No Award goes to the movies: Captain America: Civil War

I’ve been trying to consciously uncouple from the Marvel universe for a few months now, so I was probably the wrong person to see Civil War. Especially because the main reason I’m breaking up with Marvel is that I found myself seeing a movie once, strongly disliking it for its lack of concern for female characters, then seeing it again with my expectations lowered accordingly. I was not only rewarding bad behaviour, but I was paying good money to do so.

(The other reason was the announcement that, while the Australian taxpayer would be funding Thor 3, at the same time, funding for Screen Australia and local stories was being cut.)

All this is to say that I agreed to see Civil War with very low expectations, and then I got spoiled for the plot and lowered them further, and I was still disappointed.

Civil War presents its characters with a false choice: rugged libertarianism versus fascism. The Avengers have caused property destruction and civilian death in one city too many, and now 117 countries have gotten together to create the Sergovia Accords, putting the Avengers under the oversight of the United Nations.

Steve Rogers objects: he is far too manly and American for such things! In fact, his argument is that, as a soldier, he needs to take personal responsibility for his actions. None of the other military officers in the room point out that this is the exact opposite of how it works.

Tony, who was personally responsible for the events of Age of Ultron — alas, the MCU isn’t just pretending that was all a bad dream — disagrees. Sides are taken. Then Bucky “The Winter Soldier” Barnes is accused of blowing up the conference at which the Accords were to be signed, and Steve has to go rescue his BFF from the CIA, and the situation escalates until there are too many characters to keep track of, and why was Ant Man even in this, ugh.

Along the way, the Avengers create so much property damage that the entire premise of the Accords is justified. The only person seriously injured in the big fight is … Rhodey, who ends up paraplegic. I’m into the bit where Tony’s creating assistive technology, I’m just cynical about how, with all those white guys out on the field, it’s a man of colour who is seriously hurt. I mean, wow, what are the odds?

(Stephanie pointed out that it was obvious from the trailers how right wing this movie would be. In my defence, I only watched half of one trailer.)

The problem isn’t just that the movie is super right wing, although it definitely won’t look out of place on next year’s Rabid Puppy slate. It’s also an idiot plot, where everything could have been avoided if the characters had communicated better.

The twist, you see, is that Bucky was framed by a Sergovian fanatic who lost his family in the events of Age of Ultron. His plan is to drive a rift between Steve and Tony by revealing that it was Bucky who killed Tony’s parents.

Tony is rather pissed off that Steve knew and didn’t tell him (Natasha also knew, but hey, who cares about women, right?), and the final act is basically the three men hitting each other, while T’Challa undergoes character development and actually resolves the plot.

Imagine how much pain — not to mention my own time — could have been saved if they had, I dunno, had a conversation about this?

Steve says he kept silent to hurt Tony’s feelings; Tony is angry, but also completely blind to the parallel with his own behaviour: he has placed Wanda under house arrest, without even telling her, for her own protection. (Not only is she a living weapon of mass destruction, but she’s not even an American citizen! We catch a brief glimpse of a much more interesting movie in that one bit of dialogue.) This could have been an interesting point of characterisation, except it’s literally mumbled in between punches and isn’t particularly explored. USE YOUR WORDS, GUYS, NOT YOUR FISTS.

By the end, nearly everyone seems like a massive hypocrite — except for Natasha, who was quite upfront about being motivated chiefly by pragmatism, and T’Challa, a flawless cinnamon roll who deserved a better movie. On the other hand, Clint, of Team Personal Responsibility, decides that it’s entirely Tony’s fault he got involved and has wound up in America’s underwater Guantanamo.

(Why does America even have an underwater Guantanamo? Is it in international waters? Why is it being run by the Secretary of State? Why, with all this talk of international accords, is this business entirely the affair of the CIA? Is it because this is ultimately a film about Americans having yankpain about the deaths of foreign civilians, before going off to kill more?)

(Stephanie notes: Now that Liz has decided to use it, No Award is probably adding “yankpain” to its official dictionary: that is, like manpain, but for when Americans are just really sad about the necessity of killing foreign civilians)

On a storytelling level, this was a deeply flawed movie. It was more entertaining than Age of Ultron, but its subtext was uglier, and it leaves its main characters looking like unpleasant, nasty people. Fandom likes to construct Steve Rogers as an FDR-style progressive; it turns out he is, in fact, an FDR-style isolationist who’s really into Ayn Rand. Tony, by contrast, is well-intentioned but apparently didn’t bother reading the Accords, else he might not have been so surprised about Guantanamo DSV.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has always had a strong streak of “whatever the heroes do is right, because they are heroes (and also American)”, but here it’s more overt, and frankly, even uglier than usual. It’s a brave choice to make Steve Rogers the villain in his own movie, and Tony Stark his semi-competent antagonist, but it’s not exactly rewarding for the viewer. I can’t imagine how much more upset I’d be if I was actually a hardcore fan.

Other things:

  • The whole plot relies on the idea that the world will remember Sebastian Stan’s face
  • I’m not kidding, during the airport fight, the friend next to me leaned over and said, “Wait, which one’s that guy? Oh, never mind, it’s Bucky.”
  • Why was Ant Man in this?
  • I could also ask why Spider-man was in this, but I … kind of liked him? I think because he was portrayed as a realistic teenager, not a teenager’s wish fulfilment character.
  • On the other hand, there are a whole lot of heroes Tony could have called upon here who weren’t minors. Jessica Jones. Daisy Johnson. Daredevil, I guess, in a pinch.
  • I really do think there needs to be a warning before Martin Freeman turns up in anything. Apparently his character is from the Black Panther canon, but don’t worry, he’ll be shipped with Stephen Strange in no time.
  • There’s something rather sweet about the ongoing Community cameos in Captain America films, but would anyone in their right mind let MIT hire Craig Pelton?
  • Women did not play a big role in this story. I don’t know why I bother.
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10 thoughts on “No Award goes to the movies: Captain America: Civil War

  1. As much as T’Challa was an awesome character, and I am so happy he is getting his own movie, he was as big a hypocrite as anyone. He was a big promoter of the Accords until his father was killed and then he decided that, yes, unilateral action was fine (just like Tony, he was happy to uphold the principle until it affected him personally). But, I really liked his end point of telling us that vengeance would consume us and that he was choosing to take the high road – it’s just lucky he didn’t manage to kill Bucky before that epiphany.

    The only one whose position on the Accords didn’t really change throughout the movie was Captain America – whether he was right or wrong (and I can see why people will disagree on that), he was at least consistent.

    Anyway, great write up. One of the things I love so much about this blog is it always makes me think about things from a different perspective.

      1. Oh, I have lots of sympathy for T’Challa and I think his actions were completely understandable. I just don’t think he was above reproach. And that’s what I liked so much about the movie, that with most of the main characters I could understand why they took the position they did, or made the choices they did–even if I thought they were wrong. I could see why the people who were willing to sign the Accords did so, and why those who weren’t felt they couldn’t, didn’t. It avoided that simplistic “the good guys do this, the bad guys do that”. I might have felt very strongly about what I thought was “right” in this scenario but I could sympathise with those who disagreed.

        And the thing that I liked so much about T’Challa’s epiphany was that he didn’t simple see Zemo as “the villian”, but saw the human being behind it. Not the same as condoning his actions, but just showing empathy–which is such a rare thing in superhero movies with their simplistic dichotomies. He realised that he and Zemo were coming from very similar places and what was going to differentiate them was the choices they made. For me, that was one of those moments that shows what superheroes are meant to be all about. I wasn’t that familiar with the character before, but now I can’t wait for his stand alone movie.

        Most audience members would have thought T’Challa completely justified if he had killed Zemo out of revenge. And, if it had been a Snyder movie, that’s what would have happened because that’s how Snyder views the concept of heroism (and why he should not be allowed within light years of a superhero movie). BvS and Civil War actually tackle very similar issues, but arrive at very different conclusions about the nature of heroes. to me, Civil War was what BvS should have been.

        Of course, that’s just my take on the movie which is obviously very different from No Award’s (and I am certainly not saying your take is wrong, all this is just my opinion). But that’s what I like about this sort of stuff, the fact the same movie can birth such radically different perspectives.

        1. The fact that T’Challa ultimately did the right thing is probably why I like his character so much — even though “the right thing” in this case seems to involve turning Zemo over to the CIA, when by rights he should be in the hands of the Austrian justice system. And that’s why I’m likely to consider seeing a Black Panther movie, even though it, too, will no doubt have a grotesque subtext and sideline women.

          1. Didn’t he turn him over to the UN Taskforce that came out of the Accords?

            I am just hoping that we get a Black Widow movie, and soon. Captain America:Winter Soldier really should have been called “Black Widow and Captain America”, but there’s that sidelining thing…

    1. Martin Freeman is working for the Task Force (I think but happy to be proven wrong), but that’s a minor point – as you say, T’Challa handed him over to someone instead of killing him 🙂

  2. Huh, I was under the impression he was Sharon’s boss. But I could be wrong! I was VERY busy groaning and covering my head with my hands when he appeared.

  3. I love your review. I’ll probably see it, because bad reviews oddly make me want to see movies more, but it sounds like a splendiforous clusterfuck. Can I steal yankpain as a term?

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