With a name less like a one-two punch and more like a little poem of introduction, Keanu Reeves has always been distinctive. The true test of a Movie Star is the ability to be known by only one name—Bruce, George, Leo, Johnny—and there is no name more evocative than “Keanu”. Like it’s wearer it is at once cool and mysterious, singular and offbeat. Keanu—the name and Movie Star—has such presence in pop culture that he can carry an entire movie as a concept. Keanu Reeves is one of the most enduring actors of the contemporary era, and a celebrity who has reached near-mythic proportions, universally beloved and more admired than ever, thanks to some post-John Wick revisionism. And where so many of his fellow Movie Stars have stumbled and lost stature, Reeves remains, the coolest, most unknowable, most untouchable—the last great Movie Star. Continue reading “Keanu Reeves: The Last Great Movie Star”
The saddest scene in Captain America: Civil War is also one of the smallest. Steve Rogers, decked out in his superhero uniform, stands in the middle of a tiny, run-down apartment in Bucharest, taking in the near-squalor in which his best friend Bucky Barnes has been living for some time. Barnes is a fugitive, so it’s not like he’d be living high on the hog anyway, but there’s something about the contrast of Captain America and this dark, depressing apartment that doesn’t jive. It’s a sharp, startling reminder of how fate diverged for Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes.
At the beginning of Captain America: Civil War, Tony Stark is drowning in guilt. Confronted by a bereaved mother who lost a child in Sokovia—for which Stark is responsible, as the creator of Ultron—and flailing in the wake of a breakup with Pepper Potts, Stark is unmoored. Because he’s not good at self-regulating (see also: his addiction issues), he latches onto the proposed Sokovia Accords as a way to regulate the Avengers and hopefully prevent future Sokovias. Stark’s reasoning is understandable and even sympathetic. He is not a villain and he isn’t trying to take over the world, he just wants a framework to assume responsibility for sending the Avengers into the world to fight, thus removing that very responsibility from the Avengers’ shoulders.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Avengers are the apex predators of the superhero world. We know there are other powered individuals out there thanks to television shows like Agents of SHIELD and the growing Defenders universe on Netflix. But the Avengers are the upper echelon of the costumed set—the most powerful, the best funded, most well-resourced superheroes in the world. They have Tony Stark, one of the richest people in the world and arguably the smartest person; Captain America, the gold standard of enhanced humans; and Thor, an alien space prince with almost unlimited power. Who could possibly compete with that?
Steve Rogers has never been a happy go lucky guy. The first time we meet him in Captain America: The First Avenger, he’s a scrappy little guy, determined to join the US Army and fight in World War II to stand up to bullies. Standing up to bullies is practically Rogers’ full-time occupation, and we meet him in the midst of an act of rebellion, rejecting his place on the home front to try and earn one on the battlefield so he can stand up to bullies of the Nazi variety.
Every time a Marvel movie comes out, someone inevitably complains about the “low stakes”, saying that because we know what movies will be coming out for the next however many years, we know everyone will survive and that death in the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t really matter because no one stays dead anyway. This is true—Captain America, Agent Coulson, Groot, Bucky Barnes, Nick Fury, and Pepper Potts have all had fake-out deaths. And before Avengers: Age of Ultron even hit theaters, we knew that Hawkeye would be appearing in next year’s Captain America: Civil War, so despite rumors that circulated for years, we knew Hawkeye would not die in Ultron. Even Pietro Maximoff’s late death in Ultron has an air of impermanence about it, simply because everyone else has come back to life at some point. Why not him? We know Joss Whedon would prefer that he stay dead, but who says Marvel will honor Whedon’s wishes?
When comparing The Avengers to its follow up, Avengers: Age of Ultron, I have described Ultron as more “thematic”. The Avengers is super fun but it’s not really about anything other than being fun, but Ultron actually has some creative and narrative aims that give it some heft in the comic book genre. Narrative and character threads that have been unspooling for the ten previous movies come to bear in Ultron, and then they spin out in new directions, setting up events to come not by dropping irrelevant Easter eggs but by shifting the landscape around the Avengers in such a way that there can’t help but be consequences down the line. Ultron expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe in ways that will change it forever—not for nothing is next year’s marquee Marvel title Captain America: Civil War.