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.
- 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.