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Non-Review Review: Captain America – Civil War

Captain America: Civil War is, in some ways, a little too civil.

The third film in the series (following Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier) is produced to the highest professional standard. It is sleek and stylish, well-constructed and cleanly edited. It is always clear what is going on, no mean feat for a film with a cast this expansive. Character motivations are always entirely clear, even if there’s seldom any effort to explain why these characters have these motivations. It is a well-oiled, well-lubricated machine that hits all its marks and zips through its two-and-a-half hour runtime.

America, #!?> yeah...

America, #!?> yeah…

The biggest problem with Civil War is that it is a little too clean and professional, a little too mechanical and a little too impersonal. The film’s plot is anchored in some pretty heavy ideas about collateral damage and the responsibility that comes with unilateral intervention, but the script contorts awkwardly to ensure that things never get too heavy. “We’re still friends, right?” the Black Widow quips during her throwdown with Hawkeye, and Civil War is very careful to ensure that it doesn’t damage anything that cannot be replaced.

This is a perfectly reasonable approach to the film, given how many more films are leaning upon it, but it also feels a little forced. There are points at which Civil War bends itself into unnatural shapes to ensure that it can have its cake and eat it too.

He ain't heavy, he's my Rhodey...

He ain’t heavy, he’s my Rhodey…

Much has been written about how 9/11 and the War on Terror echo and reverberate through popular culture. On a purely visual level, the depiction of urban destruction in mainstream cinema was forever altered by the news coverage of those attacks; it is impossible to look at the climaxes of films like The Avengers or Star Trek Into Darkness or Man of Steel without being reminded of the footage of dust clouds in Manhattan or the way that particular buildings fall.

There are other deeper repercussions that ripple through blockbuster cinema in the wake of those attacks. Sometimes those themes and metaphors are explicit, as in The Dark Knight. Sometimes those ideas play out more subtly. Recent years have seen blockbusters fixating upon trauma and its aftermath. Indeed, Batman vs. Superman might be read as an extended metaphor for coming to terms with a single catastrophic event, anchored in the particulars of the climax of the first film in a way that few sequels are.

"Still easier than reading the source material."

“Still easier than reading the source material.”

Trauma and recovery bubble through cinema, perhaps as a reflection of the national psyche. Armond White argues that 9/11 trauma still resonates in films like Demolition or Louder than Bombs. That is certainly the case with Captain America: Civil War, which positions itself as a response to the fictional traumas inflicted upon Marvel’s alternate twenty-first century America. At one point, General Thaddeus Ross plays a highlight reel of superhero carnage that notably omits The Incredible Hulk. That is one trauma the studio’d like to erase.

Tony Stark is introduced quite early in the film demonstrating a pioneering new technology – with the catchy acronym “BARF” – that helps individuals process their trauma. It allows users to replay memories and alter them, offering an opportunity to come to terms with a horrific event in their past. It is a nice metaphor for the nature of comic book continuity; after all, you can now digitally superimpose Mark Ruffalo into The Incredible Hulk. However, it also touches on the movie’s core themes of consequences and responsibility.

"You kids remember The Incredible Hulk, right?"

“You kids remember The Incredible Hulk, right?”

The Winter Soldier himself is a walking metaphor for these themes. Bucky Barnes was killed and resurrected, trained to be a soldier and fashioned into an assassin. Civil War returns time and again to one particular mission; the mission undertaken in December 1991. The consequences of that mission ripple through the rest of the film, setting up a ticking time bomb that explodes during the third act. Trauma, consequences, repercussions. Civil War bites off some pretty meaty themes.

It does so through the prism of the shared cinematic continuity. The Marvel movies have built up a relatively intricate internal continuity, and Civil War jumps right in. In fact, Captain America himself is introduced tackling leftover plot threads from The Winter Soldier, attempting to arrest one of the villains who escaped at the climax of that film. This feels thematically appropriate; much like the opening scene of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, it is suggested that trauma is not self-contained and that events cannot be neatly delineated in this post-9/11 age.

"I do wish he'd stop referring to the Raft as 'the William Hurt Locker'."

“I do wish he’d stop referring to the Raft as ‘the William Hurt Locker’.”

Civil War fashions a compelling hook for its superhero bust-up, with General Ross making a snazzy presentation stitched together from the climaxes of various earlier blockbusters; the attack on New York in The Avengers, the falling helicarriers from The Winter Soldier, the collapsing city in Age of Ultron. Much like the reworking of the climax of Man of Steel at the start of Batman vs. Superman, there is an emphasis on the civilians caught in the crossfire. Tony Stark is confronted at one point by the mother of a young man killed at the climax of Age of Ultron.

In some respects, this could be seen as an example of the Marvel films responding to prior criticism; one of the resounding criticisms of the carnage at the end of The Avengers was the disregard that the characters (and the film) seemed to have for the civilians caught in the crossfire. The focus that the climax of The Age of Ultron paid to the civilians at its climax played as an acknowledgement of that criticism. One of the nicer aspects of Civil War is a willingness to incorporate that as a plot point.

Dial it back...

Dial it back…

These are some pretty heavy themes for a superhero blockbuster, tapping into the popular consciousness. The superhero genre lends itself to these sorts of meditations on American self-image. Civil War takes its name from a storyline written by Mark Millar and illustrated by Steve McNiven, but published at a time when the comic book company’s larger shared universe was engaged with the response to 9/11. Brian Michael Bendis’ extended New Avengers run, for example, is largely about reconfiguring the heroes for a post-9/11 pop culture landscape.

There are points at which Civil War teeters on the edge of really grappling with these themes and ideas. After all, one of the unavoidable themes of the superhero genre dating back to Alan Moore’s Miracleman or Watchmen has been the idea of social class and the application of concentration of power outside democratic norms. Civil War touches repeatedly on the idea that the Avengers are walking weapons of mass destruction, operating on nothing more than their own conscience and often losing sight of anything beyond their own concerns.

Intruder roof!

Intruder roof!

Afre Woodard pops in for a single scene to confront Stark with the consequences of his actions. “You say you fight for us,” she reflects bitterly, suggesting that the lives of individuals are inconsequential against the larger concerns that face those in positions of authority. In an era of drone strikes and executive authority, these are potent ideas. They are also ideas that run the risk of breaking any superhero story. After all, the legacy of landmark deconstructive narratives like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Rises was a confused and disorientated genre.

By asking tough questions about the principles that underpin the genre, these sorts of narratives run the risk of tipping superhero drama over into fascistic Randian parables about the ability of singular individuals (and mostly white men) to impose their will upon a world made of paper beneath them. (More cynical commentators might suggest that these questions simply expose a barely concealed subtext.) Batman vs. Superman clumsily attempted to grapple with these ideas, like Superman tearing through Metropolis. Civil War avoids them.

Just when things look Stark...

Just when things look Stark…

Civil War is wary of doing any permanent damage to any of the cogs in the company’s well-oiled storytelling machine. The film is reluctant to allow anything cut deeper than five scratch marks on the surface of Captain America’s iconic red, white and blue shield. To be fair, there is good reason for this. The eponymous comic book storyline was not one of Marvel’s finest moments, doing fundamental damage to several of its major characters, arguably requiring years of repairs and retcons to undo the damage.

One of the characters most severely affected by the storyline was Tony Stark. Under Mark Millar’s pen, Stark become a fascist government stooge who operated superhero death squads (described in-story as “cape killers”) and internment without trial in a hostile dimension. Given that the comic was published at the same time that Robert Downey Junior was elevating the character to the peak of his popularity, this presented a problem for the publisher. Writer Matt Faction had to literally reboot the character, wiping his memory, to redeem him.

Capping it all off...

Capping it all off…

Even if this approach were a good idea – and it most definitely is not – Robert Downey Junior is too valuable a brand to risk damaging in such a way. The actor is the cornerstone of the shared cinematic universe, and served as something of a midwife during its early phases. There is a reason why Tony Stark is a focal character of both The Avengers and Age of Ultron despite the fact that both stories would flow easier if he were relegated to a supporting role. Given the damage that the comic book caused to the character, it makes sense to mitigate that in the adaptation.

Civil War opts to avoid importing too much from its controversial source material. There are occasional references to memorable visuals and lines like “no, you move”, but the script mostly avoids the comic’s attempts at political subtext. Given that the comic ended with the fight between Iron Man and Captain America broken up by first responders (you know, “the real heroes”), it is probably a good thing the the film avoids that heavy-handedness. Still, there is a sense that the solution might have been to make a better grasp at relevance instead of nodding towards it before abandoning it.

The fascist and the furious.

The fascist and the furious.

Given how much is tied up in this movie franchise, it makes sense that the studio would be reluctant to actually compromise Stark. So Civil War bends over backwards to avoid causing any true long-term conflict. Most notably, Stark is not positioned as the film’s primary antagonist. The character’s conflict with his fellow heroes is never driven by his own innate sense of righteousness, instead as an act of reluctant compromise. There is never a sense that Stark actually believes the position he adopts. That makes it easier to forgive his actions, and redeem his sins.

Civil War instead offers two more significant antagonistic figures who serve to take any moral weight off Stark’s shoulders. Daniel Bruhl is cast as the nefarious Zemo, manipulating events for his own sadistic ends. Thaddeus Ross is the Secretary of State who actually advocates philosophically for the curtailment of the team’s authority. Given that Zemo is quite literally a comic book supervillain and Thaddeus Ross is a character renowned for serving as a recurring villain of the Hulk, this immediately makes it clear that there is a “wrong” side to this argument.

Tipping his Cap to the idea.

Tipping his Cap to the idea.

In some respects, the effort that the film puts into being apolitical is itself political. The stubborn refusal to have Tony Stark embrace an ideology diametrically opposed to that of Steve Roger perhaps reflects a certain approach to twenty-first century political rhetoric, the suggestion that anybody opposed to progressive liberalism must be either disingenuous or ill-informed. Emmett Rensin has termed this trend “the smug style in American liberalism”, an affectionate reference to the research done by historian Richard Hofstadter in the sixties.

This attitude suggests that the validity of a certain political perspective are self-evident, and that any educated or well-informed voter would inevitably reach the same conclusion. Civil War works on this logic. Steve’s objections to registration are presented as self-evident and correct. Tony’s support of such regulation is presented as misguided, the result of cynical manipulation by parties working in their own self-interest. Tony’s character arc across Civil War is largely about realising how wrong he was and how right Steve was. It is a very disingenuous approach.

Soldier of fortune.

Soldier of fortune.

Even allowing for that, the second half of the film seems to suggest that all these themes were just window dressing. No major heroic character in the film seems to genuinely believe that regulating that sort of power might possibly be a good idea. None of the major characters ever adopt a strong philosophical stance one way or the other. Indeed, all the characters seem to fall on one side or the other based on their track record of appearing in particular franchises. It is not so much #TeamCap and #TeamIronMan as #TeamCapFilms and #TeamIronManFilms.

Character development seems secondary to any of this. Why does Rhodey side with Iron Man? Is it because he’s a military officer and so has been trained to accept that force works best when sanctioned by lawful authority? Is it because he’s friends with Tony Stark? Why does Scott Lang side with Captain America? This guy is an ex-con, he runs the risk of losing access to his daughter if he crosses that line; this should be a pretty big deal to him. Characters seem to align based upon pre-existing relationships, like friends having an argument.

Taking a run and jump.

Taking a run and jump.

There is something disheartening about that, as if the second half of Civil War completely forgets the themes and ideas suggested in its first half. After taking the Avengers to task for large-scale property destruction and the massive risk of collateral damage, the third act opens with exactly the same sort of fight sequence. Watching the characters tear through an airport while making wisecracks and exchanging witticisms seems rather at odds with an earlier focus on civilians who lost family in these sorts of confrontations.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a fight,” the Falcon reflects at one point during the movie’s big third act set piece, “but there’s usually not this much talking.” While such banter is fun, it feels at odds with a movie that opens with a failed assault on foreign soil that results in the deaths of dozen of civilians. When Ant Man tosses a truck at an opponent, he is shocked when it explodes in flames. “Sorry!” he apologises. “I thought it was a water truck!” It’s a funny line, but it also serves to demonstrate that maybe a little oversight and regulation may not be a bad thing.

Armed and dangerous.

Armed and dangerous.

Even the final confrontation feels like an attempt to deflect attention away from the big questions of the first half. When Steve and Tony are thrown into conflict at the end of the film, it has nothing to do with questions of authority or regulation. It is framed purely in personal terms, in a flurry of passion and raw emotion that could easily be excused as a flared temper rather than a deeper schism. All those early criticisms of the Avengers as self-absorbed and disinterested in mortal affairs ring awkwardly true in the framing of the film’s final act.

To be fair, it is hard to blame Civil War from avoiding anything that might be read in a political light. The Captain America film franchise has worked hard to avoid controversy, from the beelining of the first film as The First Avenger to help sell it overseas to the decision not to make the Red Skull a Nazi because swastikas would cause issues with distribution in Germany to the revelation in The Winter Soldier that any issues with United States foreign policy can be blamed on a secret terrorist cell with links to Nazi Germany.

Tearing his heart out.

Tearing his heart out.

There is nothing wrong with this of course. There are plenty of mindless summer blockbusters that work without explicit nods towards contemporary relevance. Certainly, Superman and Thor are no less satisfying for their lack of biting social commentary. However, the problem with Civil War is that it nods towards these big ideas so strongly and so frequently that it is hard for the film to then completely ignore them. The first hour of the film is dedicated to carefully setting up the ideas that the next hour and half work so hard to ignore.

Then again, this is perhaps an example of Civil War remaining true to its roots. In many ways, Civil War is the most “comic-book-y” comic book movie ever made, in terms of plot and tone and structure. Part of that is down to a willingness to avoid any significant changes to its characters, reflecting that oft-cited apocryphal Stan Lee quote about how comics are not about change but instead “the illusion of change.” The movie’s reluctance to embrace the big ideas at its core is part of that.

"You know, maybe registration isn't such a bad idea."

“You know, maybe oversight isn’t such a bad idea.”

To be fair, Civil War embraces its comic book aesthetic in a very confident and exciting way. It might be argued that comic books are really “soap operas for boys.” While this is perhaps a sexist reductionist observation, in that there are plenty of male soap opera fans and female superhero fans, there is a grain of truth to the sentiment. Both soap operas and superheroes offer heightened long-form narratives without clear endings, hinging on larger than life themes and an emphasis on character histories and relationships.

(It should be noted that this is not necessarily a bad thing; snobbishness tends to sneak into conversations about soap operas and comic books, often ignoring the merits of a heavily serialised melodrama. Chris Claremont’s seventeen-year run on Uncanny X-Men – stretching from the seventies to the nineties – is a monument to that approach to comic book storytelling, pushing the idea of “superheroes as soap opera” to its limits in a highly influential run that is often overlooked in discussions of comic book history perhaps because of those tendencies.)

Winging it.

Winging it.

That is certainly the case in Civil War, which leans on character dynamics more than individual character insight. The real reason that the Falcon goes along with Captain America has nothing to do with oversight or collateral damage, and everything to do with friendship. The real reason that Rhodey sides with Tony is not about his own experience in the military, but instead a result of their emotional connection. In fact, Civil War plays best as a love story about how far one platonic male friend will go for another platonic male friend. The ultimate bro-mance.

This perhaps explains the way that Civil War frames its superhero throwdowns. The conflict at the heart of the film is not some big debate about moral authority and unilateral intervention. It is more like a pillow fight between friends, the superhero equivalent of playful wrestling. None of the betrayals really sting; none of the blows really hurt. Friendships are preserved and witty one-liners are exchanged. There is never any real chance of anybody causing any long-term damage to anybody else, and less chance of anybody begrudging them for it.

Shielding himself...

Shielding himself…

One of the more remarkable aspects of Marvel’s approach to plotting comic book movies has been a willingness to incorporate comic book tropes and storytelling techniques into its films. This is most obvious in the way that the company has built a shared universe of interlocking franchises; each with its own expectations, but each slotting together for the big crossover continuity. Films like Guardians of the Galaxy had crossed genres, while Ant Man introduced concepts like legacy characters.

Civil War might reference a twenty-first century comic book storyline, but its aesthetic dates back to the original sixties comic books penned by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Those early Marvel comic books established a format for superhero crossovers; two heroes would cross paths, have a misunderstanding, fight for a few pages, and then reconcile before any real harm was done. Those characters would then continue on their way, with the pattern repeating every once in a while across different books.

Opening up.

Opening up.

There is an innocence to this style of storytelling, one that operates more on the logic of comic book marketing than character dynamics. Indeed, later bitter comic book clashes like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Civil War could be read as a deconstruction of those early innocent encounters, asking what would it be like if the characters really fought or really disagreed with one another. Civil War rejects any such deconstruction, instead seeking to capture the innocence of those sixties comics.

Civil War is innately and acutely aware of the fact that it exists in a world of shippers and memes – hence the hashtag ready #TeamCap and #TeamIronMan labels, despite that fact there’s really no core conflict there. The conflict is an illusion and contrivance, leverage to help mine angst. Civil War luxuriates in meaningful glances between Steve and Bucky, awkward pauses and hopeful looks. When Iron Man asks how all of this could have happened, Steve responds, earnestly, “He was my friend.” Tony almost tearfully responds, “So was I.” Feels. All the feels.

Cap is the heli-carrier.

Cap is the heli-carrier.

Examined in those terms, Civil War fares considerably better than it does as meditation upon heavy timely themes. The film does a spectacular job managing an impressive ensemble without ever losing sight of its characters. While the film struggles to explain what the status quo means to many of the surrounding characters, it seems like every major character has their own distinct voice and relationship dynamics, and the script ensures that everybody ends up with something to do.

Here, again, the soap opera aesthetic shines through. The final act of Civil War hinges upon the idea that all of these characters are connected to one another in very direct and straightforward ways. The final fight between Tony and Steve hinges on a ridiculous contrivance that undercuts a lot of what made Tony such an interesting character in the first place, instead attempting to tie the whole shared universe together. Civil War suggests that these comic book characters operate as a whole different social class, existing at one degree of separation from each other.

"That's coming out of my pay, isn't it?"

“That’s coming out of my pay, isn’t it?”

While these plot decisions make sense in the context of the film’s comic book soap opera aesthetic, they feel uncomfortable given the emphasis on civilian collateral damage in the first half of the film. The old cliché suggests that the big difference between the superheroes published at Marvel and DC is that Marvel’s have traditionally been more “human” and “relatable.” It is a crass generalisation, but it rings true. Tony Stark feels more tangible than Hal Jordan; Carol Danvers is more human than Wonder Woman; even Thor is more grounded than Superman.

However, there has always been in interesting element of class conflict to the Avengers as Marvel’s premiere superhero team. In contrast to the disenfranchised X-Men or the impoverished Spider-Man, the Avengers have always lived in luxury. The team’s original home was a mansion on Fifth Avenue, complete with its own butler. Owing to their creation in the sixties, these characters were predominantly white, and operated with the love and adoration of the public. The Avengers operated with impunity, without oversight.

Bucky up, camper.

Bucky up, camper.

Writers would occasionally touch upon these issues of class and privilege within the group. During the seventies, writer David Michelinie had the Falcon wrestle with his status as member of the team designed to fill a “quota.” During the nineties, writer Kurt Busiek would have the team confront their diversity issues. Part of the work that Brian Michael Bendis did when tearing down and rebuilding the Avengers franchise was to confront the group’s sense of privilege and to play with the class subtext that ran through the team’s publication history.

The first act of Civil War toys with these ideas, suggesting that maybe a group of untrained and unregulated walking weapons of mass destruction pursuing their own agenda without any respect for sovereignty or collateral damage might possibly be something that needs to be examined. However, by the time that the film’s third act rolls around, Civil War is embracing concepts that had been criticised during that opening act. The final confrontation between Tony and Steve suggests that civilian casualties only matter if they are people the Avengers care about.

Bucking up for bromance.

Bucking up for bromance.

From a purely logistical perspective, Civil War does amazing work with its cast. Fans of just about any of the characters will find something to like, and Civil War frequently plays best as a collection of “moments” rather than a singular cohesive “whole.” Those moments are not necessarily spectacle-driven; there are likely to be as many fans giggling about Falcon and Bucky arguing over car seats as pumping their fists at Scott Lang’s big setpieces during the film’s big airport confrontation.

It is hard to overstate just how skilfully Civil War integrates these disparate moments. Civil War is a Captain America film, and it wisely keeps the eponymous character at the heart of the story. However, it also functions as a makeshift origin for characters like the Black Panther and Spider-Man. These elements never dominate the film, and there is a sense that they were constructed in such a way that they could easily be trimmed or excised if that became necessary. However, they work well enough on their own terms.

"You know, I can see how the United States government might take issue with me acting independently on foreign soil."

“You know, I can see how the United States government might take issue with a guy named ‘Captain America’ acting independently on foreign soil.”

For example, there is absolutely no need for an extended five minute sequence where Tony Stark introduces himself to Peter Parker. After all, audiences already know the basics about Spider-Man. The scene could easily have been cut from the film entirely, or edited down. However, while the scene does not necessarily add much to the flow of the story or the audience’s understanding of the characters, it works well enough on its own terms that it justifies its inclusion. Tony Stark and Peter Parker (and Robert Downey Junior and Tom Holland) play well off one another.

There is something a little uneasy about Civil War‘s commitment to the shared universe. Spider-Man is a great character. Given the difficulty that Sony had building a franchise with The Amazing Spider-Man, it makes sense for Sony and Marvel to begin to share ownership of the character. It is a fascinating experiment for this multimedia cross-platform age, an interesting attempt to leverage these properties across competing studios. After all, Robert Downey Junior will be reprising his role in Sony’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Sparks fly.

Sparks fly.

However, it is interesting to wonder what all of this means for Spider-Man as a character? Given that one of the defining attributes of Peter Parker is the character’s perpetual poverty and relative isolation, tying the hero so strongly to a shared superhero universe with a very clear support structure runs the risk of undercutting what makes him unique. A lot of what makes Peter Parker relatable risks slipping away if the character can just a phone call to Tony Stark to sort out any problem.

There is no situation where Peter Parker should be strapped for cash following Civil War, even though audiences expect that from the character. To be fair, the character has existed in shared comic book continuity for half a century, but Marvel has historically kept their publishing leans reasonable distinct. It relies on a certain amount of disbelief, but Tony Stark has never bailed out Peter Parker for the same reason Steve Rogers has never advocated for mutant rights; the characters have tended to operate within bubbles of the shared universe.

"I'm sure we can iron out our problems."

“I’m sure we can iron out our problems.”

As exciting as it is to see Spider-Man teaming up with the Avengers, introducing the character in this context through his connection to Tony Stark, feels like it undercuts a lot of what makes the hero so appealing. After all, various members of Marvel’s editorial establishment argued vehemently against including the character in Brian Michael Bendis’ multimedia-friendly New Avengers relaunch. Suspension of belief is a fickle thing; while it makes sense to have Peter Parker in that universe, it feels strange to introduce him in this story in this way.

While the film works brilliantly on a level of character dynamics and moment-to-moment storytelling, the framework into which these characters and moments are integrated feels somewhat awkward and overly familiar. One of the most frequent criticisms of the Marvel movies is that they tend to feel quite familiar and quite routine, and there is an element of that to Civil War. The structure is very familiar, with many of the material plot beats feeling typical of this sort of blockbuster.

Pros: fighting for freedom, liberty, individualism. Cons: fighting alongside Hawkeye.

Pros: fighting for freedom, liberty, individualism.
Cons: fighting alongside Hawkeye.

There is a pre-credit historical teaser akin to those at the start of Iron Man III or Ant Man. There is a second act twist where a character is placed in custody only to escape as part of some larger gambit, which has become a staple of big budget films like The Dark KnightThe Avengers, Skyfall, Star Trek Into Darkness; the biggest twist here is that the character in custody and character making the gambit are not the same character. There is the obligatory epic battle in the third act, although Civil War borrows from Ant Man to offer a more intimate confrontation thereafter.

As with many of the other Marvel films, the villain feels superficial. Zemo is more of a plot function than a character; his motivation is intriguing, but ultimately abandoned when the film decides to brush aside its central themes. General Thaddeus Ross is even more of a two-dimensional stereotype here than he was in The Incredible Hulk. Zemo and Ross seem to exist because Marvel Studios are understandably wary about constructing a blockbuster where Tony Stark is the villain, and so they fill the negative space left by that reluctance.

A smashing time.

A smashing time.

Civil War is a well-made and stylish film that is all the more frustrating for its nods towards and subsequent refusal of the possibility of being anything more.

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12 Responses

  1. Winter Solider was a pipe bomb in the face. This sounds like the opposite of that.

    • There’s something dishearteningly “chummy” about this war of the supermen. (“I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a fight,” the Falcon observes to another character at one point, “but there’s usually not this much talking.”)

      • You can’t mock us if we mock ourselves! BUSTED, critics!

      • I think that’s what really bugs me about The Winter Soldier and Civil War, which were well-made films that felt somehow insubstantial to me. They are about a guy dressed in a flag wearing an “A” on his head. There is only so much irony that works with the character.

  2. I haven’t seen this one, but I have some thoughts on the Civil War series.

    First: We have to write out RDJ eventually. He costs too much and there’s not left to say about him.

    Why not stick to the source material, only to have Tony to be assassinated in place of Cap? That way to can villainize Stark to an extent while still keeping him (or his memory) central to the saga, which he originated after all.

    “Stark become a fascist government stooge who operated superhero death squads…”

    Just goes to show you, Marvel writers do not play well together. Say what you want about DC, they keep their guys on a short leash. They have a story to push, and they stick with it. Civil War was essentially two writers going, “Nuh uh, that’s dumb!” and “No, you’re dumb!” for a year.

    iirc Cap didn’t fare any better. He had a few good points, but always resorted to punching him point across. Spider-Man is on the fence, likely because he the ‘protected’ character (your phrase) in the MCU. It might also be a reflection of his ‘outsider’ status in the larger MCU…his audience is different, his villains are campy, and Spider-Man isn’t really suited for detective work like Daredevil, who can do more interesting things in that regard, or politics.

    • Yep. There’s a sense reading Civil War that Mark Millar broadly agrees with Tony Stark in a “gun control is probably a good idea” sort of way, while Straczynski loathes Stark in a “government oppression” kind of way. Most of the writers seemed to side with Straczynski, which led to sort of weird pile-on where Stark ended up becoming a bigger villain that Doctor Doom because he suggested that introducing oversight of walking weapons of mass destruction might be a half-decent idea.

      While the film bends over backwards to avoid getting engaged with that political debate – after setting it up in the first act – there is a sense that it agrees more with Straczynski than Millar. And the solution is to suggest that Stark doesn’t even have the courage of his convictions. He’s obvious on the “right” side in his heart of hearts, because if he wasn’t there might have to actually be some sort of debate.

  3. Nice review.

    I liked this a lot more than Age of Ultron and I suspect more than you did, possibly because I’m not familiar with the source material (I’m firmly a DC fan though I concede many of their films have been misfires – disastorously so in a couple of cases.) That said I wasn’t blind to some the issues it raised.

    For one the first third of the film (and The Winter Soldier!) seemed to show Steve was closer to Natasha than anyone else on the team and that carried more emotional weight, or maybe should have, than the the fractured ‘bromance’ between Steve and Tony. It felt off to have that relationship conspiculously downplayed.

    The other aspect that got to me – and again I’m not a Marvel fan – is that it is hard to see why the Regulation argument is actually wrong. The Avengers are not being brought under the control of a national government or a shadowy secret agency, they are being brought under the auspicious of the UN. You know the people who are behind real life peacekeepers?

    I did find the knock against FDR amusing though, with Steve bringing up internment camps (did Captain Rogers vote for Wendell Willkie I wonder?)

    Finally just a quick note on class: the cinematic Avengers (taking a wide definition of membership) include a actual king, a prince (who is also an outer space demigod) and a billionaire who no matter his very genuine genius inherited his fortune. But then I think a rather romantic view of aristocracy (including the home grown Astor, Roosevelt, Rockerfeller kind) is very American.

    • That’s a very good point about American aristocracy.

      And the regulation aspect got me as well. If Ant Man can’t tell the difference between a water trunk and trunk filled with gasoline, maybe a little training and oversight isn’t such a bad idea?

  4. My Best Movie Captain America

  5. “In many ways, Civil War is the most “comic-book-y” comic book movie ever made, in terms of plot and tone and structure.” this is just wrong, the mcu is a big wasted chancge, it has little good moments but is just too much disney

    • Well, you are entitled to your opinion.

      But in terms of superpowered characters fighting over misunderstandings, I’d argue Civil War is an exceptionally comic-book-y film. Of course, I’d argue Suicide Squad is – for better and worse – an even more comic-book-y film.

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