Captain America: Civil War

I like my pop culture spectacles with a bit of timely cultural relevance. Captain America: Civil War was not particularly interested in this.

I like my pop culture spectacles to adhere to decent narrative structure, if not an outright three-act shape. Civil War was not this.

I like my pop culture spectacles to not drown in their own weighty, glum mood. In this particular regard, Civil War was happy to oblige.

You probably know the synopsis, so why waste much time on it? The superhero team the Avengers gets told that they have to be regulated. The Iron Men of the team see the reason in not taking the law into their own hands, but not how they will be manipulated or at the mercy of politicians with their own desires. The Cap’n Muricas of the team are worried about the damn government taking away their freedom, but they don’t push the similarities to the National Rifle Association very hard, sadly, and neither do they emphasize the questionable behaviour of the government both on- and off-screen. Neither side is right, both sides are dumb, and so cue the pulled punches and game of shinny in an airport! Seeing these two sides harmlessly duke it out is arguably the most fun part of the whole thing, especially because most of these actors are charming and easy to watch.

This newest Marvel Cinematic Universe movie is not actually a Captain America movie. It’s not really a Captain America story, or any one character’s story. The closest we get is for Iron Man, or maybe our behind-the-scenes villain named Zemo. In fact, Zemo, a regular and somewhat nerdy-looking dude with his own agenda, is probably the most subtle and surprising thing about a movie utterly stuffed with costumes and superpowers. My only consistent complaint with these MCU movies is that their villains are impotent, idiotic, and never compelling enough. Zemo is a nice exception, which is doubly impressive because he hardly gets any screen time.

Since Captain America is probably the most interesting character of that gang for me, I was disappointed that his story took a back seat to new characters such as Black Panther and Spider-Man (both fantastic, actually) in his own damned movie. They could have easily done more to make this story more his and the movie itself would have benefitted from it.

But perhaps more egregious is the structure of the movie. More and more I can’t help thinking that this universe would be better served with the television format. Instead, the movies are getting bigger, full of a lot of great scenes but not adhering to any coherent shape. The second Avengers movie felt like this, too, lots to like but formless, like three episodes that had been edited into the wrong format. Civil War clocks in at two and a half hours, and there are at least two, maybe three points that could have worked as the climax for one film. Like The Dark Knight and that second Avengers movie, viewers may not immediately identify why the experience was so exhausting, especially because all the scenes were interesting, but they’ll note it was “too long” or too half-baked in parts. I wish they’d made Civil War more or fewer movies. Probably more, because I think some of its best parts (that Zemo guy, for instance, and that huge charming cast) deserved more time on screen.

So the movie was a series of scenes that wasn’t about any one character and either too long or too short. That sounds damning, but I still left the theatre having enjoyed myself. Compared to the cynical and goofily serious comics series of the same name, Civil War is relatively light, interesting, likeable, and treats all the characters (even its villain) with dignity. Mark Millar, the writer of the Civil War comics as well as a bunch of other humanity-hating shit that has been turned into somewhat mellower movies (e.g. Wanted, Kick-Ass, Kingsmen), is just not my thing, so I was pleased that they used his idea for the movie but not the details of his story. Granted, it’s bizarre and unfortunate to make a popcorn movie that has no problem with solitary confinement and never properly resolves a story about civilian casualties, but I’d take that over the alternative of an endlessly overwrought comic movie.

There are worse ways to spend a couple hours than by watching Civil War. Scarlett Johannson and Jeremy Renner trade quips. Everybody gets a moment or two to shine, and even if that’s less Paul Rudd (or, strangely, Chris Evans / Captain America himself) than I’d like, it’s still great.