Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Civil War review, with Captain America context and mild spoilers

After the hot mess of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War was a heartening return to form for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with wonderful action, great character work, and some really moving moments — one that actually had me crying a little. It’s almost on a level with The Avengers and CA: The Winter Soldier, in my opinion; I know some people say it’s better. The only thing that lessens it slightly for me is the narrowed scope of the “civil war” itself, compared to the comics.

It has really great action scenes. I definitely recommend seeing it on the big screen if possible to enjoy it fully, but I believe it will still be good when it hits smaller screens. Battles are coherent: While there’s a whole lot going on, it’s also not hard to keep track of what IS going on. Fights are crisp and punchy, unlike the boring ones in Ultron that just dragged on and on. Individual moves are often clever, and I laughed in delight at some of the combinations, as well as laughing at the banter.
Oh yes, there’s a lot of humor in CW, despite the tense and sometimes world-weary tone of the movie. Some of it is from funny lines from quipsters, but just as much is situational humor rising from characters and their conflicts.

Character interplay and development is my favorite part of the movie, even better than the action! Continuing characters keep evolving in interesting and satisfying ways, and the new characters introduced are by turns entertaining and compelling.

Captain America is great as always, both here and in the comics. What really makes me love Cap and Chris Evans’ portrayal of him is the demonstration that a good person with ideals doesn’t have to be simple or boring.  The opposite of a jingoist, he considers and takes moral stands. Cap’s “old-fashioned values” have to do with truth and fairness, and that puts him in conflict with today’s dominant realpolitik worldviews, but he makes people think about who they want to be and how they want the world to be, and that’s great.

For more background on Captain America, I recommend this TV special that I happened to catch on the Saturday before CW opened. It had apparently aired this winter, before the second season of Agent Carter. Anyway, I was really pleased with how well it was put together.

It was pretty sweet; in the beginning, they talked about how involved Jack Kirby was in the comic books, doing a lot of the writing as well as the art, before he served in WWII; near the end, they talked about how much he would have liked the movies. One guy (not Stan Lee) got teary-eyed, and the camera just stayed on him, waiting silently until he collected himself and was able to continue talking.

They mentioned how gutsy and controversial it was to launch the series with Cap punching Hitler before America even got into WWII. They also discussed how Cap ended up fighting conspiracy at the highest levels of government during Watergate, and continued with his legacy after that.

Here’s a fairly comprehensive history of the character:

Given Cap’s origins, I’m glad they let the comic lapse soon after WWII instead of converting him into a Red Scare Commie-basher. Here's a great essay by John Seavey from several years ago arguing why Steve Rogers (Cap) may have been raised in a Communist, or at least Socialist, household in the 1930s (it meant something a bit different back then):
"He might not have been a card-carrying Communist himself, but his parents almost certainly were. Because being a Communist had a different meaning during the Great Depression than it did twenty years onwards, in a Cold War America. During the 1930s, when unemployment was high and a privileged few were almost completely insulated from the Depression’s effects, lots of people joined the Communists because they believed in things like unionization, racial equality, and fighting back against the rise of totalitarian dictatorships in Europe."

And here’s a great post-Avengers fanfic about how Steve’s straight talk and eagerness to act on his beliefs stresses out a SHIELD publicist. She’d expected to have to handle a racist, sexist grandpa type, but hot, but instead she got a crusader:

From here on out, there will be SPOILERS.

The special also talked about Cap’s stance for civil liberties in the comics version of The Civil War, which is why I was on Team Cap all the way before seeing the movie. However, the movie version is very watered down from what happened in the comics. It was tremendously narrowed in scope, not only in the number of people involved (just about a dozen here, as opposed to hundreds in the comics), but also, and more importantly, in the main moral conflict. The comics series had the government requiring all supers/mutants/special powered people to register, outing their secret identities, etc., and imprisoning many dissidents; as far as I can tell, the Sokovia Accords just apply U.N. oversight to the Avengers, which is much less interesting and impactful.

The Sokovia Accords are also pretty stupid, given that the only supers the treaty addresses are the few on the Avengers team; and how did this multinational agreement get made without Cap and Black Widow, both of whom I’m sure follow the news, getting wind of it? Also the whole collateral damage argument is stupid, given that they’re always trying to protect people, and nobody’s perfect — and it was pretty gobsmacking hearing General Ross scolding them about that, given his personal history, let alone real-world examples like Americans bombing the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, hospitals, etc.

So I had a few quibbles with the arguments made, and some that I thought should have been made but weren't, but that's much less important than the lowering of the tension in general by this smaller Civil War. But it's hard to see how they could have kept it as deep and wide as in the comics without turning it into a miniseries instead of a movie.

On to happier things: I was incredibly pleased to see that Agent 13 of Winter Soldier came back for this and did indeed turn out to be Sharon Carter, Peggy's niece. I LOOOOOOOVED how Cap's "Plant yourself like a tree ... No, YOU move" speech, from the Straczynski Spider-Man comic in Civil Wars, got transposed into Sharon's mouth to eulogize Peggy.

And since the wonderful Agent Carter series will not be renewed, that very fittingly works as a eulogy for the show as well.

I’m pleased that Steve and Sharon's shy interactions, and later teamwork, from The Winter Soldier, were renewed and expanded here, and I’m hopeful that their kiss here means Emily VanCamp (whom I enjoyed watching in Revenge) will be back for another movie and more character development.

Vision and the Scarlet Witch had some nice scenes together, and I liked Clint’s return, brief as it was, and his interactions with Black Widow. Natasha didn’t get enough to do, but her character was consistent, including what she did at the end. Falcon/Sam was also satisfying, though again, I'd have liked to see more of him.

I was also very pleased with the new characters. I really enjoyed Ant-Man, despite not having seen his movie.

The latest incarnation of Spider-Man was great with all his one-liners during the fight scenes, whether that was from his nervous tension or because he thought from comics that superheroes were just supposed to act like that. It’s really disturbing that Tony Stark practically drafted a child soldier for his little war, but then he’s always been more goal-focused than implications-considering.

T’Challah, the Black Panther, was magnetic. I loved his arc and his integrity, and I really wish we were getting his movie next instead of another Spider-Man (to say nothing of how long we’re waiting for Black Widow, if ever).

In summary: I had a great time watching CA:CW. I’m not sure I can recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen The Avengers and/or The Winter Soldier (I missed Ant Man and Deadpool in the theaters, though I heard they were both good), because it builds so much on what’s happened before; but anyone who lost heart after Ultron should definitely see this one.

1 comment:

  1. As for the quibbles that I had with the arguments made and not made for each side in Civil War, Shamus Young does a really nice job of exploring those topics here: http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=32170


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