Captain America: Civil War is All Glory and No Guts

teamsvscivilwarposterTeam Captain America (Chris Evans) and team Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) clash in a spectacular airfield battle sequence in Captain America: Civil War. A majority of Marvel Studios’ roster of characters are present—12 films worth—and they’re joined by costumed freshmen (sadly, no freshwomen) getting a test run for their own solo outings coming to a multiplex near you between now and 2020. Spider-Man (Tom Holland) swings through the brawl as The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) head-butts Hawkeye (Jermey Renner), the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) takes a swipe at The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) plays havoc inside Iron Man’s armour. Co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo blast open the grand toy box Marvel Studios and Disney have built but the lid comes crashing down, hard.

Following a series of incidents involving The Avengers, the United Nations moves to put the Sokovia Accords into effect, which will dissolve group as a private enterprise and place them under the employ of an international governing body that monitors and regulates superhuman activity. The Accords split The Avengers between the pro-signing Iron Man and the signature-averse Captain America. Meanwhile (of course, this is a comic book movie), the mysterious Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) plots to exploit the Accords for his own personal vengeance by using the Winter Solider.

When the teams aren’t punching each other in Captain America: Civil War the film is trying to develop a conscience for the collateral damage caused by The Avengers saving the world: who is avenging the innocent people killed during these incidents? It’s the diet version of the central premise of writer Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen, ‘who watches the Watchmen?’ Co-writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely allow the characters to speak their minds before they come to blows and the Russos trap them in boardrooms debating the merits of their ideals like a lightweight, caped edition of 12 Angry Men. These scenes map out the conflict so when the battles begin you understand the intent of every thwap, ka-pow and bam! Markus and McFeely attempt morality but don’t have the resolve to commit to any real consequences for the core group. Only normal people are made to suffer in Captain America: Civil War. As a result, it not a civil war, it’s a play fight­—Marvel desperately need a George R. R. Martin type in their writer’s room.

Trivial battles aside, the Russos deliver the action like immaculate comic book panels given life, there’s an electrifying vibrancy to all the set pieces and it’s unlike anything achieved in superhero film before. Characters effortlessly breeze in-and-out without halting for an explanation or compromise to the sake of setting up a future film—­the syndrome plaguing Avengers: Age of Ultron and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. There is room for every character and enough space for them to claim their stake in the fight without getting lost in the noise. Losing out a little is Zemo (and Bruhl), another victim of Marvel’s villain problem, who is slowly made inconsequential by a story that outgrows him to the point where he’s merely a twisted tour guide through the finale with an all too familiar backstory.

Adding vibrancy to cover the flaky tracks of Captain America: Civil War is the addition of Holland’s vibrant Spider-Man, Boseman’s regal Black Panther and Rudd’s goofy Ant-Man. All three siphon the spotlight away from the stalwarts but Evan and Downey Jr. still have a dynamic presence, as do the rest of the cast who show their chemistry still sparks even when they’re failed by dialogue or plotting.

Captain America: Civil War revels in its complacency, it’s a film that’s spectacular only within the boundaries of what has become the serviceable and acceptable standard for a Marvel film; it’s all glory and no guts. One could shrug and say ‘it is what it is’, and the quandary is that Marvel and the Russos know this is as good as it gets, as good as it needs to be, so there’s no attempt anything of significance. The concept of something ‘risky’ in a Marvel film is nearly impossible because it has been erased from their vocabulary in the same way McDonald’s obliterated nutrition.

Our relationship with the Marvel films has outlasted most marriages and the seven-year itch is setting in (Iron Man was released in 2008). It has nothing to do with ‘superhero fatigue’ because Captain America: Civil War is not a bombardment; it’s exhilarating and amiable. And here I go again telling Marvel ‘good job’, they have their formula perfected, but to quote Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) from Whiplash, “there are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’.”

Cameron Williams

The Popcorn Junkie