Captain America: Civil War (dir. The Russo Brothers)

Posted: May 19, 2016 in Uncategorized

“Captain America: Civil War” seems to be pretending it is about government oversight. The main disagreement between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) revolves around whether to give oversight of the Avengers and their activities to the United Nations. The politics of this, however, are not really delved into with any great aplomb. Remember, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is one where the United States government seriously considered using nuclear weapons on New York City and where the government was deeply infiltrated (up to the levels of the Senate, as shown in the character played by the late Gary Shandling in “Winter Soldier”) by a Nazi death cult. So yeah, within this universe there is no question that Captain America is in the right. Add on to that the fact that the only reasons the United Nations want to keep the Avengers in check is because of victims of villains in New York and Zokovia (from the previous “Avengers” films, many more of whom would be dead without Avengers intervention) and a clear accident that would have actually killed more people in this film. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) uses her force field-ish powers to hold in the blast from a suicide bomb. She loses control and the blast is directed into a building, killing about a dozen civilians. If Scarlet Witch had not intervened at all, many more would have died.

 

Compare this to the inciting event in the “Civil War” comic book.  A bunch of teenaged superheroes filming a reality show attempt to take down a villain, but the heroes are brash and inexperienced, and the villain sets off an explosion killing many. That incident raises far more questions of oversight than the one in the film. Therefore, the film is so stacked on one side as to not really deal with this issue at all. In fact, the main proponent of oversight at the U.N. is the UNELECTED monarch of an African nation called Wakanda, T’Chaka (John Kani).  It seems a tad hypocritically for an unelected monarch that rules over a nation prosperous because of it’s mining of a rare metal to take issue with the Avengers not being held under democratic controls. The MCU is clearly a place where government cannot be trusted.  Even if it could, the U.N. is probably a poor body to regulate a group of superpowered vigilantes. Would nations like Russia and China be able to veto Avengers actions, much like they have veto power in the real life U.N.’s Security Council? Since the Avengers are largely a group of American or nation-less persons (including alien Thor (not in this film), A.I. Vision (Paul Bettany), and Eastern European Scarlet Witch, it would probably be better for either an American-centered oversight committee to have regulations on them, or some sort of joint-country board that isn’t beholden to nearly 200 individual voices and bureaucracy.

 

The politics, however, are just window dressing anyway.  The point of “Civil War” is to watch heroes fight heroes, and it’s kind of refreshing.  The MCU has had fairly weak villains all along, and the big finales of these films tend to involve our heroes fighting a bunch of CGI NPCs to the point of excruciating boredom. How many times can we watch superheroes fight hordes of digital robots (“Iron Man 2”, “Iron Man 3”, “Ultron”) or digital aliens (“The Avengers”), before it’s just a dull as fuck cartoon?  In “Civil War”, while there are still many CGI fights scenes, we are seeing characters we care about, or at least new characters with personalities, fight other characters we care about. This means there are STAKES involved, and it’s not just heroes we know will prevail fighting a bunch of red shirts. Granted, you know these heroes aren’t out for blood on the other heroes, and you know Black Widow’s not going to murder Ant-Man or something (it’s perhaps a bit weak that no character is killed or seriously harmed by the events of the film), but caring about the characters fighting automatically makes the film more exciting and the battle scenes have more audience investment in them.

 

The film does have a villain though, Zemo (Daniel Bruhl). I actually liked this villain because he’s smart, and he’s a window into what political message the film is ACTUALLY giving. I know hardcore comic fans will be upset at how much that character was changed from the comics, but I wasn’t. Zemo’s family was killed in the midst of the Ultron attack on Zokovia in the last Avengers film. Zemo, upset that his family was killed as collateral damage and the Avengers just went home after, hatches an elaborate scheme to tear apart the Avengers from the inside, by causing a rift between Cap and Iron Man.  His plan, which may not need to have been as complicated as it was, is pretty solid, and it seems to more or less work (though the last scene if the film prior to the credits seemingly undercuts this a bit).  I’m just happy we don’t have another boring villain whose goal is to take over and/or destroy the world.  The smaller stakes involves are, again, refreshing.

 

So yes, the real politics of this movie are about collateral damage, and how this creates new villains and terrorists. Zemo sets off a bomb at the U.N. to frame the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), killing T’Chaka, leading his son, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) to be single-handled focuses on revenge of the murderous variety. Scarlet Witches accident resulting in the collateral damage of a dozen or so people sets off the entire plot. This is a movie where almost all of the evil is a result of innocent, unintended victims dying. The word “drone” is never uttered, but this film is more than implicitly arguing that collateral damage creates more monsters by instilling in people a strong desire for revenge. So, in real life, when innocent people are killed by America’s drone bombings, we turn other innocent people into terrorists because they, understandably, want revenge on the country/people who murdered their loved ones. My one complaint with regards to Zemo is that the film makes him a character who was once a member of state security who committed atrocities. It would have been stronger if he hadn’t been evil BEFORE the tragedy. A reformed monster who becomes a monster again is not as powerful as an innocent man grieving who becomes a monster due to tragedy.

 

The one exception to this is the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes, who was a brainwashed soldier forced to commit atrocities, and dealing with the MCU version of PTSD because of it. In a sense, the film is arguing that all soldiers in war are brainwashed. Not literally like Bucky is, via torture and sci-fi methods, but we brainwash our soldiers with politics, ideology, nationalism, and ego boosts about how much of “heroes” they are. This message of the film is far more implicit (a major motion picture can’t exactly argue that all soldiers are brainwashed sheep who commit atrocities simply because of orders), but it’s there.

 

But enough about politics and messages, is the film any good?  Well, yes it is. It’s not as good as “Winter Soldier”, which had a stronger political message and a meatier story in general, but it’s miles better than “Ultron” and is one of the best films of this MCU.  The big set-piece battle scenes are fun and actually exciting because, again, we’re seeing characters we care about fight and not our heroes fighting disposable cartoon robots. The returning heroes, even when their appearance is little more than an extended cameo (Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man) get a moment to shine. We get two big new heroes.  There is the much hyped new Spider-Man, played by Tom Holland. I actually LOVED this portrayal of the character. He’s young, verbose, funny, and he has the voice I hear when I read Spider-Man’s dialogue in comics. There’s not enough Peter Parker in the movie to judge how he plays him, but Spider-Man is directly on point.

 

As for Black Panther, who is T’Challa…I hated his character. An unelected monarch is always going to rub me the wrong way as a hero (a benevolent dictator is still a dictator who is kept rich of the labor of their subjects). However, his character is also unlikable because he becomes a vengeance-obsessed killer-to-be solely based on once piece of evidence (a blurry video of what looks like it might be Bucky in a hoodie prior to the U.N. bombing).  It’s not quite as ridiculous as Bruce Wayne wanting to murder Superman in “Dawn of Justice” (a film which dealt even more poorly with the issue of collateral damage than this film does), but it’s still pretty damn ridiculous. I suppose Black Panther could get better when he has his own film, but I spent most of the time wishing one of the other characters would chop off his head and liberate his people.

 

The set-piece is the airport fight in the middle of the film where all of our heroes do battle, and if I had only believed one of them might actually die, even if only accidentally, perhaps I’d have cared slightly more. Still, it’s a lot of fun to see the heroes banter while fighting and show off new powers. The final fight, which is largely Cap and Bucky versus Iron Man, feels more passionate and brutal given a Zemo-fueled third act revelation, and while CGI is clearly used to augment the fight, you still feel the punches and the blows more than usual in these sorts of fight sequences. It’s good.

 

I’m still hoping one of these MCU films blows me away, but thus far it has not happened. “Winter Soldier” still remains the best for it’s political messaging and it’s focus on character while not skimping on action, and I had hoped “Civil War” would surpass those qualities. It falls a bit short, but it’s still a damn fun movie, and better than the average Marvel film. B.

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