Addendum to Civil War review: Introducing Black Panther and Spider-Man

 

A benefit that this film has over even the first Avengers film is that it does not make a big deal with introductions. Black Panther shows up to attack Barnes; aside from Wilson and Rogers both saying they have no idea who he is, they acknowledge their ignorance and get back to the action–because we the audience already know he is T’Challa, and we already know who Black Panther is.

The benefit to this introduction to Parker is he himself explains to Stark that he fights because he did not save his uncle Ben and because with great power comes great responsibility–and not once does Parker ever say “Uncle Ben” and “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Civil War knows its audience: it is not bothering to catch them up on their comic book know-how. And that is one major change that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made to storytelling. As Mary Ellen Iatropoulos and I were trying to tease out from our earlier roundtable on this film franchise, the narrative structure of the films (although I would say far less in the ABC television series like Agents of SHIELD) has shifted away from having to introduce characters in a direct manner.

The film is confident that viewers already know Spider-Man because of the comics, the films, the multiple animated television series, the breakfast cereal.

But the film is also confident we know who Black Panther is–which is a bolt of confidence in giving that character his much-need acclaim, not only because of the critical success so far of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s recent run, but the overall history of the character.

That detail owes largely because the MCU has changed how narratives work. Rather than introduce T’Challa and Parker in the film, they actually were introduced in the trailers, in the commercials, in the behind-the-scenes featurettes by Marvel Studios and entertainment news interviews. It is a form of storytelling that has altered how major motion pictures in the United States work: instead of giving a proper introduction to a character, the viewers are forced to know who they are almost immediately just by seeing the costume:

“That’s Black Panther, he’s from Wakanda, he’s a badass, he has vibranium–let’s do this!”

“Oh, and that’s Spider-Man Peter Parker, he’s been in enough things you’ve watched, we’re not going to go too much into this–just watch him quip for a few minutes.”

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