Mentor Text: CIVIL WAR, SPIDER-MAN 2, And The Dangers Of Assumed Empathy by FILM CRIT HULK
- Critical Writing
- Literary Analysis
- Voice & persona
I grew up a fan of comic books and science fiction. So, obviously, I’m in a great era for entertainment right now. As an English teacher, I bring the things I enjoy into the classroom. We talk about Star Wars and superhero stuff. I have regular chats with students about our favorite shows.
This also means that I have a handful of websites that I visit on a regular basis. One of these is the amazing BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH. Any geek worth their salt probably already knows about it. It’s an amazing hub of pop culture writing, with an amazing community of writers and commenters. I’ve known for a while that this site would make an appearance in this column.
My Grade 9 class has been talking about storytelling, and my Grade 10s the hero’s journey. We’ve been discussing how stories are told, and how heroes are developed. So, aside from my obvious enjoyment of this piece, it actually touches on stuff that’s relevant to what we’re talking about.
Though FILM CRIT HULK is an obvious pseudonym, a persona taken on by a writer, he does a wonderful job deconstructing a flaw in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, particularly in the way the audience is implicit in these stories working.
How We Might Use This Text:
Critical Writing — An important conceit in this piece is the fact that this is criticizing a film that was very well recieved. It made a lot of money, and pretty much everyone liked it. Many people, including FILM CRIT HULK, argue that one of its greatest strengths is the way that it handles some characters.
Then, he goes into a pretty detailed criticism of the storytelling, and largely, the characterization in Civil War, and other hugely successful Marvel films. Much of the criticism actually serves as a very good deconstruction of Marvel Studios’ storytelling, focusing on specific techniques and devices. It actually winds up being a strong bit of literary analysis.
Another aspect of this piece that I would love to expose to my own amateur critics is the contrasts with other works. What’s delightful is that it contrasts Civil War with other successful Marvel pictures. Much of the other criticism of this film leans heavily on contrasting it with Batman vs. Superman, a much more critically reviled piece, that fell flat with many viewers. By contrasting it with more successful works, it makes for stronger criticism. In fact, if there were one thing I would want writers to take from this, it would be to avoid the trap of easy criticism via comparisons to “lesser” materials.
Additionally, and beautifully, this piece highlights an important thing about current film. We often build our love of a film on a single scene, as many of us have done with the Spiderman scenes in Civil War. FILM CRIT HULK points this out:
“AND AS A RESULT, IN JUST 15 MINUTES, THE FILM DOES EVERYTHING IT NEEDS TO DO TO MAKE THE SCENE WORK LIKE GANGBUSTERS ON PRETTY MUCH EVERY LEVEL. SUCH ARE THE BENEFITS OF EMPLOYING GOOD STORYTELLING TACTICS!
HULK ONLY WISHES THE SAME COULD BE SAID FOR NOT ONLY THE REST OF THE MOVIE, BUT WHATEVER THE HELL MARVEL SEEMS TO BE DOING THESE DAYS.”
Comparing the strengths of the film to its weaknesses is another strong aspect of this criticism. Too often, it seems, in our current world of critical writing, critics seem to have a tendency to work in the extremes. Things are oh so very good, or they are abysmal. There seems to be no middle ground, and a reluctance to find good in the bad, or vice versa. FILM CRIT HULK does a wonderful job of highlighting both the positives and negatives of the storytelling in this film.
Another thing that works well in this criticism is FILM CRIT HULK’s use of perspective and context. He establishes the history of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, building a context for the type of storytelling that the film typifies, as well as establishing that other attempts to tell these stories exist.
Literary Analysis — I already mentioned that this reads more like a literary analysis than film criticism. FILM CRIT HULK focuses on the storytelling technique as opposed to the performances, or the visual aspects of the film. I think that’s what drew me to this piece in particular. Film is a storytelling medium, and this piece focuses on that.
FILM CRIT HULK bases his analysis on things such as awareness of audience, character development, plotting, conflict, narrative, use of humour, and allegory. Using the larger context of the Marvel films, superhero movies and the comic book world, FILM CRIT HULK looks at Civil War like we would expect a student to look at a novel. He looks at what works and what doesn’t. There is depth there too. I’d be overjoyed to have a student go into any single part of the film the way FILM CRIT HULK does with Civil War’s underdevelopment of Bucky Barnes.
“THIS WOULDN’T BE SUCH A BIG DEAL, BUT THIS CHARACTER IS THE LINCHPIN OF THE ENTIRE MOVIE, NAY THE LAST TWO MOVIES. AND YET HE HAS NO REAL ARC, JUST MERE TEASING OUT OF THE POSSIBILITY OF AN ARC – AND WONKY MOVEMENT BACK AND FORTH DEPENDING ON WHAT IS MORE CONFLICT-ORIENTED TO THAT MOMENT ASSUMING YOU’LL CARE… BUT HULK’S SORRY, IT HAS TO BE MORE THAN STEVE ROGERS CARING ABOUT BUCKY.
WE HAVE TO CARE ABOUT HIM TOO.”
Perhaps it may be nothing more than going beyond their enjoyment of the piece. The movie is fun, yes, but once one begins thinking about it, like FILM CRIT HULK points out, there are many elements, such as the development of Bucky’s character, that aren’t that well done.
Voice & persona– Well, FILM CRIT HULK is a fun persona. There are many Hulks roaming about the Internet, offering grammatically challenged, surly opinions on all kinds of things in all caps. It would be a fun voice in which to write. The Hulk voice allows for some bluntness, but if one goes deeper into the persona, there is the human side of the Hulk, Bruce Banner, an intelligent scientist. FILM CRIT HULK is reminiscent of the periods when the raging Hulk had the awareness and intelligence of Banner.
For our writers, I think it might actually be a fun exercise to have them work, and write, in a unique voice like this. There are some rules and expectations to writing like a Hulk, and I think that would give students a safe way to experiment. In his own words, from theverge.com:
Then a number of people then say “well that’s the worst way to write that kind of big long essay,” which is a totally understandable view too, but Hulk thinks the whole thing actually allows for a deeper affectation. For instance, Hulk thinks a few people might be missing that it’s not actually gimmick, but instead a device.
Could a device such as this be a useful exercise, or even tool, for our writers to use?
The great thing about this piece of criticism is that it made me think. I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and really considered much of the storytelling to be strong. However, after reading this, I realized that I was sort of wrong about that. There are great things, yes, but there is a lot of reliance on the audience to fill in a lot of blanks. Our students consume a whopping pile of film, tv and story. It’s important that we expose them to writing like FILM CRIT HULK’s, that encourages to do more than accept their pop culture at face value.
What mentor texts do you use for critical writing? What elements of criticism do you focus upon? What voice would you like to see your writers adopt in their work?