A year ago, as ScreenFish was born, we rallied to cover Avengers: Age of Ultron. I had glowing things to say about this popcorn genre film that reached for the stars and shared a vision of our humanity. A year later, Marvel/Disney dropped close to our anniversary, and my partners in crime were awestruck.
I, on the other hand, refuse to drink the Marvel Kool-aid. Without further ado, here’s my dissection of the film- it’s not for the faint of heart (or those trying to avoid spoilers.) You’ve been warned.
Yes, there were some high points to the film. Let’s hit those first.
Chadwick Bozeman might be the big winner here. T’Challa has always been on the cool, mysterious side of the Marvel Universe, but as the only character in the film to show a single ounce of character development, I couldn’t be more excited to see the standalone Black Panther film. As one of my fellow theater goers commented, “That’s how you introduce a new character, DC!” [This went better than their use of Nemo (Daniel Bruhl), who suddenly switched from timeless Nazi to low-level Sovakian military. Or the promotion of Ross (William Hurt) from General to Secretary of State. Hello, Red Hulk?]
Tom Holland (Spider-Man) and Paul Rudd (Antman) tie for secondary awards. These two brought the customary Marvel sense of humor and panache to the second half of the film that was missing in the first. [Yes, this also highlights the bi-polar “two parter” segmentation of the film. And the fact that they spent almost 2.5 hours setting us up for a showdown and let the tension dissipate without reconciliation? That’s just poor.] Stan Lee’s cameo here might be his best yet- yes, Tony stank!
Visually, the film takes us to some cool places – just not as cool as the upcoming Doctor Strange film. There were some solid battles. Crossbones (Frank Grillo) versus Cap’s undercover team was solid [Crossbones was the baddest villain in the film]. While I’m over the good guy versus good guy battles (thanks, Batman V Superman), the final confrontation between our heroes might have actually been one of the best. Again, unfortunately, in a good versus good battle, the writers can’t make us believe that any of them really give up any ground because they need them for their solo outing.
In the comics, the action is caused when a group of rough-around-the-edges superheroes pull a television stunt that ends in tragedy. You might say that Scarlet Witch’s tragic rescue of Captain America carries more direct weight because they’re principal heroes, and I’d accept that. BUT, in the comics, the forcibly divisive law put into place was the Superhuman Registration Act. This is wildly more politically charged than the Sokovia Accords because it was about identity and the families of masked superheroes.
For what it’s worth, it’s interesting to note that the current Republican frontrunner is promoting growing legislation about ‘registration,’ even though Republicans have historically been more interested in local government and individual responsibility. In Civil War, Cap’s questions about responsibility crash into the armor of Stark’s own personal interaction with the mother of a man lost as collateral damage. The head versus heart argument might apply here, but the film doesn’t ask us to care too much about any of these characters in poignancy or emotional depth.
The Sokovia Accords divides our heroes because of collateral damage, but forces the plot around the Winter Soldier storyline while also ignoring the responsibilities of pro- registration heroes when it comes to innocent lives.
Seriously, Iron Man is infuriated over the death of his parents twenty-five years ago, at the hands of a guy who wasn’t in control of his own actions, but his pet android gets all mushy, paralyzes his best friend, and he ignores the implications? Please. [For the record, yes, comic fans know these two mismatched, star-crossed lovers can tangle, but cooking with paprika was a little weird.]
Seriously, this no-name villain with no powers, no help, no plan, no NOTHING, is able to manipulate two friends who’ve battled universe-destroying, villainous armies into nearly killing each other? At least in Batman v Superman, Luthor had an actual plan, continually manipulated, and had a host of financial resources tied to his character. [No, that doesn’t make B v S a better movie, but it did provide us with a more reasonable explanation of the conflict, and the tension.] Zemo is a weak villain – and one which highlights the Cap versus Iron Man divide.
That leads to my largest frustration of the whole film: that superheroes would turn so dark. I wasn’t thrilled with Affleck’s Batman obsession with taking down Superman, but I wonder where we’ve gotten to when we would actually have people leave the theater on #TeamIronMan? Seriously? This guy was an inch away from killing Cap, and Bucky. Sure, they’re beating on each other, but Cap draws the line at incapacitation. Where’s Iron Man’s line? Is this where we begin to see Marvel delve into his alcoholism? What separates Iron Man from Zemo, as men bent on revenge after a major injustice? Thankfully, Cap can at least look himself in the mirror.
I am well aware that this film will bust charts (although at my theater, it was nowhere near The Force Awakens) but this film SCREAMED marketing spinoff for some new characters – and obvious sellout for Infinity War. Was it as telegraphed as the T’Chaka hand-on-cheek moment with T’Challa before he’s blown to bits? I’m not sure. But for all its smoke and mirrors, Captain America: Civil War qualifies as the low point for Marvel’s scriptwriting as far as I’m concerned.
Where Age of Ultron challenged us to grow, Civil War simply allows us to sink back into our own baser instincts, without challenging us to see heroism in our ability to grow.
[Oh yeah, and I’m #TeamCap.]