(The article below contains a few minor spoilers. Continue only if you don’t mind or have already seen the film!)
Yet another installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and yet again stores and the Internet are bursting with promotional materials. It seems that nearly everywhere we turn we come across another image of Captain America and Iron Man facing each other down, their profiles staring majestically and stubbornly across from each other in front of a backdrop of Cap’s now-familiar shield. I don’t usually see movies in theaters the day of their release. In fact, I usually wait until they become available at the library. But somehow it happened that at 7:30 on the evening of May 6th I found myself wearing 3D glasses in a comfortable theater seat, waiting for the commercials to finish and Captain America: Civil War to begin.
I thought a review of Civil War would be an appropriate follow-up to my last article (which discussed Captain America’s character). In a nutshell: I liked the movie insofar as one can like a Marvel movie, but I also found it saddled with the deficiencies of the typical Marvel movie.
First of all, I grant that the major question the storyline posed was an interesting one; in this time when the religious liberty of Americans is being endangered, the free will to make our own decisions that Captain America desires and want to protect is important. Captain America/Steve Rogers doesn’t feel like he can submit to an unpredictable government ruling when he has the power to help people in trouble. However, the position of accountability that Iron Man/Tony Stark promotes is also important. Finally, the public and the Avengers seem to be taking notice of the destruction that the superheroes have always wreaked in their scuffles.
One thing that seemed strange to me about the issue, however, was that Rogers never puts into words a really substantial reason for his decision not to sign the controversial Sokovia Accords, which would put Avengers operations under the discretion of the UN. Throughout most of the movie, Rogers simply repeats that he “can’t” sign the Accords. The danger in Cap’s point of view comes when we see our decisions as made solely because of trust in our own judgment and not considering a higher order and moral code. Cap’s position has been characterized dangerously as simply a matter of his “individual conscience”, what “he believes to be right”. This secularizes and weakens Cap’s position, while making Tony Stark appear to be the voice of reason.
Another question—why exactly were the Avengers fighting each other? Yes, the issue was a meaningful one, but I’m sure there are better ways to resolve it than beating each other up. If their intention never was to kill each other, what was the intention of the fighting? Was it perhaps the first instinct to which they turned? But was it a mature way to solve a problem? I did appreciate the storyline leading up to the fighting because I had been afraid that the film might be a meaningless fight-fest. Still, the violent scenes (as they commonly are) are painful and overdrawn.
Even before the film I hadn’t liked the idea of superhero fighting superhero. To my mind, superheroes should be role models, fighting evil for the triumph of the good and true. It seems a bit askew if the champions of good end up fighting each other. However, a possible interpretation could be that Marvel focuses more on the flawed humanity of the heroes than their perfection; it tries to portray the heroes as more realistic and nuanced.
However, it would make the Marvel movies much better if we could actually see more of this human dimension of the characters. The Marvel movies seem to focus more on negative emotions and impulses—revenge, violence, hate. We do see examples of love, but often in regards to revenge, such as Black Panther’s love for his father which drives him to seek revenge on his father’s murderer. We see camaraderie among the Avengers, but it is lacking. Consider Rogers’s strangely frigid welcome to his friend Bucky when Barnes finally recovers from his brainwashing. Even after Rogers learns that Barnes is in his right mind, instead of greeting his old friend with a smile or a warm handshake, Rogers proceeds to immediately bombard Barnes with questions. This cold humanity reaches to Cap’s strange romance with Sharon Carter, Peggy Carter’s niece—their relationship is unconvincingly portrayed, not giving much grounds for the kiss they share (after which Carter is faded out of the story).
Which brings me to my disappointment in the character of Captain America. In Civil War he seems to be lacking in the good spirit and selflessness which he shows in Captain America: The First Avenger. He is supposed to be a representation of America, but we never see him being particularly patriotic towards his country. And more generally, Civil War is more about a disagreement among the Avengers than a film about Cap and a further exploration of his character. Though the movie bears Cap’s name, the focus of the film is not truly on him as Iron Man plays just as large a part in it as Captain America.
The end of the film is inconclusive, a typical “teaser” ending. Yes, I suppose the filmmakers need audiences to keep coming back for more but all the ends are left open, so the next film can hand us more surprises we mightn’t (or might) have expected. But it’s almost as if the filmmakers have forgotten the art of crafting a true, satisfying ending. Speaking for myself, sometimes the audience doesn’t want to be kept guessing. Sometimes the audience wants to be contented with the story. The ending-that-is-not-an-ending seems particularly inappropriate for the supposed concluding film of the Captain America trilogy.
Don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t cringing in my seat all throughout Civil War. There are several jokes that viewers, especially long-time fans and watchers of the Marvel movies, appreciate. Superheroes abound to delight nearly any fan. The introduction of the young Peter Parker/Spider-Man, in particular, adds an innocence and charm that is refreshing in the darkly intense Marvel world. The heart-wrenching revelation near the climax adds a twist delivering an impactful surprise. When going to see Captain America: Civil War, you might expect to be amused, and maybe even thought-provoked, just don’t necessarily expect to be awestruck.