Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War, the thirteenth Marvel Cinematic Universe film, is borderline cinematic refuse, an epic movie that may have a consistent mood but nevertheless distrusts its audience to debate the bigger picture. There are working parts that surprisingly do not add up to anything worthwhile. This is not to say that it doesn't have good company, as its predecessor (The Winter Soldier) was only slightly worse. But given that these two film's banality is only dwarfed by other "Cap" movies like The Avengers and The Avengers: Age of Ultron, I'm close to pledging to never watching future Avengers movies. True, Marvel Studios can make good movies. Last year's Ant-Man is an example of that, as well as the near-exceptional Guardians of the Galaxy. But the nicest thing I can say about this part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that they just aren't my cup of tea. But there are so many harsher things I can say, and so I shall.

Before my tirade begins, I should at least start by writing that there are some (but very few) enjoyable aspects of this film. Civil War is not as painfully boring as say X-Men: Apocalypse, another dreadfully dull comic book film this summer that lacks as much heart as it does brain. Whereas Apocalypse vomits out some gobbledygook about ancient Egyptian deities (or something), there is an actual allegory in Civil War, a real debate about the role of regulation and oversight, of liberties versus strong offense against the enemy, freedom versus security (which, as we all know, are binary). A successful mission early in the film results (yet again) in high amounts of collateral damage. The Avengers are warned by the Secretary of State (William Holden) that their destruction in the name of peace has cost too many lives. The UN has mandated accords for regulation of the group and their weapons. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), an industrialist who surprisingly sides with more government regulation, opposes Cap's attitude and approach. There will be blood.  

I hate to give it to them, but the thought behind the movie deserves some recognition. Critics have rightfully criticized the injudicious destruction and carnage of The Avengers and Man of Steel in a post-9/11 world. Civil War tries to convince its audiences that it's better than that, that it recognizes that when those buildings go down, there are people inside them. But this interesting story is quickly gutted for boom! action!, because why should we expect an audience to pay attention for longer than five minutes? The allegories are disemboweled so quickly, and so they are not the best part of this movie. That honor goes to the return of Spider-Man, who's back after several bad movies. Here, Tom Holland is the young hero from Queens, and he is convinced by Stark to join his side against Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans). I haven't figured out how to articulate why Spider-Man is such an appealing character, but he very much is, and it is a treat to see him again. In the original Civil War comics, other characters were included, like those from Fantastic Four and X-Men. We should, though, be reminded that Marvel Studios doesn't own all the film rights to every Marvel character. 20th Century Fox owns X-Men, and Sony has owned Spider-Man since the late 1990s. But the deal Sony and Marvel struck very much should benefit both parties involved. While it would have been far more interesting this time, I think, to have Miles Morales, a Black Hispanic, appear instead of Peter Parker again, Holland still does a pretty good job, though his awkward teenager shtick is a bit over the top. He's charming nonetheless.

Spider-Man isn't the only one recruited to join Stark in preventing Rogers from protecting Rogers' friend Bucky Barns/Winter Soldier, who Rogers believes has been framed for the murder of a Wakandan king at a UN meeting. Because of this murder, Stark is able to persuade the heir to that throne, Black Panther (terrifically played by Chadwick Boseman, and whose standalone film will be directed by Ryan Coogler) to join as well. Also joining Stark is Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), and Vision (Paul Bettany). Opposed to them are Captain America, Winter Soldier, Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). Just as he did last year, Rudd provides comic relief effortlessly, especially as he causes malfunctions in Iron Man's armor. Most of this fighting, like most of the fighting in the real world, is not necessary. Most, if not all, of it is because of the actions of Helmut Zero, enticingly played by Daniel Bruhl. Love or hate MCU movies, I think the consensus is that most of the villains are dull. Not so with Zero. He may not be as powerful as the Avengers are, but he is just as clever, if not more so. It's easy to accept his decisions when compared to a cinematic world of malicious maniacs.

As I write, I realize that perhaps this movie isn't as bad as I had initially thought. Maybe a second viewing is necessary. But probably not. There's a lot to complain about this movie: Elizabeth Olsen's "accent", a sleep-inducing tunnel chase scene, the superfluous presence of many of these characters. Martin Freeman shows up and does nothing. Seriously--they misused Martin Freeman. I don't know what exactly I'm missing with these movies, and nobody has ever been able to explain why they like them other than they like mindless entertainment, but I suppose I feel happy that so many others seem entertained by them. In the meantime, there are approximately 5,479 MCU movies in the works, so I'm sure I'll like at least a few of them.

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