Captain America: Civil War

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Captain America: Civil War is a satisfying entry in the ever-growing pantheon of the MCU.

At this point, there are enough movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that the franchise has gained a certain predictability in how it structures its stories. Civil War is not exceptional in this regard.It conforms to the rules of Marvel’s superhero movie logic. It’s got the antagonist making convoluted plans that contain too many moving parts to possibly succeed, but it does. It’s got failures in communication that serve as a paper-thin pretext for team conflict (well, Rogers did try to tell Stark that he wasn’t the real enemy, but he only did it once). The narrative fits together too neatly, like a jigsaw. The Avengers sort themselves into opposing sides with a bit too much enthusiasm than is healthy for a team with that much working experience. Its view of political realities is binary and simplistic.

I’ve come to see these as not flaws, per se, but rather, elements of the logic that governs the MCU. These plot elements enable the spectacle that we so enjoy watching in Marvel movies. And it is probably remiss to judge Civil War by the standards of other films that are not in this mold. What matters is that Marvel’s movies have heart, humor and humanity (and fanservice), and I think Civil War abounds with those qualities.

It has heart because its main conflict is essentially an intimate one. The Civil War premise is a bit mutated from its comic-book form. In the film, the conflict is not so much driven by differences in politics, but rather, the interpersonal dynamics between Stark and Rogers). This seems sensible, because it’s hard, in the real world, to morally justify the Team Cap position that superheroes should be given license to operate unchecked. To assume so is to subscribe to a rather dangerous pessimism over the notion of institutional oversight of law enforcement. That’s vigilantism, essentially.

The filmmakers should therefore be commended for making this conflict less about differences in philosophy and more about Roger’s need to operate outside the confines of due process in order to save his brainwashed friend Bucky (and subsequently to defeat the Big Bad Baron Zemo), and being stymied by elements that believe, mistakenly, that Rogers has indeed gone rogue because of a philosophical hang-up about institutional oversight. That lends a moral equivalence to both sides, which is quite the achievement.

In terms of humor, Marvel continues the tradition of superhero quips, but there is also a good dose of physical comedy thrown in, mostly made possible by the inclusion of Ant-Man (in giant form) as well as the adolescent acrobatics of the new Spiderman (marking his first entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe after a spate of horrible, horrible movies made by Fox). That airport fight set-piece is completely senseless on a plot level – the Avengers destroy an airport in the process of settling a difference in opinion, which is ironically the kind of thing that the oversight was created to prevent in the first place. Nevertheless, it abounds with a kind of kinetic humor and choreography that lends visual interest and heft to them, giving them a weight that makes them feel more real than just a bunch of CGI sequences. Also it’s funny because the Avengers (save for Stark and Cap) seem to treat the fight as a fun diversion: an opportunity to unload their best quips and one-liners on each other.

It has humanity because it is one of the rare superhero movies that puts a price and a weight on the actions that its putative heroes have on ordinary people, beyond their utility as capitalist symbols of inspiration (and distraction) to the proletariat. Cool battles are not fought in a void, and although Civil War is a bit hypocritical in this respect, given that its setpieces do occur in places usually trafficked by people, that it acknowledges the human cost of these hijinks is apropos, especially in an era where superpowers unload ungodly amounts of ordnance in countries like Syria in a bid to perpetuate global justice, but instead incur collateral costs.

And it has fanservice, of course. The glimpses of Wakanda and the introduction of Spiderman and Black Panther do well for the film, upcoming movies, and are also good for the diversity and longevity of the franchise at large.

Now, if only they could cast an Asian superhero…

I give this film: 4 out of 5 broken Shields

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