Thursday, February 18, 2016

Marvel's Civil War Interconnectivity: A Case Study from the Hydra Uprising

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When I was planning out this series, it was just two articles:  one explaining why I think Marvel’s Civil War needs to be more than just Captain America: Civil War, and one outlining how it could be more than just Captain America: Civil War.  That only lasted until I finished writing up possible connections with the Phase 3 movies, realized how long that section was, and decided to split the second half into 2 articles (I know, how very Harry Potter/Hunger Games/Twilight of me!).  Now, here I am adding yet another article to this series, which will lay out an example of exactly what I’m talking about, using a specific example from the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a template.

This article is actually coming as a response to some of the feedback on the first article that I received on Reddit.  Specifically, there was some confusion as to exactly what I mean by “Civil War Needs to be BIG”—I realize now a better title would have been “Why Marvel’s Civil War Needs to be BIGger than Captain America: Civil War.”

Regardless, to answer those questions, I am going to look at Marvel’s Phase 2—specifically from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 through the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3 premiere—to understand the interconnectivity of that series and 3 of the movies that came out during that time (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man).

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1

We start off at the beginning of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1, which introduced the villainous organization Centipede very quickly in the series premiere.  Centipede was a group of scientists that basically threw a bunch of superpower-granting stuff into a blender, shoved it into the veins of semi-willing-but-uninformed participants, and hoped for the best.  Over the course of the season, we learned a little more about Centipede and its mysterious leader, the Clairvoyant.  However, it was not until the episode just before Captain America: The Winter Soldier premiered in April 2014 that we learned a key piece of information about both the Clairvoyant and Centipede:  the Clairvoyant had a S.H.I.E.L.D. security clearance—he was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent!  This is a reveal that had been building for months during the first season of AoS, but which was still nevertheless a shock when it was finally revealed.

However, was this S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (the “Clairvoyant”) just an isolated incident, or part of a larger conspiracy?  The ending of that episode certainly left us with more questions than answers on that point.  And that led directly into…

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
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Where to begin with this movie…  Simply put, this is one of the best movies to come out in years, and likely the best MCU movie to-date (I’m a fan, if you couldn’t tell!).  The Avengers was groundbreaking as the culmination of 4 years of movies around 4 different characters, but this was the better movie based on its plot, character development, depth, visuals… The Winter Soldier is an amazing movie, and stands quite well on its own, even if you have not seen Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers—and yet it is even better when you know what went before it.

However, what we’re talking about here are not the connections between The Winter Soldier and the previous movies.  Rather, we are talking about the connections between The Winter Soldier and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which run very deep, down to the fact that Sitwell receives his orders to report to the Lemurian Star (the ship he’s on at the beginning of the movie) at the end of his final appearance on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Two pieces of S.H.I.E.L.D. technology make their first appearance in this movie—Fury’s cutting tool and Romanoff’s face mask—that are later expanded on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

And even more than those minor connections is the massive change that this movie signals for the MCU as a whole—one which Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. capitalizes on.  Of course, I am referring to the Hydra reveal.  Though Cap believed Hydra to have been defeated when he defeated Red Skull, this movie reveals that Hydra has been there all along, waiting and orchestrating in the background.  Cap has a difficult decision to make, and he leads an ad hoc team in attacking the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters (the Triskelion, which was alluded to on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and also appeared in Ant-Man).  Cap forces Hydra out of the shadows and defeats both Alexander Pierce and the INSIGHT program.  At this point, S.H.I.E.L.D. has essentially been disbanded, and the loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are looking for other employment—those that are alive to do so, which leads us right back to…

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Seasons 1 and 2

After Captain America: The Winter Soldier basically destroyed their organization, what happened to Coulson and his team?  This is where the crossover/tie-in potential inherent in the MCU really shined:  the aftermath of The Winter Soldier.  Where the movie focused on Cap and his group (who knew what was going on), AoS focused on the ground-level agents who had no idea what was happening and could only react to the situation as it unfolded (for good or ill).  Even though the audience knows what’s going on (having already seen The Winter Soldier), we are still brought along on the ride as Coulson and company learn that Hydra infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. at the highest levels, as they experience the fear and confusion of not knowing who to trust, and as they fight to maintain/regain (depending on perspective) control of the Hub against a furious Hydra onslaught—even when it’s revealed that neither group is actually Hydra!  And we experience the same emotions as the heroes when first Garrett and then Ward reveal themselves to have been Hydra moles working against S.H.I.E.L.D. from the beginning.  This fills in a lot of the gaps left by The Winter Soldier’s top-down approach to its events.

Following the Hydra reveal, Coulson first has to regain his own sense of identity and then help his team regain their sense of identity before finally being commissioned by Fury to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. the right way.  Some have argued that AoS really undid the morals of The Winter Soldier with Skye’s realization that “someone needs to protect these secrets” and Fury’s appointment of Coulson as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., but that ignores the big picture, that these are different characters approaching the same events from different perspectives.  And the universe is actually better for exploring both perspectives.

The aftermath of The Winter Soldier is the driving factor for the final 6 episodes of season 1, and it remains in the background through much of season 2.  In contrast to the S.H.I.E.L.D. with unlimited resources and manpower that we saw in AoS season 1 and The Winter Soldier, Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. is small, strapped for resources, and hunted by the government.  We also learn in the second half of the season that it is more deeply divided than ever, with a second S.H.I.E.L.D. faction having emerged from the wreckage left behind by the Hydra Uprising/The Winter Soldier.  Where Coulson rebuilt S.H.I.E.L.D. along a similar pattern to the original, Gonzales rebuilt his S.H.I.E.L.D. trying to take the lessons of Hydra to heart:  in contrast to the original’s secrecy, Gonzales emphasized transparency; in contrast to the original’s fascination with alien objects and enhanced people, Gonzales emphasized a mistrust of anything that could threaten the human race as a whole.  Coulson had to not only fight against this mistrust but also bring the fight to Hydra to track down Loki’s scepter (which we learned in the Avengers: Age of Ultron prelude comic was stolen by Hydra shortly before the Hydra Uprising).

Immediately before Age of Ultron’s release, Coulson convinced Gonzales to support a plan for him to lead a small team into a Hydra base, rescue prisoners, and gather intelligence.  Coulson’s plan went off mostly without a hitch, leading to his discovery of the location of Baron Strucker’s castle, as well as the location of Loki’s scepter.  At the end of that episode, Coulson passed this information along to Maria Hill along with the instruction that “It’s time to call in the Avengers.”  This leads directly into the opening of…

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Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron is not as good as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, though it is still a fun movie.  Unfortunately, in contrast to the latter’s focus on its own story (with world-building as a secondary concern), the former finds itself so beholden to a need to acknowledge past properties and lay the foundation for future ones that its own story gets pushed aside for entire stretches of runtime.  It’s still a good movie, but not as good as The Avengers or The Winter Soldier.

In terms of shared continuity, however, it is abundantly clear just how this movie fits into the universe established by the previous movies and by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  The Avengers have been fighting together since the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. to mop up the final pieces of Hydra.  Currently, they are using the information which Coulson provided to Maria Hill to capture the final Hydra base and reacquire Loki’s scepter.  This section of the movie is relatively brief, but it is clearly following up on and dealing with the aftermath of the Hydra uprising within S.H.I.E.L.D.  Up until this point, everything (both this movie and AoS) has been driven by the events of The Winter Soldier, even though each property still has its own story to tell.

Interestingly, Ultron himself is also a direct result of Hydra:  because S.H.I.E.L.D. is a shell of its former self and no longer has the ability to protect the world, Tony Stark decides to step in and create an artificial intelligence capable of controlling an army of drones to fill the void in world security left by S.H.I.E.L.D.’s collapse.  Obviously this does not work out, leading to a huge fight against Ultron and the near-annihilation of the Earth.

Ultron is (at least for now) confined to a single movie, but that’s all right because in the grand scheme of things he was actually much less important to the MCU than Hydra.  However, the ramifications of Tony’s actions in creating Ultron are felt in small ways all through the remainder of Phase 2, particularly in…

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2 and Ant-Man

I’m lumping both of these together because they both include passing references to Avengers: Age of Ultron, specifically to Ultron’s plan to use the entire country/city of Sokovia as a meteor to cause an extinction-level event.  This introduces and builds on the idea that not everyone likes the Avengers—some people are suspicious of them because they are allowed to run around doing anything they want without any supervision.

In terms of other direct tie-ins, there’s the obvious tie-in that “Theta Protocol” (referenced a couple times in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2) turned out to be nothing less than Coulson’s mission to repair the original helicarrier for Fury, who used it to save the people of Sokovia.  Additionally, Hydra is out of the shadows far enough for a Hydra official to openly buy Darren Cross’ Yellowjacket technology.  Then the AoS season 3 premiere also alluded to the events of Ant-Man (a small tie-in, and all that was strictly necessary for a movie whose events were largely self-contained).


Captain America: The Winter Soldier can stand on its own as a movie, even though it definitely builds on the events of previous movies and itself sets events into motion which would not be completed until a future movie.  However, the events of the movie are not confined to a single movie.  Instead, the event of the Hydra Uprising carries with it massive consequences which are explored much more deeply on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and in Avengers: Age of Ultron.  In this way, the very personal story of Captain America’s discovery that not only did Bucky survive his supposed death but Hydra also survived under the protection of S.H.I.E.L.D. is also a large-scale political thriller whose aftermath extends for a full year after the movie itself ends.  In other words, it should be clear from all this that The Winter Soldier had consequences which were not confined to a single movie.

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Now to bring this back to the question of Captain America: Civil War.  Simply put, that is exactly what I am looking for this spring.  I am looking for this movie to not only be a very personal story about Steve Rogers and Tony Stark having a disagreement over Bucky, but also for it to be a large-scale conflict which shakes the MCU to its core.  Even though the movie itself should stand on its own merit, I am looking for the events of the movie to have major implications which are explored and hinted at for years to come.  In other words, I’m looking for something similar to the last Captain America movie, but on a grander scale!

What did you think of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and its aftermath, which carried over into more movies and TV shows?  Do you want to see the same thing from Captain America: Civil War?  Let me know in the comments!

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  1. The Russos and pretty much everyone involved with MCU have said that Civil War is a game-changer for the heroes and the Universe itself, as we know them.

  2. I scream "Oorah Bandidos" every chance that I get!

    You know why? Because I'm too legit to quit!

  3. What kind of consequences would you like/expect to see in the movies that are coming out after CA:CW?

    The Spider-Man movie seems like an obvious fit for discussions on the consequences of the Sokovia Accords, as well as Black Panther, maybe?
    Would consequences be visible in off-world movies? Dr. Strange? Thor: Ragnarok?

    1. It depends on the movie. I'm publishing another article next week going into more specifics, but I expect to see Spider-Man and Black Panther pick up after Civil War with their respective heroes trying to figure out where to go after the fight.

      On the other hand, if the movie is taking place off-world, I expect very little connection; the most I expect from Ragnarok, for example, is some explanation of what Hulk's doing on not-Earth!