Captain America: Civil War

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Anthony Russo Joe Russo

Starring

Chris Evans Robert Downey Jr Scarlett Johansson

Anticipation.

The #hype machine suggests this could be one of the better MCU movies.

Enjoyment.

And it is. But what kind of message is it sending to The Kids?

In Retrospect.

It’s probably all down hill from here…

Hey kids! Captain America’s back, and he’s brought some lively political views with him.

Let’s just assume for one short second that Captain America is supposed to represent his namesake – the good ol’ USA. What he does and the decisions he makes are hardwired back to some ineluctable founding father ideals, ideals so rocksteady that even Honest Abe would be tipping his stovepipe in accordance.

In Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, our eponymous hero forgoes sanctions that would see his “enhanced”, snap-talkin’, pain-bringin’ crew answer to some higher power. Complying with legislated protocol would mean they wouldn’t be allowed to foil evil as and when they choose or bring peace to the world on their own timetable.

A major bungle during a routine mission in Lagos leaves gurning, hockey-masked bad dudes stiff in a box, but there’s a fair amount of human collateral damage too, which looks bad in the papers. This is a film about the mouse that roared. It’s about one of those ticked-off bystanders who witnesses these rippling emissaries of justice doing their thing and thinks, ‘This ain’t right.’

But maybe the death of innocents is mere political martyrdom – a necessary sacrifice for the greater good. Can we do anything valuable in this world without it having some kind of negative fallout? So yes, we’re right back to Superhero 101 with this one – is vigilantism a valid method of policing? Should a wider system of ethics be in place? Should the energies of these vigilantes be guided by the will of a democratically elected global coalition? The big problem at the end of it all is that everyone has a different definition of “good”. Which is bad.

Instead of mithering and dithering, Captain America says a long and loud, “No!” For him, it’s all about doing what’s right for the people, so long as it’s what he decides is right for the people. Evil will be gauged by his own personal metric, and he won’t be swayed by the decisions of others. This prevents him from becoming a weapon; the unfortunate fate of his war buddy and brainwashed Ruskie assassin, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). It’s not his fault he is able to do what he does. And it’s not his fault that he is physically unable to let tyranny go unpunished.

So here we have a superhero who uses brute force to apply his iron will… hmm, sounds a little fishy to us. But isn’t this the endgame for every superhero movie? Is it even possible to have a superhero film which isn’t implicitly fascistic? The spoiler-title tells you exactly which party you should be backing.

Ethically and politically, the film has a lot to answer for (unless you happen to love totalitarianism). But at least it stridently endorses something and doesn’t just throw out a load of half-hearted hypotheticals to give the illusion of depth. Captain America isn’t a fascist in the historical sense, but he does display certain… tendencies. It’s weird that no-one in the room is able to step up and tell him, ‘Dude, I think what you’re espousing is, like, totally undemocratic.’

It’s also handy that Robert Downey Jr’s “hyperverbal” Tony Stark doesn’t go there, as we might otherwise never have witnessed one of the most cogent and beautifully choreographed fight sequences in the superhero genre. That it occurs in the light, airy environs of an Eastern European landing strip on a crisp morn makes it all the more enticing and balletic. It’s like watching a perfectly matched game of football, with both teams on the offensive.

There are a lot of characters, and many get their moment to shine. But not everyone is so lucky. Don Cheadle’s War Machine is the lame duck of the pack, beaten to a sorry pulp at every moment where it really matters. Bucky has a big metal arm in place of charisma, which is a shame. Cap is a hunk of seething self-righteousness with an enviable jawbone. Unlike Batman, he’s entirely comfortable with his creed of savage diplomacy, which actually makes him come across as a psychopath. The female characters (Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow and Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch) get a little time in the limelight before being hastily sidelined for the grand finale. Chadwick Boseman is introduced as Black Panther, whose special power is that he has little tiny nails to scratch you with. Extended cameos from Spider-Man and Ant-Man are bundled in as inter-episode liveners.

In terms of character, dialogue and story, this is same ol’, same ol’. Calling this “the best Marvel movie” is equivalent to proclaiming “this is the best Dorito I’ve ever tasted.” But the Russos do make some wise decisions. Time is given over to lengthy sequences in which characters just talk. And they don’t talk directly about the themes of the film, or what’s going to happen in the next scene, but they subtly couch these ideas within semi-interesting conversations which have the perfume of realism to them. Which is big.

The film is also content with the fact that the external threat doesn’t have to be as big or as mean or as threatening as the internal one. The “Civil War” nomenclature isn’t a sell out (paging Batman V Superman!) as the film explores a rift that can’t be instantly healed with the diversion of a common foe. But what the film ends up being about isn’t a choice between democracy and fascism, but between having Marvel movies and not having Marvel movies. If these characters suddenly accept that they should be fully accountable for their actions, they are accepting that they no longer want to be superheroes, but bureaucrats. Captain America isn’t fighting for freedom – he’s fighting for the franchise. So #VoteCap.

Published 20 Apr 2016

Tags: Chris Evans Comic book movie Marvel Robert Downey Jr Scarlett Johansson

Anticipation.

The #hype machine suggests this could be one of the better MCU movies.

Enjoyment.

And it is. But what kind of message is it sending to The Kids?

In Retrospect.

It’s probably all down hill from here…

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