dirs: The Russo Brothers
That was a bit of a step up. After the dirge of a fiasco that was DC’s latest entry into the “We can do what Marvel does, too?”, we get Marvel stepping up and delivering something that’s a bit more focussed, a lot more solid than the last Avengers flick. And, for once, it makes it feel like there are some consequences, some further changes in the Marvel universe as a result of the actions of many of the main players in this flick.
Yes, there are too many superhero flicks. Yes, there are too many Marvel flicks, to the tune of two a year, all of them basically set ups for the next to follow.
Whatever. Even within the factory that’s pumping these out, we now have a Captain America film that could just have easily been called Iron Man V or Avengers Again! or anything else, but that is certainly not to the flick’s detriment. If anything, the fact that you could have called it anything including Marvel Wanty Much More of Your Money and it would still work fine.
Why this example of heroes battling heroes works, as opposed to Batman v Superman (well, there are a multitude of reasons there), is because the central conflict isn’t because of a kooky misunderstanding, or because of something that can easily be resolved with a quick chat about people called Martha. You know, let’s destroy half the city because I thought you said something about my mother. Civil War uses as its basis a central and fundamental difference of opinion about what these heroes should and should not be allowed to do in this world, even when they’re trying to save it.
Still, I would argue, there is an aspect of deliberate misunderstanding at play between the two ‘sides’, since the aspect that causes the primary conflict is the civilian deaths that occur when the Avengers are trying to save the world or kill bad guys or save the world by killing bad guys. It’s not really about what they’ve done, but what they can’t stop the bad guys from doing.
I have to admit, it struck me as a bit bizarre that some of these protagonists so meekly accept that they’re to blame for these deaths, since, honestly, if someone’s about to set off an explosive that’s about to kill hundreds of people, and you desperately take action to minimise the amount of deaths, reducing it to tens of deaths, isn’t the jerk who set off the explosive still the one to blame anyway?
And in the climactic fight in Age of Ultron, the part where the villain of the piece tries to use an entire city to destroy the whole planet, surely any people that died was the villain’s fault? Except, I guess, that you can blame Tony Stark for creating Ultron in the first place. Which, I guess... is neither here nor there.
Despite this being a Cap film, I would argue Stark gets as much play and airtime as the other side of the War of the title. Is he the principled Union North or the Confederate South in this conflict? Like everyone in the world, not just in this movie, everyone thinks their way is the right way, and that their reasons are the valid ones, and anyone else is wrong or just lying.
He’s the South, in case you’re wondering how far I’ll take the metaphor. For reasons of guilt, for reasons of no longer wanting to be on the hook for the hard decisions, Stark agrees with a government proposal to force the Avengers to have some form of bureaucratic oversight. By the United Nations, no less.
Now, I’m not one of those conspiracy-laden nutjobs who think the United Nations is the secret New World Order putting mind control drugs in the water along with fluoride and in the chemtrails of jet planes, kidnapping the paranoid with black helicopters and taking them all to Area 51 or Guantanamo or that secret base underneath Ayers Rock. But I will point out that the United Nations, that august organisation created after World War II to ensure that further World Wars never occurred, doesn’t have the greatest track record.
I have an image in my head of what the UN would actually do with control of these heroes: force them to wear blue berets, and compel them to stay on the sidelines when bad shit is going down, whining to the bad guys in a wheedling voice, “please stop that, if you don’t we’ll schedule a committee to coordinate a team to organise a vote to maybe pass a non-binding resolution to sanction you at some point in the future if you don’t stop now. Pretty please?”
In the world of these movies, we know it’s a terrible idea, because those kinds of shady organisations can never be trusted and always turn out to be corrupt, or the actual bad guys, or a variation thereof, but the ones that line up alongside the government and the ones that line up against it (behind Cap) seem to have their own valid reasons. Good reasons, bad reasons, it hardly matters in the end, because the whole point of a film in which the Avengers fight each other is to watch the Avengers fight each other.
It’s a delicate balance, which this flick mostly gets right. These people, in the main, do not hate each other. The Avengers flicks generally play those tensions for laughs, because it’s funny to watch a Hulk punch a god and get away with it easily. The tension, though, between Cap and Tony is between two egos, two people who seem to be the natural leaders who butt heads because one tries to do what’s right, and the other tries to do whatever Tony thinks is a good idea at the time.
That natural conflict and grudging respect is amplified and escalated into the war of the title. But it ain’t hate. When they finally line up against each other, sure, the superhuman ones belt the shit out of each other, but, on the most part, it’s not with the intention of killing each other. Black Widow and Hawkeye, on opposite sides for once, jokingly talk about how this isn’t going to affect their friendship, and while you might argue that it deflates or diffuses the tension, we’re not looking for doom and gloom seriousness in something that can feel significant yet still be fleet of foot and often comical.
Plenty of people are going to write off the action as just being standard Marvel stuff, but the struth truth is, the Russo Brothers have perfected the way they render fight action in their movies. The way they structure almost every punch and every kick, throw, everything, is like a masterclass in fight choreography that always takes into account the skills and abilities of the hero dishing out the beating, and the one taking it. I’d argue it’s a notch above many if not most of the battles in the Avengers flicks, but they’re on a different scale.
Almost every hero in the Marvel flicks gets in on the action, excluding Hulk and the blonde Norse Queenslander dude, down to bloody Ant-Man, for crying out loud. But, and this comes as a bit of a surprise to people who only know of these characters from the movies, another hero with his own franchise that suffered through a horrible recent reboot with a terrible actor in the role is rebooted again for a far better result.
The fight at the airport is a pretty great and fun affair. There’s none of that samey exhaustion we get from a bunch of other flicks where the ‘final’ conflict is between the heroes and a bunch of generic aliens / robots, before one explosion sorts everything out. But that’s not the climactic battle.
The final fight is a far more grounded, far more personal affair. It was always going to come down to the Captain of America, and the Titan of Industry pounding the crap out of each other in a way that oddly felt more personal and painful that the average CGI battle. Cap fights to save his friend Bucky, who unfortunately also happens to be the Winter Soldier, former Soviet super assassin with a long list of kills, whereas Stark, who would have been happy to kill Bucky (since he was ordered to by his new masters), is given extra motivation when a much alluded to piece of the past is regurgitated in order to cause the most damage.
There is a villain, who wants to cause sorrow and pain, and he, like an absurd amount of people in the flick, want revenge on the Avengers because of everything they’ve lost (always coming back to bloody Sokovia; a place now I’m glad they destroyed), but it’s almost like Our Heroes were manipulated into doing something they wanted to do anyway. As if to say, sure, it might take a convoluted plot to lead to this ending, but it was always going to happen because of who they are, no matter what.
Like its predecessor (The Winter Soldier), this succeeds with a smaller scale (than just the average world in peril threat), and has an all-pervasive paranoid feeling of a thriller rather than just an explosive action fest. The system can’t be trusted. The government isn’t on the up-and-up. The heroes can’t really do the right thing, because they can’t agree on what the right thing is. All of this provides a different kind of flavour, one that I certainly appreciate.
There are a bunch of action set pieces, but they (and now I’m being deliberately naïve) felt organic to the plot, rather than “People have been talking for too long, we need them to start punching the shit out of each other NOW”. All of them are strong, but the one where Cap tries to protect Bucky from a raid by the German cops is particularly strong, especially as it leads to a race through the streets by multiple people who seem like they can run as fast as cars anyway, who then decide “fuck it, I feel like driving now” and proceed to do so because grabbing a guy off of his motorcycle in one motion and riding it in the opposite direction in the next is something that needs to be done, and done often.
A character, a certain red and blue wearing slinger of one-liners and webs makes a joke about a really old movie called Empire Strikes Back, and it’s a not-so-sly preparation for an ending that seems deliberately downbeat, intended to be a somewhat sombre way to end the flick, on an ambiguous note, and I thought it was perfect. Of the two antagonists, one seems to be more regretful of the path they’re now on, and so they should be, whereas the other seems committed to a new purpose.
Sure, there’s too much movie here, and maybe too many bloody characters. I still think it worked pretty well, and I enjoyed it, more importantly. A lot.
8 times Zack Snyder isn’t worthy of bringing the Russo Brothers their lattes out of 10
“Captain, while a great many people see you as a hero, there are some who prefer the word vigilante. You've operated with unlimited power and no supervision. That's something the world can no longer tolerate.” – thus spake the bureaucratic tyrant – Captain America: Civil War