Jun 292016
 

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!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Comments

  3 Responses to “Miscellaneous Musings: Captain America – Civil War”

  1. I shall have to disagree, for roughly the following:
    1) This was clearly “Captain America’s movie.” The story, the plot, the main developments largely involve HIM reacting to and interacting with the characters. This is different from the Avengers films where “the TEAM” acts and interacts and reacts. What made this movie different from the others is its the first time we’ve seen the “crossover” effect we’ve all been begging for since Avengers. You know how in Winter Soldier you asked “why didn’t Steve turn to Tony for help when SHIELD ended up being Hydra?” and similar questions about Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 — this is the kind of story we can get if those characters are allowed to appear in the film and are given their space to play. Avengers 2 could be “redone” as an Iron Man film, and I think it would have been better for it, and let everyone else around them cameo in for their roles but it wasn’t how it was done.

    2) You aren’t following each of the characters through their now 5 movies each (Iron Man 1, 2, & 3 + Avengers 1 & 2 vs. CA 1, 2, & 3 + Avengers 1 & 2) story arcs I think. Tony started as a the know-it-all that needed no one and could just “solve” the worlds problem himself (in Iron Man 1 he personally flys as Iron Man to Afghanistan to “fix” the problem Stark Industries caused by selling Stark weapons to the “bad guys” there. He transitions by the end of Iron Man 3 to the burdened man he becomes and it carries over to Avengers 2 some but is given a singular go-to with the death of “Charlie Spencer” in Sokovia, but its just a single face/name for the many people he knows have died because of what he has done as Iron Man and as owner/operator of Stark Industries. Captain America’s journey is even easier, from the “good solider” that signed up for a righteous cause to his becoming disenfranchised with “government” and “oversight’ because he had found out the most recent agency he pledged himself to, SHIELD, was in fact an arm of Hydra and served only nefarious ends. Hence why “The safest hands are still our own” because he can’t give away the right to choose to The World Council or the UN or anyone else with agendas. Bucky’s story as the framed Winter Soldier is a perfect example, he was framed but “those in charge” send the Avengers “to go fetch” without due process etc. and Black Panther represents an even better alternative, the lone person out for vengence, not justice.

    3) I’ve never been into it for the CGI battles, but things like “the airport fight” you really got to see some of the fun and humor and humanity as well as the difference between characters. And it felt like the pages of a comic book. Spider Man was a goofy kid, trying to hard. Ant Man wanted to impress and show he was ready for the “Big Leagues.” Falcon vs. WS were great with their quips and their frenemy “I hate yous”. Scarlet Witch got to unleash and show off and Vision got to prove her right, etc. Even like Black Widow and Hawkeye’s back and forth as well as just BW’s turn-return-doublecross-etc. was fun. I also doubt the grimdark is the future, DC has made a 180 on the tone of their future films, with promises that BvS will be “the darkest the films ever get” and even Sucide Squad getting “reshoots” to add jokes etc. We’ll see with how Doc Strange goes, but Spide Man: Homecoming is likely to be very light in that sense, etc.

    4) I think the UN subplot and the “registration act” it represents (watch Agents of SHIELD, they referred to it as such) is just a beginning really of the Civil War storyline, but that will get cut short in the MCU film-verse (though likely played out on TV) by Infinity War, which is why Tony gets the burner phone at the end — so he can call on Capt when the chips are down and the UN is shitting themselves. The UN’s attempts at measures are also I think a fun parrallel of the powerless seeking control in an out of control world. Its the 99% hoping to reign in the powerful few, but its doomed to fail in the MCU. Better we all start taking those fish oil pills and hope we become inhumans and our own 30-megaton nuclear bombs!

    But I think you bring up solid points and its nice to see at least logical attacks on the film vs. what came out back when it first aired from “the haters” 😉

    • Hej Lucus!

      Thank you for commenting!

      Let me reply for a second:
      1) I kind of disagree there – Captain America, as a character, tends to focus on the humanity, the greater good, on maintaining a stringent ideology. The issue with Civil War, at least to me, is not the cross-over effect. As you so aptly observed, Avengers 2 would have been a better Ironman movie. My problem here is that Cap’s arc takes a backseat to the changed dynamics within the Avengers-team and the overall context of the metaplot; similarly, Avengers 2 was a couple of genius-level inventors rolling a lot of 1s on Int and Wis-checks, but had an arc for Tony…but not for the rest of the team. (“Hey, think it’s a good idea to attach that sentient alien-AI doohickey to our powerful AI behind the backs of our friends that explicitly told us not to?”)

      2) I disagree regarding Tony Stark; Avengers 2 is ample proof that he hasn’t learned anything from Ironman 1 – 3 apart from keeping a tight leash on his own inventions. Something he utterly fails in, regarding that movie. He fails to grasp that the existence of an entity, particularly a weapon, will mean that it is used. He couldn’t keep his inventions out of enemy hands within his own company, so how does it make any sense to further strip away responsibility for how one’s inventions are handled? If anything, Tony Stark would have made an excellent proponent of Cap’s point of view. Now personally, I’m not a big fan of government intervention, but a fundamental flaw in Cap’s line of thinking is that everyone has an agenda. The mortals, institutions, etc. – him included.
      But let’s follow your train of thought for a second – all right, so Cap has been known to consider the “one’s own weapons”-approach the most American, the most responsible one. Cap, to me, is a soldier who is, paradoxically, without a country; an archetype that lives a life defined by the categorical imperative. In this, his ideology transcends the physical borders of American culture and its physical dimensions. He is, quite literally, the embodiment of what it means to follow the American beliefs in freedom, equality, righteousness. He is the one-man-avatar of the morally sound and uncompromising, incorruptible “city on the hill.” Bucky is his “Timmy” that fell down the fell…but now other forces try to shove him back in; Bucky is, according to Cap, his responsibility. Okay, I’m completely behind him in that regard. At the same time, though, Cap’s appeal did lie, at least to me, in his striving to find a solution to issues WITHIN the system. There are plenty of edgy rebels, vengeance-seekers, etc. out there – what makes Cap stand out is that he is basically Superman regarding his boy-scout-alignment, but fragile – he has to work to make his vision work; he is no demigod. This, to me, made Cap so appealing – he is a spark of hope, a rallying cry to not let all the frustrations we suffer get the better of us. The set-up in the comics made significantly more sense to me; Civil War ultimately just made me ask “Why did it take so long for this kind of reaction?” Avengers, Thor 2, Ironman trilogy – there are so many instances of massive destruction, also on urban property…so without the (bad, grimdark) justification from the comic story-arc, the whole dilemma felt like it lacked gravitas, like the heroes could have literally solved it and taken a unified position by just…you know. Talking, like civilized people with a supposedly genius-like IQ. Which brings me to the cameos/CGI-battles.

      3) The airport battle is the imho best hero-on-hero battle we have seen so far. Spidey is awesome; at least 100 times more awesome than any of the previous iterations of the character on the big screen…but I really wished that was an Avengers-thing. I felt it detracted from the storyline and we’ve seen the hero-on-hero battle now twice already. As much as I liked it…to me, the notion got stale. The humor is great, and I certainly liked the individual characters and their banter. But frankly, I felt like I have already seen that – which I *never* dd in Ant-man – there, the combat-sequences just blew me away with their creativity and panache.

      4) I wholeheartedly concur with you regarding burner phone, storyline etc. – at the same time, I think this movie could have been a MUCH more interesting. When I heard about Civil War, I saw the Bucky-arc coming…but I *really*, really hoped that this would highlight another facet of the Cap-comics…the espionage angle. You know, Cap going underground with Bucky, working with SHIELD…that kind of things. I think that a crossover there, while not as “sexy” as the CGI-battle-fests, would have been interesting. And yeah, I think that would have been smart and creative. I mean, take a look at Ant-man. It’s basically a heist-movie and it is AWESOME. It still has enough fight-scenes and action to be fun and appeal to the crowds. I similarly creative deviation from the base formula in this Cap-movie would have been nice. In fact, it’s what made me really like the first two Cap movies.

      That all being said, I do not regret watching Civil War; it’s not a bad movie. The “haters”, imho, are wrong. In my opinion, it’s not even close to the best MCU movies and falls short of the potential it had, though.

      Just my 2 cents and thanks for your well-reasoned response!
      Cheers!

      • Solid reply.

        The main bits to reply to are the first, and re-reading what you wrote and I wrote, I think I didn’t make my counter point clear and I don’t know if I can articulate it well here but here’s my stab at it…

        There is a difference between the characters in the MCU and the characters in the larger Marvel-verse.

        It can be hard to focus solely on “the MCU version” of things and characters, but I feel that, looking only at the versions of the characters of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers — in context of their 5 films + the surrounding world (for instance for Steve, the reverence Agent Coluson pays to Capt. America in Agents of SHIELD etc.) you will see a basic premise that started with “versions of the iconic characters from the comics” which where true to their original design with a modern view of them (CA being 75 years old, if you did a “direct version” of his original comics, they’d be kind of terrible; IM coming out of Vietnam-era comicdom, I believe, would also no translate well “directly”).
        RDJ portrayal of Tony was spot on in IM 1, and the trilogy of IM 1 – 3 has him tackle with his personal demons in an interesting way, and his “revelations” in IM 3 that HE is Iron Man, not his suit, but “the person piloting it” had lovely little hints and notes in Avengers 2, like his stepping out of the suit in Sokovia to investigate, etc. and even in his assumption that He-was-the-world (or rather the worlds like him) and what the world needed was Ultron as its own Iron Man suit. The failure of Ultron, the near destruction of the earth at his creation’s hands — an extension of the death he’d already been causing via Stark Industries development of weapon systems etc. — was a “last straw” to him realising “people like him” needed to be checked — or more fitting to the actual story arc in CW, he needed someone else to shoulder the decisions so his concious would ease.
        Evans version of Capt was also spot on in CA 1, and his development into CA: WS was excellent (time will tell if it remains “the best MCU movie or not, but personally CA:CW gives it a run for its money) and we saw hints of how he and Tony had already began to “switch positions” from where they classically might have been in, for instance, how they argued on Hawkeye’s farm while splitting lumber during A: AoU.
        And so while the characters, iconically, might make more sense to stand for different positions than the ones you might assume. Tony’s position, to me, “makes sense” following the MCU’s version of his development (each movie has a piece of it but I don’;t want to break it down right now). And likewise Capt’s positions, to me, “makes sense” follign the MCU’s version of his development.

        This may just end up being a thing to agree to disagree on. 😉

        The story is really what keeps me involved though. The spectacle, the big fights etc. are fun and all, but the drama able to be told with fictional characters with enhanced powers is still a very “human” story, able to be painted in broader strokes because of the fictions. *shrug*

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