Sunday, June 5, 2016

Game of Thrones Power Rankings (S6, E6)



Season 6, Episode 6: "Blood of my Blood"

Last week's rankings: "Hold the Door"

In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. In that spirit, here’s your weekly look at who’s winning and who’s (slowly, painfully) dying.


Winning!

1. Life!!

This is the first time since Season 3, Episode 2 (34 episodes ago!) that no one died on screen. Even for a show whose principle tagline is "All men must die," that's still a pretty amazing streak. Given that the final four episodes of the season look destined to be extremely blood-soaked, let's all enjoy this brief respite to celebrate the living. 

2. House Stark

We already saw Sansa and Jon reunite a few episodes ago, and they're headed to rescue Rickon. Bran and Benjen reunited this episode, and they're on their way to Castle Black. And A Girl is no longer just a  girl, but Arya Stark once again, and she's maybe about to join a traveling theater troupe that could land her back in Westerns. All of this seems to portend a possible Stark family reunion at the end of the season, where all six living Starks could be in the same place together for the first time since the series' second episode. 

Of course, the fact that the show is making us hope for this means it won't happen, and I actually think we might get another Stark death this season. The safe money there is on Rickon, but I have a sneaking feeling it will be Sansa. The two big things we needed out of Sansa as a character were for her to seize control of her life, and convince Jon to recapture Winterfell. Now that both of those things have happened, it feels a bit like Sansa's character arc is over, and the she's now expendable to the show. I hope I'm wrong. 

One last Stark thought: Does anyone else get the feeling Benjen might just essentially be a sleeper agent for the Night King? 




3. Daenerys Stormborn, Sun of our Stars

After Seasons 4 and 5 largely tore her down from her pedestal and exposed her as someone who still has a lot to learn about ruling, Season 6 has reaffirmed that she's still one of (fake) history's greatest conquerers. 

4. Queen Margaery

While Houses Lannister and Tyrell are quite pissed at the Crown's new status quo, it feels like Margaery knows what she's doing. Perhaps the biggest lesson she's learned from the Faith has nothing to do with actual faith, but is all about the importance of having the support of the masses--certainly something that Cersei has spent he life giving zero fucks about. 

5. Valerian Steel

Knowing what Sam knows about killing White Walkers, his stealing Heartsbane from his father feels like something of great importance. And a big hint that we haven't seen the last of the ever-cheerful Lord Randyll Tarly. 

Honorable Mention: Flashbacks

Hey, we saw the Mad King!! That leaves his son, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen as the only major character whose death predates Episode 1 that we haven't met via flashback yet. And I feel like he's definitely coming. 





Losing/Dying

1. House Lannister

Just as Season 6 might be giving us the Stark resurgence we've all been clamoring for, it might also finally be giving us the Lannister downfall that we've clamored for even more ravenously. With Tommen now actively going against the interests of his parents, Cersei stripped of almost all of her power, and Jaime headed for a possible defeat in the Riverlands, the Lannister name has never meant less. 

It will be fascinating to see where Cersei and Jaime go from here. For years now, we've all assumed the show's endgame will principally  involve Jon and Daenerys, while Cersei has just been busy worrying about the Titanic deck chairs that is the King's Landing power struggle. But will the show actually dispense with either of them early? I have a feeling that Cersei will at least live to see Tommen die, fulfilling the prophecy that she'll bury all of her children. But once Tommen goes, which could be any episode, it feels like Cersei will be expendable as well. 

2. Family Dinners

As we saw last season with the riveting House Bolton dinners at Winterfell, sitting with your family around the the dinner table can be a uniquely wretched experience in Westeros, and the reunion of House Tarly did not disappoint. Well, unless you were one of the people at the table. Or those scrumptious rolls that had to go uneaten.

3. Edmure Tully

Poor Ed. When Walder was expositing about "remind them who it was that got married at the Red Wedding," he was really talking to show viewers, who likely couldn't pick Edmure out of a lineup. Well, look at the bright side--while all of his comrades were being slaughtered, he was getting laid, and really, that's not a bad final act before getting chained up and used as a bargaining chip. 

4. Walder Frey

He may be gloating now, but I'm pretty sure the show only brought him back this season to kill him. There just aren't enough episodes left to turn him into a major villain. 

5. Mace Tyrell

When the histories are written of the greatest motivational speakers of Westeros, poor Mace won't even get a footnote. 

Honorable Mention: Spelling and Autocorrect

Seriously, I've been writing these columns for four years now, and I still have to look up how to spell half of these names every time I write them. And don't even get me started on how many times Westeros has gotten autocorrected to "Westerns" without my catching it. Damn you, George R.R. Martin!


Confirmed Kills: 0 (For reals!!)

Season Death Tally: Still 52 (and probably about to skyrocket)





Sunday, May 29, 2016

Game of Thrones Power Rankings (S6, E5)




Season 6, Episode 5: "The Door"

Last week's rankings: "Book of the Stranger"

In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. In that spirit, here’s your weekly look at who’s winning and who’s (slowly, painfully) dying.


Winning!

1. The Night King

With only 25 episodes left in the series, it feels like this guy is going to be the big winner of just about every episode he appears in until the end. This show is excellent at having a chief villain step out of the batter's box and up to the plate at just the right moment: Tywin when Joffrey died, Ramsay when Tywin died, and presumably the Night King will take on a much more visible role when Ramsay (inevitably, hopefully agonizingly) dies. 

Two important questions: Was he able to see Bran during the warging because Bran accidentally inserted himself too prominently into the past, or because The Night King can simply tell when he's being watched? And second, after touching and basically branding Bran, can he tell that Bran and Jon Snow are related? 

2. Lady Sansa Stark, Wardeness of The North, which Remembers

Of every important character on the show, Sansa is probably the only one who's never won a scene/circumstance/episode due to her own actions. Yes, she "won" when Joffrey decided to marry Margaery instead, or when Littlefinger arranged to have her smuggled out of King's Landing, but those are all decisions that were made beyond her consultation. 

Finally though, in her little chat with Littlefinger, Sansa felt like a winner. The questions were asked, and answered, on her terms, at her speed, and at her insistence. From the moment the conversation began, there was never a doubt who was running it, and that's a new status quo for her. We even saw it later in the episode, in the strategy meeting with Jon. Everything that happened at that particular chess board was due to Sansa's own orchestration--both the elements that she made privy to the room, and the elements that she kept within. 

3. The Targaryen Invasion of Westeros

I thought about placing Euron Greyjoy here, because he was made King, after all. But I withheld calling him a winner for two reasons. First of all, having to drown for a crown made out of sticks looks like a raw deal. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Euron's grand ole plan to gift Daenerys Targaryen both a thousand ships and his "big cock" seems destined to be precisely, ummm, half successful. 

But that successful half (the ships, obviously--get your mind out of the gutter) will hopefully, mercifully, finally, put the Targaryen invasion of Westeros back on track. 

4. Kinvara, High Priestess of the Red Temple of Volantis, the Flame of Truth, the Light of Wisdom, and First Servant of the Lord of Light

For the first 54 episodes of the show, Varys and Littlefinger were the two characters that always seemed like they owned every situation they found themselves in. That changed for both of them this episode. Sansa verbally overpowered Littlefinger, but what made him nervous was the possibility of Brienne killing him. For Varys, the overpowering and the nervousness both came from the same person, and he looked quite uncomfortable indeed. 

For years now, it's looked like the two great hopes for Westeros were Jon and Daenerys. Jon was brought back to life by a red priestess, and now Daenerys has access to an even more powerful and confident one. 

5. Jorah Mormont, Lord Commander of House Friendzone

He finally declared his love for his Khaleesi, and though it wasn't exactly returned in the same manner, her emotional affection for him was laid bare, as well as her commands for his continued health and wisdom. If there really is a way for Jorah to cure his greyscale, his Khaleesi commanding it will expedite its location. 

Honorable Mention: Gratuitous Nudity 

Making a real triumphant return, courtesy of the community theatre in Braavos! And how 'bout those production values, huh? Not bad! Every aspect of the city life we see in Essos just further confirms that it's clearly a much better place to live than Westeros, and all of the idiots fighting over an uncomfortable chair made out of swords are deeply misguided in their life goals. 


Losing/Dying

1. Literally Every Living Thing Hanging Out Under the Weirwood Tree

Seriously, here's the rundown of who was hanging out under the tree: The Three-Eyed Raven, Bran Stark, Hodor, Meera Reed, Summer (Bran's Direwolf), and Leaf and her Children of the Forest friends. So, all of them are now dead except Bran and Meera, who were left wandering alone in the endless winters north of the Wall, with no protection. 

The real loss here, obviously, is Hodor, but if I didn't give him a combined spot with those he died with, there'd just be no room left on the losers list for everything else that happened in the episode. Hodor, you are forever denied the spotlight you so richly deserved. But take solace that you will go down in eternity as the answer to the question, "Which Game of Thrones death most gave you PTSD?" 





Meanwhile, Bran has to live with the knowledge that he ruined Hodor's entire life, and then got him killed decades later. Honestly, if Hodor's life is the price of discovering you can time travel, I think most of us would rather just not know we can time travel. 

Also, we're down to two direwolves, one of which has been missing for the last 53 episodes. 

One prediction, though: Max von Sydow is considered one of the world's greatest living actors, and I don't think he signed on to play the Three-Eyed Raven just to appear in three episodes (nor would the show pay him for such a small amount of screen time). I'm not explicitly predicting he isn't dead, or that he'll come back to life; I'm just saying I don't think we've seen the last of Max von Sydow on the show. Most likely, it'll be an Obi-Wan-type situation, where, even though he's dead, he'll continue to appear in Bran's visions and impart more teachings. 

2. Empowering a Force

We saw it last season when Cersei empowered the Faith Militant, and they inevitably turned on her for her own life of sins. We saw it this week with the Children of the Forest, who created the White Walkers to fight off the First Men, and then eventually died at their hands. And we've seen it with the Republican Party, who spent the last three decades cultivating the vote of the uneducated and prejudiced, and now those people enabled Donald Trump Drumpf to destroy the party (and maybe the country). Empowering a group with the intention of using them to take out your enemies will likely result in them taking you out a bit further down the road. And now Tyrion and Varys are toying with granting power and influence to religious fanaticism within Meereen. Actions have consequences. 

3. Littlefinger

Just a week after I declared him a winner for managing to have every verbal encounter go exactly his way, we finally see him get trounced in one. However, the mention of Brynden "The Blackfish" Tully was interesting, and felt a bit like Littlefinger was still getting his little fingers into Sansa's ears. Sansa has now used that information, as Littlefinger no doubt knew she would. But is it accurate, reliable intel? Or does Littlefinger just want Sansa, and, by extension, Jon, to think it is, for reasons unknown? We shall see. 

4. House Greyjoy

Well, The Kingsmoot didn't go so well for them, did it? Where they're headed is anyone's guess, and here's mine: Dorne. First off, it's warm there, and Iron Islanders all just look fucking miserable. Second off, we haven't seen Dorne in four weeks now, and they have to rejoin the fray somehow. But lastly, surely Yara knows that Ellaria Sand killed the Martells and intends to take the fight to the Lannisters. There are only so many places in Westeros you can go with a fleet of ships, and Winterfell and Castle Black aren't on the list. We know the Greyjoys hate the Lannisters, so maybe an alliance with the new rulers of Dorne makes the most sense. 

5. A Girl

As much as a girl may claim she is no longer Arya Stark, a girl will continue being reminded that she once was. And a girl may also soon recall where Arya Stark hid her sword, Needle. And once a girl reclaims the blade of Arya Stark, she will no longer be just a girl. 

Honorable Mention: The Tormund/Brienne Love Affair We All Yearn For

Look out your window, Brienne!!




Confirmed Kills: 8

*Hodor (killed by a small army of wights, because it was his destiny to die at that moment, in that way, holding that door, because Bran didn't understand his own abilities and accidentally ruined Wylis Hodor's entire life)
*The Three-Eyed Raven (Killed by the Night King, because Bran couldn't fucking listen when he told him not to touch the stove)
*Summer (Killed by an army of wights while protecting Bran, yet again)
*Leaf and three other Children of the Forest (Killed by an army of wights who were controlled by the White Walkers, who the Children of the Forest created to begin with, all because karma's a bitch)
*A White Walker (Killed by Meera Reed when she hurled dragon glass at him) 

Season Death Tally: 52


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Game of Thrones Power Rankings (S6, E4)



Season 6, Episode 4: "Book of the Stranger"

Last week's rankings: "Oathbreaker"

In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. In that spirit, here’s your weekly look at who’s winning and who’s (slowly, painfully) dying.


Winning!

1. Khaleesi the Unburnt, Bow to Her!

Hey, remember when I posited last week that "Khaleesi" was a title that had outgrown its use to Daenerys, and was becoming a bit inconvenient? Ha! Shows you what the hell I know. 

Has the Mother of Dragons officially become the greatest lady badass in television history? Can we invoke the mercy rule on any other contestants? It was exactly 30 episodes ago that Daenerys calmly said "dracarys" to Drogon, taking command of the Unsullied while cooly eliminating the slave lords of Astapor, and then dropping the whip and granting freedom to her soldiers. That was a strong contender for greatest scene in the series, and has remained as such for the subsequent three years. I don't quite think Khaleesi's emergence from the flame-engulfed Dosh Khaleen tops it, but the fact that it's debatable is amazing enough. 

Also of note is the performance of Michiel Huisman, the actor who plays Daario, during that scene. Remember, Daario as a character had yet to see Daenerys withstand fire. He wasn't there in Season 1 when she hatched her dragons in Khal Drogo's funeral pyre. Even though Daario has been following her and sleeping with her for several seasons, he hadn't yet had reason to view her as a pseudo-deity. Huisman played the moment beautifully. 





2. Ramin Djawadi

You don't know who that is, do you? As the music composer for Game of Thrones, Ramin has been the series' secret weapon since the first episode. He's deservedly revered for the show's epic credit sequence music, which never gets old no matter how many time you hear it. Seriously, I've watched every episode 3-4 times and I still don't fast-forward through the opening credits. 

But Djawadi doesn't get nearly enough attention for how much he does in the scoring of individual scenes, characters, and motifs. His best work was on display twice in "Book of the Stranger," first when Sansa and Jon embraced, and then, of course, during the epic emergence of Daenerys through the flames of the Dosh Khaleen. It's the same music we've heard during every great Khaleesi moment, and it never fails to achieve immediate goosebumps. 

3. Hugs

That Sansa/Jon embrace at the beginning of the episode was legitimately the most heart-warming moment in the history of the show, right? And is it the first non-bro hug of actual, genuine affection that we've ever seen? Maybe even the first one that's ever occurred in Westeros? Shout out to hugs. Hugs are the best. 

4. Armies

Okay, big picture talk here. What I really noticed in this episode was all of the main characters gathering into factions and beginning to militarize their forces. While Season 2 gave us the War of the Five Kings (all of whom are dead now), this is looking like a War of the Seven Armies. We have 1) Jon Snow, Brienne, Davos, Castle Black, the Wildlings, Littlefinger, and the knights of the Vale; 2) Ramsay, the Bolton bannermen, the Umbers, and the Karstarks; 3) The Greyjoys and the Iron Islands; 4) The combined Lannister/Tyrell forces; 5) Daenerys, Jorah, Daario, Tyrion, Varys, all of Dothraki, the Unsullied, and three dragons; 6) Ellaria, the Sand Snakes, and the Dornish; and 7) The Night's King and the Army of the Dead. It's looking like all of these factions are about to start going at it, and shit's gonna get real. This feels like the beginning of the endgame. 

5. Littlefinger

In five plus seasons, this guy has never even come out on the losing end of a conversation. His mouth is like Ser Arthur Dayne's double-sword attack. 

Honorable Mention: Brienne of Tarth

A lady always remembers the first time a giant bearded wild man eye-fucks the shit out of her. 




Losing/Dying

1. The Great Khals

Like the Republican Party over the last 160 years, they had a good run. But unlike the Republican Party, this new boss won't be the same as the old boss. 

2. Melisandre

Brienne will want her dead as soon as she confirms that Melisandre was responsible for the smoke demon that took Renly from behind (see what I did there?), and Davos will want her dead when he inevitably finds out what happened to his favorite bedtime storyteller, the Lady Shireen. These bad portents are compounded by the fact that Jon Snow has now been resurrected, which means Melisandre as a character has probably served her purpose to the show. As we saw with Doran and Trystane Martell just a few episodes ago, as soon that Game of Thrones writer's room doesn't know what to do with you, you're done for. 

3. Ramsay Bolton

We just saw what happened to the Great Khals after they threatened to let their armies gang rape a resourceful woman. Ramsay did the same thing in his "Come at me" letter to Jon Snow, which may not prove great strategy. The North remembers, you sack of shit. 

4. Diplomacy

Showrunners Benioff and Weiss said they based Tyrion's strategy off of Abraham Lincoln, who first tried to use diplomacy to end slavery and avoid war. Lincoln failed, and war came. Whether Tyrion's diplomatic attempts will be any more successful remains to be seen, but this is fucking Game of Thrones we're talking about. Bet on war. 

5. Osha

It has to be disheartening for an actress to not be used on a show for over two years, and then be called back for less than five minutes of screen time, just to get stabbed in the neck. Has SAG filed a grievance yet? 

Honorable Mention: The Ale of the Night's Watch

A bunch of dudes, sequestered in the cold at the edge of the world, for thousands of years. Wouldn't you think learning to make a good ale is like the FIRST thing they'd do? In a show with dragons and ice zombies, Castle Black not having a good brew might be the single most unrealistic element. 


Confirmed Kills: 16 (I think)

*2 Dothraki out for a night on the town (both killed by Daario Naharis, one from a broken neck, the other stabbed and then face-smashed by a large rock)
*Osha (stabbed in the neck by Ramsay during a failed seduction attempt)
*13 (my best count) Khals and bloodriders in the Dosh Khaleen (incinerated by Daenerys the Unburnt after openly asking how she tastes)

Season Death Tally: 44


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Game of Thrones Power Rankings (S6, E3)




Season 6, Episode 3: "Oathbreaker"

Last week's rankings: "Home"

In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. In that spirit, here’s your weekly look at who’s winning and who’s (slowly, painfully) dying.





Winning!

1. Ser Arthur Dayne

I don't actually care that this guy died on screen in this episode, or that the character has been dead for over twenty years within the context of the show. Holy shit, this guy is a badass, and he absolutely won the episode, with the help of...

1a. Game of Thrones Fight Choreographers

I mean, am I crazy, or was that like the best on-screen sword fight you've ever seen? Unfortunately, I don't know who to give credit to, because IMDb doesn't list anyone as a "fight choreographer" or anything like that. So by default, let's all applaud Rowley Irlam, who has the most Game of Thrones-y name ever, and serves as the show's lead stunt coordinator. 

2. Varys' Particular Brand of Winning

Varys employed a strategy this week that must seem quite peculiar to all of his co-residents of Westeros and Essos. When he caught the person who had been betraying and aiding in the murder of his allies, he tortured her, raped her, severed her genitals, hung her in the castle square, beheaded her, and then fed her to dogs offered her a bag of money and a journey to a better life. Wait, what? Sure, she fed him information, but still! A bag of money and a cruise to new lands??? If that's the prize for betraying Varys, sign me up!! 

But seriously, this is what makes Varys such a perpetual winner on the show--he (along with Littlefinger) is the only person who understands that winning the long game means not giving into your compulsions to win every confrontation you find yourself in. If it were Cersei who captured someone betraying her house, you know how that would have gone. But Varys instead bargained with his enemy and lavished her with gifts, and has placed himself in a better strategic position for it. 

3. Small Council Meetings 

These just keep getting better and better. Also, when did Mace Tyrell return? How did he find out about the death of Ser Meryn Trant? How did he explain it to Cersei? How did he find out his children were imprisoned? Did he know of Loras' sexual proclivities? We need a Mace Tyrell bottle episode. 

4. Leanna Stark Theories

She's now been the centerpiece of two flashbacks in as many episodes, and they're definitely building to something. Book readers have long theorized about what really happened inside the Tower of Joy, and the idea of finally having that confirmed is tantalizing to them. Why could Ned hear her screaming? 

ON THE OTHER HAND: This episode had a hidden clue that's highly detrimental to the prevailing theories of Jon Snow's parentage. When Arya's a girl's sadistic faceless fighting teacher was grilling her, she asked Arya a girl about her siblings. When Arya a girl responded that she had four brothers, she was hit, because that wasn't true. When she then said three brothers and a half brother, she wasn't hit. So, why wasn't she hit? If the Leanna Stark theories are true, Arya a girl doesn't have a half brother, and the faceless men seem to know these things. There are only four possibilities: Either A) The faceless men for some reason don't know the truth about Jon Snow's parentage, even though they seem to know everything else, B) It's a continuity error in the show, C) Arya a girl really does have a half brother, but it's not Jon, or D) Jon and Arya a girl are half siblings after all. Curiouser and curiouser. 

5. Ser Davos' Pep Talks

"Now go fail again." And he will. 

Honorable MentionArya Stark A Girl

A girl can see again, which sadly means that a girl won't be turning into Daredevil anytime soon. It's a win for a girl, but a loss for me. 





Losing/Dying

1. The Donald Trump of Westeros

We can only hope for an imminent hanging to everyone that points at an entire group of people and says, "They're all murderers and rapists. I want them off our lands and behind a wall." GTFOOH

2. Rickon Stark, Osha, and Shaggydog

I've been wondering where they were for a while, and now I feel bad for hoping they'd return. Ramsay remains the worst. 

While we're here, it's time for a quick direwolf update. We started the show with six: Greywind, Ghost, Lady, Nymeria, Summer, and Shaggydog. Lady, Sansa's direwolf, was killed in Season 1, Episode 2 by Ned Stark, on orders of Robert Baratheon, for the whole ordeal between Arya, Joffrey, and the butcher's boy. Greywind, Robb's direwolf, was killed in his kennel during the Red Wedding, in Season 3, Episode 9. And now Shaggydog, Rickon's direwolf, seems to have met his end. That leaves Ghost, who's in Castle Black with Jon Snow, Summer, who's under the weirwood tree with Bran, and Nymeria, Arya's direwolf, who ran off into the woods 51 episodes ago. I'm particularly curious whether Nymeria will return. The show has always made a point in emphasizing the importance of the wolves, so I have to assume yes. But the when, where, and how will be particularly interesting. 

3. Khaleesi

That title, one of many for Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen, Breaker of Chains, is starting to be a bit of a hassle, right? 

4. Ned Stark's Honor

One of the biggest pieces of "evidence" for the theories of Jon Snow's true parentage is that the Honorable Ned Stark would have never ever had an affair behind his wife's back. But this week, we actually saw Ned's honor take a real hit. All of the stories about how he bested Ser Arthur Dayne proved false. See Arthur Dayne was ready to kill Ned before he was stabbed in the back by Howland Reed. 

To be fair, Ned was likely lying about what happened as a favor to Howland Reed, so he wasn't known as the person who stabbed the greatest sword fighter in Westeros in the back. Just as Ned may be lying about Jon Snow's parentage for the sake of a promise to his sister. The lesson is that Ned was willing to be dishonorable, or even for people to falsely perceive him as dishonorable, as long as it meant helping those he cared most about. It'll be interesting to see if more examples of this arise. 

5. Jon Snow's Karma

When Robb Stark executed Rickard Karstark for disobeying his orders, he began to lose the allegiance of his people, and they eventually betrayed and killed him. When Jon Snow killed Janos Slynt for refusing his orders, the same thing might have happened, and he was eventually betrayed and killed as well. Last week, when Jon was struggling with whether to execute those that betrayed and stabbed him, I was really expecting him to not do it, as an example of how death had changed him. I was wrong, and that didn't happen. Will there be consequences? 

Honorable Mentions: Jon Snow's Pecker and Playing Drinking Games with the Unsullied

Apparently neither make for a great party. 


Confirmed Kills: 11

4 of Ned Stark's bannermen (killed by the badass that was Ser Arthur Dayne at the Tower of Joy), Ser Gerold Hightower (killed by Ned Stark at the Tower of Joy), Ser Arthur Dayne (*not* killed by Ned Stark at the Tower of Joy), Bowen Marsh, Othell Yarwyck, Olly, and Alliser Thorne (hung by Jon Snow for betraying and stabbing him), and Shaggydog (presumably killed by Lord Smalljon Umber)

Season Death Tally: 28


Monday, May 9, 2016

Monday Morning Studio Exec—Captain America: Civil War





Monday Morning Studio Exec is a weekly summer column that examines whether the latest blockbusters succeeded in the goals of the franchise, financially and creatively


The most important moment in Captain America: Civil War was a line of dialogue so seemingly offhand that I don’t even remember which character actually said it. “Tony Stark first revealed himself as Iron Man eight years ago,” or some version of that, was the line, and it was the first time we’ve had a timeline inflicted upon the characters of the Marvel Cinematic universe. Prior to that, how quickly the events in these films succeeded one another was anyone’s guess. Knowing each film happens in the present, with the chronology between them proceeding in real time, is a game-changer, because it means we also know that the character of Tony Stark is now eight years older than he was when we first met him.

The implications for this revelation are huge. What has enabled Marvel to publish new Iron Man stories every year since 1962 is that drawn characters can be drawn the same age forever. What has enabled MGM to also pump out new James Bond movies since 1962 is by pretending the character never ages, and recasting when necessary to preserve that illusion. The MCU has now clearly announced they won’t go this route. When Robert Downey Jr. is too old to play Iron Man, that means Tony Stark will be too old to be Iron Man within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel and Disney have spent eight years and billions of dollars building this shared cinematic universe, and the revelation that they won’t recast their characters when the actors simply get too old to play them means that the continuation of this new business model will require even more ingenuity and risk-taking than building it.

For the Disney studio execs, this has to be mildly terrifying. To be fair, finding a new actor to fill Robert Downey Jr.’s iron boots was never going to be an easy prospect, just as finding a new James Bond is. But everything’s relative, and finding new actors to play Iron Man, Captain America, and now Spider-Man is certainly an easier prospect than finding new characters to anchor your universe around. Marvel currently has their cinematic slate planned through 2020, which is the end of Phase Three, and initial Phase Four plans are expected to be revealed in the next year or so. But what will Phase Six look like, when Marvel has had to retire all of their lead cinematic characters? Sure, Thor’s a God, so he can be recast and remain looking Thor-like, and Spider-Man’s only a teenager at the moment. But who else will these movies revolve around in 15 years? When franchises were isolated, you could always just reboot one any time, as we’ve seen with Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, and so many others. But as soon as you tie them all into the same shared universe, you can’t just restart one without blowing up the whole thing.

For now, we should all have faith in Kevin Feige, the architect of this universe. The 12 Marvel movies have almost all been varying degrees of good, and some have been great. He’s also shown a willingness to embrace offbeat characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy, who weren’t even appearing in comics at the time the movie was green lit. But that still felt like an aberration. For Feige to navigate an MCU without Iron Man, Captain America, and other franchise anchors that have been aged-out, dusting off buried gems like the Guardians will have to become the norm. Feige might have to somehow make viable franchises out of forgotten Marvel titles like Omega the Unknown, Sleepwalker, and Darkhawk.

Luckily for Feige, those are all problems for another decade; the MCU is eight years old now, so it’s not quite time to discuss how it’ll spend its college years. Besides, America may be in a post-nuclear apocalypse by then.


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Through 12 releases, we’ve basically seen two kinds of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies—the ones that have largely been allowed to be their own film, and the ones that seemingly exist chiefly to get the universe from Point A to Point B. The first two Captain America flicks definitely fit in the latter category, and Civil War certainly has a lot of that heavy lifting to do. But this is also a movie that really works on its own terms, and is perhaps the best balancing act we’ve seen between those two methodologies.

The easy comparison here is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the atrocity that we were all forced to sit through just six weeks ago. Both films obviously pit the chief characters of their respective universes against one another, and would therefore seem to be participating in equations with a lot of common denominators. But as soon as you get the “vs” and the release date out of the way, the comparisons are already over. In Civil War, the ideological conflict is real, while in Dawn of Justice, it’s so ludicrous that the climactic fight had to immediately disable Superman’s speaking ability just so reason was incapable of prevailing. In Civil War, the conflict was ushered along behind the scenes by an Eastern European secret agent who wanted revenge; in Dawn of Justice, the conflict is basically openly officiated by Mark Zuckerberg, for no apparent reason other than sitting courtside is cool and rich-guy-like. In Civil War, Spider-Man’s origin is avoided because we all know it, and he’s introduced in a more creative way; in Dawn of Justice, we had to watch Thomas and Martha Wayne get killed yet again.

I could go on, but what’s the point? Good movies don’t deserve to be so carefully measured against bad ones, and Civil War is a good movie. Its elephant-in-the-room flaw is that it’s too long. Mark Harris once questioned whether these comic book movies, once they hit all the requisite Easter eggs and set up future installments, still had time to be actual movies. Now we know the answer: sure they do, as long as they’re 2½ hours. But having said that, there’s nothing really here that feels like it shouldn’t have been. The presence of Spider-Man and Ant Man weren’t plot necessities, but they did create a better movie. Black Panther, on the other hand, felt like he did have to be here.

Civil War enjoyed an opening weekend gross of 181 million dollars, which is the fifth best all-time. It’s about 10 million shy of what the previous Avengers movie opened with, but 15 million more than Batman v Superman, which had several advantages: it came first, it featured bigger, more iconic characters appearing together in a movie for the very first time, and it didn’t have to contend with a comic-book-movie-unfriendly holiday like Mother’s Day.

The most important thing for studios and summer blockbusters isn’t to make a great movie; it’s to avoid making a terrible one. Civil War unanimously achieved that, as well as every other goal it aimed for. It impressively expanded the Marvel canvas by bringing Ant Man to a much larger audience via what might be the film’s most enjoyable scene, and Spider-Man and the Black Panther aced their screen tests. Now all Feige has to do is stop all of his actors from ever aging.