This isn’t about DC films, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, X-men: Apocalypse. This isn’t a comparison or a fanboy “mine is better than yours” argument. This isn’t even about Zemo the character. This IS about what it takes to be a successful comic book film franchise in 2016.
First thing you need is Zemo. Here is why.
The Zemo always flows downhill.
You need Zemo because the villain facilitates the best thing going for Marvel’s third installment in the Captain America series and the previous 13th installment in the MCU, STORY. Good old fashion well-written, compelling narrative story. He drives the narrative movement beyond just a tussle in an airport over the Sokovia Accords and turns the Civil War into a real conflict with repercussions of the MCU that won't just reset right away. Tony and Cap will never be the same.
Zemo isn’t the most dynamic villain in the MCU. He isn’t even close to the greatest among cinematic villains in the superhero/comic book genre.
Zemo comes in and out of the Cap 3 narrative without really ever dominating it, yet he still has some meat as a character and his final discussion with Black Panther shows some depth to the character. He pulls some of the strings to pit two iconic heroes against each other, but never gets in their way (narratively). The story is still theirs. It really is a Civil War not just a token VS matchup with no weight.
He also embodies the Avenger’s conscience serving as a reminder of what the toll their collateral damage has taken on individuals and families while presenting the very real danger they ignite when they wage war on global threats. Zemo gives the Sokovia Accords a very real face.
Zemo raises the stakes.
You need Zemo because you need to know how important story is to these movies. Story is everything; everyone can do visually compelling movies these days, some better than others, but not all tell a solid, narrative with suspense, twists, real drama, deep and long term character movement, and accessible plots.
Zemo is not the evil villain Baron Zemo from the comics, and I usually dislike it when these movies retcon a character’s name but not the actual character. It still serves as a point of contention for me personally in this film, but again, the story (both visual and as a narrative) wins out. Zemo works whether I like that he isn’t even Baron Zemo or not because Zemo tells a story. I can make my peace with the backstory and the lack of him being a Captain America super villain in this movie.
Zemo plays the long game
Most importantly, you need Zemo because Zemo wasn’t even the best part of this villain. The best part of Zemo is that this character uses narrative leverage that this cinematic universe has been building up for the past 8 years and 12 movies. He fulfills a prophecy if you will. “That’s the guy my dad wouldn’t shut up about.” Think about the weight of that statement in the context of the last 13 MCU films. This relationship has been building for 8 years since Cap and Tony first started gracing the big screen, and the conflict has been brewing since they first faced off in Avengers. That gives so much more weight and power to the story and its characters. We didn't just meet these guys (cinematically) in this story. Building on the comic love we all have for these characters and stories. It's the long game cinematically that really drives this all home. Now you know what it is to be Zemo.
“Put on the suit, let’s go a few rounds.”
The backstory for Tony Stark started in 2008 and we have become increasingly invested in this character each time Robert Downey Jr struts out in hot rod red and gold. Captain America is the same thing. He’s the first Avenger and near the top of the list for most beloved MCU characters. We’ve seen both of these guys on their best & worst days.
We are so invested in them; it begins to feel like a TV show that has been running for a decade, and you know only a few of your favorites will be left standing. It's a little intense for the tone the MCU has set so far. You really feel it when Zemo unveils the intricate story that has been woven in and amongst Hulk and Thor tossing aliens, Hydra, and omnipotent digital robots around. You know Tony. You know Cap. And it really pulls at the old heart strings when Zemo finally makes Civil War real.
'Did you know?! Steve, did you know?'
“I don't care. He killed my mom.”
It’s narrative weight has been building through nearly a decade of films. Zemo delivers the tragic conflict, brings all of Tony's pain to the surface and questions Cap's righteous honor. The fight to follow isn't between two characters. The fight that follows is between two friends we understand, care about, and have a real stake in.
“He's my friend."
"So was I.”
And that, my friends, is how you do it.
You can’t build an entire league of heroes and ask us to care about one of their deaths when we haven’t watched them grow until we have some investment in them as a symbol of hope, truth, and justice.
You can’t add 5 new characters to an already packed ensemble cast in one film and ask us to really feel the weight of an imminent global apocalypse.
So remember one thing Mr. Movie Studio Executive looking to get the billions of dollars from these generations raised on comic books, the superhero supporters, the geeky geeks.
Remember Zemo. Remember that he may be the lamest, dumbest retcon villain in the MCU (not my opinion), and remember how he delivered the carried the narrative weight of 13 films and delivered such a compelling and dramatic conflict worthy of being the MCU's Civil War. Remember how he was the 'glue' in the 4th billion dollar MCU film.
Zemo is cool and refreshing. Be like Zemo.
For more in this article including a poll for your favorite 2016 superhero cinematic villain, visit our site at www.superflixmovies.com or follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/superflixmovies/ or on Twitter @superflixmovies or my writing @billbuster95.
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Geek out. Thanks for reading.