING THAT'S NEEDED. SIMILARLY, WHEN CAP HAMMERS HIS SHIELD INTO TONY'S ARMOUR, RED HULK DOES NOT SEE HOW THIS COULD BE ANY MORE DRAMATICALLY POWERFUL. IT'S NOT JUST EMPTY SYMBOLISM. THESE ARE TWO ALLIES, WHO WE HAVE SEEN FIGHT MANY BATTLES TOGETHER. AND ONE IS CLAWING OUT THE LIFE-FORCE OF THE OTHER. IT'S BRUTAL. AGAIN, AUDIENCE MEMBERS RED HULK HAS TALKED TO ALL SAID THE ENDING WAS INCREDIBLY DARK.

RED HULK IS NOT ARGUING THESE SCENES ARE FLAWLESS. RED HULK MERELY THINKS THAT HULK IS BEING WAY OVER-HARSH.

4. MOVIE AS COMIC BOOK.

AT THE VERY START OF HULK'S COLUMN WE READ:
NOW, IT'S NOT AS IF CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR ISN'T "TRYING," FOR IT'S OBVIOUSLY TRYING IN THE WAY THAT ALL BIG HOLLYWOOD MOVIES TRY.

RED HULK IMMEDIATELY FELT A DISSONANCE WHEN HE READ THIS. CIVIL WAR DIDN'T FEEL LIKE IT WAS "TRYING" TO RED HULK. RED HULK IS MUCH MORE INCLINED TO AGREE WITH OTHERS WHO HAVE SAID THAT THE MOVIE FELT SELF-ASSURED, BREEZILY CONFIDENT, COMPLETELY LACKING THE NERVOUS, SELF-CONSCIOUS ATTITUDE OF AGE OF ULTRON. IF ANYTHING, RED HULK FELT IT WASN'T TRYING ENOUGH, PRECISELY BECAUSE IT WAS TOO CONFIDENT IN ITS ABILITY TO PLEASE CROWDS IN ALL THE TROUBLING WAYS THAT HULK DESCRIBES.

AND IF IT ISN'T ALREADY CLEAR, RED HULK DOES CERTAINLY SEE A PROBLEM EMERGING IN MARVEL'S ATTITUDE TO ITS ENSEMBLE MOVIES. IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN AND WILL REMAIN A MONEY-MAKING MACHINE, AND THE TEMPTATION TO MINIMISE RISK BY SACRIFICING STORY TO ENSURE GOOD FEELS WILL NOT GO AWAY. NEVERTHELESS, RED HULK ARDENTLY BELIEVES IT'S FOOLISH TO CONDEMN WHAT IT'S DONE SO FAR, AND EVEN MORE FOOLISH TO BELIEVE THAT HAS EMBARKED ON AN INEVITABLE DESCENT INTO THE STORY-LESS ABYSS.

THE CLAIM THAT "MARVEL PROCEEDED TO STOP TELLING STORIES" IS SIMPLY LAUGHABLE, WHEN YOU LOOK AT MOST OF THE PHASE TWO MOVIES.

IF CIVIL WAR HAD BEEN RELEASED FIVE YEARS AGO, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN HAILED AS THE GREATEST SUPERHERO STORY EVER TOLD. BEFORE THE AVENGERS, MOST - CERTAINLY RED HULK - CONSIDERED IT IMPOSSIBLE TO MAKE A MOVIE WITH SUCH RIDICULOUS QUANTITY OF MAJOR CHARACTERS AND CROSSOVERS. THE FACT THAT IT'S NOT A TOTAL ANC COMPLETE DISASTER IS AN EXTRAORDINARY TESTAMENT TO MARVEL'S CREATIVE VISION (AND ALSO ITS CYBORG VISION....SORRY).

WE NEED TO ASK OURSELVES: WHY HAS MARVEL SUCCEEDED SO SPECTACULARLY WHERE EVERY OTHER STUDIO HAS FAILED OR NOT EVEN DARED TO TRY? JUST LOOK AT THE X-MEN FILMS. NOW THERE'S A FRANCHISE WHERE EMPATHY IS REALLY ASSUMED. AND YET IN THE COMICS, X-MEN WORK GREAT! MANY OF MARVEL'S GREATEST STORIES ARE TOLD WITH X-MEN CHARACTERS, WHILE FOX'S ARE TEPID AND VACUOUS.

MARVEL MOVIES ARE RUN BY KEVIN FEIGE AND HIS TEAM - THESE ARE PEOPLE WHO KNOW HOW TO PLEASE AUDIENCES, BUT THEY ARE ALSO COMIC NERDS. WHEREAS DC SOLD THEIR RIGHTS TO WARNER BROTHERS AND AS A CONSEQUENCE ITS UNIVERSE IS NOW BEING MANUFACTURED BY STUDIO EXECUTIVES WHO DON'T EVEN KNOW HOW TO MAKE A DECENT CAMEO SET-UP. FOX MANAGES X-MEN AS IF IT WERE FAST AND FURIOUS.

THE LESSON IS: CREATING A LONG-RUNNING FRANCHISE SET IN THE SAME UNIVERSE REQUIRES A DIFFERENT KIND OF STORYTELLING FROM A REGULAR MOVIE OR EVEN A SERIES OF MOVIE SEQUELS. YOU CAN'T SIMPLY FOLLOW A THREE ACT STRUCTURE AND HOPE FOR THE BEST. IF YOU'VE NEVER TOLD A COMIC BOOK STORY BEFORE, IT CAN TAKE SOME GETTING USED TO. THAT'S NOT TO SAY THAT THE PRINCIPLES OF STORYTELLING ARE FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT - THEY'RE NOT AT ALL. INDEED, THE VERY SUCCESS OF COMIC BOOKS, AND OF MARVEL MOVIES' CO-OPTING OF THEIR STYLE, IS PREMISED ON THE DEEP-ROOTED, INTUITIVE UNDERSTANDING OF HOW CHARACTERS AND CONFLICT FUNDAMENTALLY OPERATE. BUT THE WAY KEY DRAMAS, CHOICES AND ARCS ARE STRUCTURED IS OFTEN MUCH MORE INTRICATE OR AT LEAST MULTI-LAYERED IN SHARED-UNIVERSE COMICS THAN IN A CONVENTIONAL 100-PAGE SCREENPLAY. 

MARVEL UNDERSTANDS THIS. ITS PHASE ONE FILMS WERE FAIRLY STRAIGHT-FORWARD ACTION MOVIES BECAUSE THEY WERE MERELY DEALING WITH A SINGLE, SELF-CONTAINED CHARACTER. THE AVENGERS BROUGHT THEM ALL TOGETHER IN A TEAM-BUILDING MOVIE. BUT SINCE THEN, MARVEL HAS REALLY SOUGHT TO FLESH-OUT NOT JUST THE CHARACTERS BUT THE STORY-TELLING WORLD THEY LIVE IN. THEY INTENTIONALLY SET UP MAJOR CHOICES THE CONSEQUENCES OF WHICH SPAN MORE THAN ONE MOVIE. THEY INTRODUCE SMALLER CHARACTERS WITHIN BIGGER MOVIES. THEY HAVE SUBSIDIARY STORIES THAT INTERWEAVE WITH LARGER SAGAS. LET'S BE CLEAR: MARVEL DIDN'T HAVE TO DO THIS. IT COULD HAVE PRODUCED A SERIES OF NEW MOVIES THAT GO BACK TO SEPARATE, STAND-ALONE WORLDS WITH STANDARD MOVIE STRUCTURES. THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN SAFER, IF LESS CROWD-PLEASING. BUT INSTEAD, MARVEL HAS COMMITTED TO EMBRACING THE ART OF COMIC BOOK STORY STRUCTURES. AND FOR THE MOST PART, IT'S DONE SO SKILFULLY, THOUGH NATURALLY IT IS NOT IMMUNE TO MISSTEPS.

THE POINT IS, NOT ONLY IS MARVEL CONTINUING TO TELL STORIES, IT'S TELLING THEM IN A WAY HOLLYWOOD HAS NEVER ATTEMPTED BEFORE. IT'S GENUINELY EXCITING AND ORIGINAL. INSTEAD OF DECRYING THE BLUNDERS, WE SHOULD SEE THEM AS PART OF A LEARNING PROCESS. THE PROJECT AS A WHOLE IS LIKELY TO GET STRONGER FOR THEM. AND WE SHOULD LOOK TO THE FUTURE. WHAT FILM CRIT HULK FAILS TO MENTION IN HIS ENTIRE ARTICLE IS THAT MARVEL HAS A SLATE OF PHASE THREE MOVIES LINED UP THAT SEEM ALMOST TAILOR-MADE TO ADDRESS THE SHORTCOMINGS OF THE LAST COUPLE OF BIG FILMS. SOLO TITLES LIKE DOCTOR STRANGE, BLACK PANTHER, SPIDER-MAN AND CAPTAIN MARVEL WILL ALL INTRODUCE NEW THEMES AND STORY STRUCTURES TO THE MCU. THE NETFLIX SERIES HAVE ALREADY DONE EXACTLY THAT. THOR 3 LOOKS SET TO BE RELATIVELY INNOVATIVE, AND JAMES GUNN IS LIKELY TO STEER THE GUARDIANS ON A SOUND COURSE. THERE'S EVERY CHANCE THAT THE RETURN OF THE ENSEMBLE IN INFINITY WAR WILL REVERT BACK TO RISK-AVERSE CROWD-PLEASING, BUT THE STUDIO AS A WHOLE LOOKS LIKE IT WILL CONTINUE TO GROW ITS STORY-TELLING CAPABILITIES IN WAYS THAT REALLY ARE STAGGERING WHEN YOU CONSIDER HOW HOLLYWOOD IS SUPPOSED TO WORK.

SO WHILE MARVEL CAN CERTAINLY DO BETTER THAN CIVIL WAR, IT IS NOT YET TIME TO ISSUE BLANKET STATEMENTS OF DESPAIR. FEAR THEE NOT, FRIEND HULK! AND WELL MET!

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