This summer, quite a few critics–and I’d imagine some audiences–found themselves burned out by the massive, city-level destruction that seems to have become the norm in action movies, but that doesn’t come accompanied with corresponding emotional reactions or appropriate societal responses. Judging from the trailer of Captain America The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers shares your pain:
A trailer like this is a reminder of how limited the action framework is when it comes to science-fiction (and fantastical) storytelling. Do we really believe that if we encountered creatures from other planets, that the first and only things we’d do is fight each other? We really can’t imagine that aliens might show up because they’re curious? Or because we could learn from each other? Or because they want to reform us, but maybe they want to do it covertly, or to get us on board first? Even if fighting is part of first contact, or develops out of miscommunications or discoveries during first contact, are those battles really the only things we know how to tell stories about, or the most interesting things for us to tell stories about?
I’d never deny how enjoyable it is to watch the Hulk thrash Loki around like a rag doll. But I deeply appreciate the psychological drama of watching Tony Stark and Bruce Banner snipe at each other in the lab, too. I’d be genuinely curious to see what it looks like for Captain America to learn what ridiculously handsome men in their late twenties and early thirties do for fun when barbershop quartets go out of vogue, and to see how a gent from the forties deals with modern dating norms with Kristen from Statistics. And I’m badly hoping that Jane Foster and Darcy now have a giant-sized research grant now that we know Asgard is out there.
This is a problem that Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD has, too: it’s got scientists on board Agent Coulson’s jet, but they don’t actually get to spend time unlocking the wonders of a dramatically transformed world, just defusing the problems that they present. A marvelous world stops feeling marvelous after a while if discoveries that ought to change everything we know about the world only present opportunities for conflict, and only provides us insight into a few heroes heads, rather than changing the way the rest of us live, and love, and wonder.