The following article contains spoilers for ‘Captain America: Civil War’.
There was a moment in watching Captain America: Civil War when time stopped for me. Just as the surging alliances and hidden aggression had boiled to a frothy crescendo, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) looked at Captain America (Chris Evans) and demanded, “did you know?” Iron Man was, of course, referring to the fact that a brainwashed Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), acting as the Winter Soldier, murdered young Tony Stark’s parents. Cap answered, waveringly, that he did know.
When I should have been wrapped up in the drama of it all, I was jarringly reminded of the MCU’s rapid expansion, and how the whole enterprise is beginning to fold in on itself. Suddenly, there was a plot-hole which, frankly, still bothers me: when in the hell did Captain America find out about Bucky killing the Starks?
How did Rogers know about this secret incident, which Zemo spends most of the movie trying to uncover, in order to set off the final battle between heroes?
Did Bucky tell Steve that he killed Stark’s parents? Did Steve uncover Bucky’s backstory in the HYDRA mystery files in Captain America: The Winter Soldier? How was it that Zemo spent an entire film and a globe-trotting adventure into the Siberian wilderness only to reveal to Tony what Steve apparently knew all along? Wouldn’t Steve think twice about having Bucky and Tony in close proximity to one another, for fear that this sort of information might eventually bubble up?
This sudden revelation spells out a few problems for the film, and for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. First, from a storytelling perspective, this is a pretty big revelation to just drop on the viewers out of nowhere. That the filmmakers chose to reveal this tidbit, without warning, in a film already pushing the normal length of most other films, means that even with the multi-film foundations of the MCU, important details can still slip through the cracks. Second, even if this revelation was hinted at in The Winter Soldier, this demonstrates that juggling all the facts across the greater MCU is becoming a hurdle for fervent viewers and casual spectators.
This might seem nitpicky, but details are starting to get lost in the conversation, and it’s one of the reasons why Civil War feels like the first movie in the MCU that requires a syllabus of prior Marvel films in order to fully appreciate and comprehend.
For the most part, this shouldn’t be a problem. Audiences seem receptive to follow along the yearly MCU output. But slowly, new viewers could face the same problem that hinders new comic readers, namely the barrier of entry slowly erecting around the newest Marvel movie (or any superhero film, for that matter).
Consider the new price of admission. $20 blu-ray per Marvel film since the first Iron Man, or those very expensive Phase 1 and 2 collections that are hundreds of dollars each. If, say, you want an immediate refresher you can also expect the annual marathon events held by theaters. The Phase 2 marathon ran at an insane 29 hours. Assuming the next several films toe the two hour mark, the next Avengers marathon will clock in past two days. They could also go the DC route and release uncut blu-rays that add an hour of extra content to the existing theatrical run. The MCU is quickly dwarfing the length of any continuous film series in sheer runtime.
I don’t intend to use this issue as my soapbox, wearing an “End is Nigh (for the MCU)” board as I rant. Truthfully, however, the franchise is beginning to bloat, and I’m hoping Marvel has a contingency plan for when the third Avengers films drops. We can’t afford to root the climax of future films in details revealed in inorganic-feeling ways.