Miscellaneous Musings: Captain America – Civil War
So, I saw Captain America: Civil War. Before I embark on my ramblings, let me make one thing perfectly clear – I am not opposed to the MCU-movies; in fact, I want to see them prosper.
That being said, I left the movie theater with a distinct sense of being underwhelmed and somewhat disappointed. However, unlike in most such instances, it took me quite a while to properly analyze and digest the reasons for this. So, please bear with me as I try t rationalize why I wasn’t that blown away by this movie.
1) The Subject Matter
Civil War is not the best storyline to adapt to the silver screen. That being said, I expected levels of grimdark from this movie that *thankfully* were not there. For all of you none too familiar with comic books: Do you know how the storyline starts in the comic books? With the death of A LOT of children in basically what amounts to an appropriation of a super-based terrorist attack.
Yeah, I was pretty happy they didn’t go with that one…though this singularly gruesome event did do one thing right: It provided an adequate reason (alongside the machinations of a manipulating villain) for the moral conundrum the civil war storyline poses. Which brings me to the first component I wasn’t too keen on – the motivation. Tying the fallout from Avengers 2 to the storyline and eliminating, at least as far as we know by now, the component of malignancy behind the curtains, the very narrative emphasizes the aspect of collateral damage to a point where it detracts a bit from the high-energy and fun aspects some MCU-movies possess. From now on, we actually have to consider vast panoramas of destruction, the aspect of the spectacle we perceive in these movies, as something that may hurt innocents; beyond the examples where heroes save them to assert their hero status.
The spectacle aspect of this movie, similarly, is a good thing to talk about and the aspect of it I most readily identified as something I didn’t like that much. To me, this movie felt like Avengers 2.5, not like a Captain America movie. Why? Because Avengers-movies, when you boil it down to the basics, are about the spectacle. It’s the CGI-orgy, the bullet time-level of cliché that is the blue laser in the sky; it’s the awesome nerdy wish fulfillment of seeing one’s favorite heroes battle among themselves and with foes. I get it. I love it. In Avengers 1, the friendly fights between heroes were just AWESOME. In Avengers 2, they felt contrived. In Captain America: Civil War, I was face-palming. (At least former) friends who could solve the issue by simply talking (I know, doesn’t make for an exciting movie experience), trading blows instead of using their supposedly genius-level intellect…it just left a sour taste in my mouth and as much as I liked and enjoyed the sequence in itself, it felt, ultimately, like pandering.
2) Confused Leitmotifs
More confusing, perhaps, would be the fact on how character leitmotifs are structured. Regarding the way in which they are created, DC superheroes tend to exemplify and represent archetypes, whereas Marvel superheroes gravitate towards being characters defined by mastery and struggle: Ironman, to give you an example,is defined in both rogue’s gallery and character arcs, by the struggle of the inventor, the creative mind trying to maintain control over his creations: A vast array of Ironman’s rogue gallery (and all foes of the movies so far) are defined by an involvement with Stark’s inventions or the fallout they wrought. Making thus Tony Stark, the unconventional rebel character, the cutting edge scientist, the force for the more conservative side of the argument felt weird to me. Similarly Captain America, more so than other Marvel heroes, is closer to being an archetype: He is defined by his struggle for goodness, for the paladin’s ideal; he is the incarnation of values generally ascribed to Charlemagne’s grand knights, coupled with the ideals of, surprise, America and thus also aligned with the patriotic identity.
The aspect of the patriotic identity *is* the smartest component about the first two Captain American movies; the first one was a fun period piece, a great movie that hearkened back to the Golden and Silver Age of comic books, where villains were clearly defined and we could route sans issues for cap. We should. He is Marvel’s “boyscout”, Superman’s equivalent in the Marvel universe regarding his principles and unshakeable optimism. Even without the super-soldier serum, he is still the leader of the Avengers, by virtue of his ideals and unshakeable faith in his ideals. If you consider the DC vs. Marvel-crossover as canon, he and Batman exemplify the human spirit of the respective universes the most. This is also why Winter Soldier was such a stellar movie: It took this monolithic force of good, accustomed to being able to easily identify the bad guys into a complex, contemporary political landscape that is alien to him. He is, by virtue of thawing up, a relic of a bygone age…but a good one. He exemplifies our nostalgic craving for simpler structures and narratives…and he is the incarnation of what we want to be: He is the capital letters HERO. He is also the paladin, as mentioned above: More so than any other hero, Captain America is the representation of the good soldier (not in the Ford Madox Ford sense) – he is the soldier and the embodiment of the military we want to have: Kind, friendly, powerful, guided by unshakeable ideals, unwilling to compromise – in short, he is the shield of the weak and downtrodden, the representation of the benevolent aspect of big institutions and our government. Get it? He wears the shield, he IS the shield; it’s his spirit that is considered to be the original ideal.
When faced with the winter soldier, a remnant of his past failure, he did not compromise, even when it looked like he’d pay for that with his life. Similarly, when faced by corrupt institutions, Cap didn’t bow his head. He tried playing within the rules; he always does. When they’re twisted, he ignores them, but he does not deliberately flaunt the social contract or orders. This is pretty much one issue I have with the Civil War MCU-depiction; I can’t really picture a scenario wherein Captain America’s position within the Civil War storyline makes sense; Captain America never did sport a greater good/personal agenda-driven decision making process, which makes his position and behavior with regards to the Winter Soldier, at least to me, edgy for edginess’s sake
3) Tired of the Formula
That is more of a fear and an observation – I may have tired of most superhero movies, at least in their current iteration. While I actually enjoyed the schlocky, logic-hole-riddled mess Avengers 2 more than its prequel, I just can’t get excited by CGI’d battle scenes where everything explodes and goes boom anymore. Worse, even the fights among my favorite superheroes no longer truly excite me; after 3 movies sporting them in just a couple of years, I frankly am not excited by the prospect anymore, particularly if the writers can’t be bothered to create a proper reason for them to trade blows, an issue one can observe in Avengers 2, Civil War and the mess that is Bats vs. Supes. Then again, there may be hope for me; I may not have gone full hipster yet: After all, I really, really loved Antman and Guardians of the Galaxy and while Deadpool was funny and not as cool as those two, I had a blast watching it and enjoyed the unapologetic R-rated action movie it represents. I seem to be not the only one. Deviations from the formula, truly creative hero combats (Antman!) and simply FUN movies are great…and it is my sincere hope that MCU now doesn’t start to follow this grimdark, pseudo-realistic trek.
4) Pseudo-realism fails
The fourth point is the most flimsy point I have, a wholly subjective experience. So, the plan is to grant the UN control over the decision making process to deploy superheroes? SERIOUSLY? So, provided that works, the heroes have to phone in threats, politicians decide in a huge referendum and THEN they’re deployed? Only ruins will remain at this point if the adversary isn’t sloth-man. And who is to stop them if they refuse? I mean, seriously?
The UN probably wouldn’t be capable of handling one of the stronger heroes, much less multiple ones while all the villains run havoc. Up to this moment, Marvel’s movies were defined by the simplified logic of comic-books, where politics, ideologies and the like do not take center stage; they were, in a nutshell, escapism and worked perfectly as such. Similarly, the Nolan-trilogy of Batman movies worked because its premise was to NOT be focused on escapism. Sure, it was a component of its appeal, but it retained its “realism”, if you will. In contrast to Captain America, we can accept the grim tone of the series, because it’s what we signed up for. After Civil War, all the explosions and effect-spectacles of previous Marvel movies suddenly are no longer popcorn-munching seconds of just enjoying the barrage of images. With the moral component introduced, we lose the innocence of comic book logic and have realism intrude upon the carefully nurtured, fun escapism. Personally, I don’t think Marvel movies do this well. They excel at being simple, fun tales…not at being thought-provoking exercises of abyss-gazing.
If anything, watching Civil War has shown me that I’m a much bigger fan of what Captain America is supposed to represent, of his ideals, than I consciously realized. I certainly hope we’ll see a “proper” new Captain America movie. Do I think one should see the movie? Yes. While it may fail as a Captain America movie, it is, paradoxically, a better Avengers movie than the 2 Avengers movies. I am also hoping that this is the dark middle chapter of the MCU metaplot and that we’ll get some less grim tales in the future…speaking of which: If DC f**** up Suicide Squad, I’ll be a ball of unmitigated nerd rage…
On another note: How did you enjoy Civil War? Do you think I’m overanalyzing the movie? Do you have a diverging opinion? If you do, feel free to comment below and we’ll discuss this!