I woke up this morning to see Vanity Fair’s article, “Is This The One Flaw in the Otherwise Great Captain America: Civil War?,” splashed across my Twitter feed as though it had paid to get there. Clearly, this is a topic that has struck a nerve with fans of the Cap franchise, both in fandom and for “casual” audiences alike. VF’s article, no doubt, is getting quite a bit of play because it represents the latter: a well-respected, mainstream entertainment outlet, criticizing Civil War for a seemingly-pointed assertion of heteronormativity in a franchise that, frankly, has hung its cap (so to speak) on the deeply intimate connection between two men:
But despite what Joe Russo said, doesn’t Captain America: Civil War go out of its way to “define” Bucky and Steve’s relationship when Cap smooches Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) while Bucky looks on approvingly? Where’s the room for interpretation in that moment? And, leaving aside the vague creepiness of Steve making a move on Peggy’s (very willing) niece, the moment itself wasn’t necessary to the flow of the movie at all.
Vanity Fair touches on what seems to be one of the most common disappointments I’ve seen with Civil War: that the film goes out of its way to “sink” Steve & Bucky as a viable romantic pairing by awkwardly insisting on Steve’s heterosexuality, via a character who ultimately serves no real purpose to the film but that of a willing and interchangeable signifier of said heterosexuality. That Sharon Carter – indeed, the inclusion of both Carters, including Peggy’s effective “fridging” – exists for the sole purpose of breaking up a subtextual ship that, frankly, had been the only real well-developed romance in the Captain America franchise (and, as VF suggests, likely the only working romance in the MCU, outside of the now-defunct relationship between Tony and Pepper).
But while Marvel’s fumbling, failed attempts at kick-starting Steve/Sharon are unquestionably, and visibly, evidence of their still-pervasive insistence that a superhero simply isn’t a superhero until he has the appropriate masculine fantasy of the Empowered Woman hanging off his words, were they really as successful as to put the “final nail in the coffin” of Stucky as a pairing? Are we really ready to give such a poorly-written scene, so clearly out of place that an outlet like Vanity Fair is commenting on its compulsory heterosexuality, that much power? Both in terms of its capacity to undo a fandom, & its ability to outplay the hand offered by the rest of the film itself?
That, I would argue, is giving Marvel far too much credit.