‘Captain America: Civil War’ is to ‘Batman v Superman’ as Pope Francis is to Richard Dawkins

As a fan of mature, developed story lines with depth and characterisation, I am conflicted. You may have already read my thoughts on ‘Batman v Superman’ (and some more thoughts), but I’ve just seen ‘Iron Man’s Avengers 3: Captain America Also Features’ and I feel the way an atheist would presumably feel when witnessing an argument between Pope Francis and Richard Dawkins. On one side is someone who represents an antiquated institution which stands against many of my own beliefs but who is himself trying hard to do good things, and on the other is someone who nominally represents my own preferred view of the world, but who is sadly just stood in the middle of the room shouting bad things about Muslims and occasionally pausing to see who’s paying attention.

See, for all of its flaws, there were parts of ‘Brokeback v Studmagnet’ that were trying to be the superhero movie that I really want to see, such as Batman’s ruthlessly rational mistrust of Superman or the exploration of how the world might respond to the presence a being such as the Kryptonian wonder. But the whole film was so poorly executed that these brief flashes of interest were completely demolished by overly-extravagant special effects and a total lack of narrative focus.

Meanwhile, Marvel’s ‘Stark v Rogers: Dawn of Franchise Entrenchment’ fails to particularly explore any meaningful themes in a satisfactory way  – and yet it is executed so competently that it outperforms the DC offering on every metric. Following the previous metaphor, ‘Ballsack v Slowhandjob’ is bitterly tweeting about how religion makes people bad and mean, whilst ‘Captain Bromance: Civil Union’ is out in the world telling its followers to be nicer to gay people and generally trying to make the world a more pleasant place.

‘Capital Punishment: Civil Rights’ (that one was rubbish, I know) is not a perfect film. In fact, it is deeply fucking flawed. The story hangs on Captain Rogers’ conviction that he should be completely beyond oversight on any matter, and it really all seems to come down to the fact that he’s American, and therefore reserves the right to violate international borders in order to get into firefights with other Americans. He also maintains that his friend, Bucky, should be beyond prosecution due to the fact he was brainwashed, a stance which makes less and less sense the more chest cavities Bucky collapses with a single robotic punch.

Oddly for a film titled ‘Captain America’, all of the character development is reserved for everyone who is not called fucking “Captain America”. Iron Man greedily hogs the bulk of it – apparently his own trilogy and a spotlight in both ‘Avengers’ films was not quite enough for Tony Stark, meaning he has now replaced Wolverine as the subject of the phrase “Oh, it’s about him again?” That being said, it’s probably fitting that it’s the capitalist whose earlier successes entitle him to greater rewards later on. Maybe they were expecting the screen time to “trickle down” to the other characters.

That being said, the other characters do all get a decent amount of development. Scarlet Wid… Witch gets plenty of trauma and self-reflection, Black Wit… Widow continues to defy Hollywood tropes by being a sexy female assassin who actually possesses a personality. Newcomer Black Panther gets a fair dose of motivation, Vision shows us some of his vulnerabilities and even Rhodey gets a personal story line – cementing this even more firmly as a re-labeled Iron Man romp.

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Indeed, Captain America himself is arguably the weakest bloody part of the whole film. Where he was previously an optimistic if occasionally naive symbol of American independence, he now seems to have transitioned into a block-headed, obtuse and downright arrogant icon of American entitlement. Hell, if I wanted to be really controversial I’d make comparisons between Bucky and Israel, but I’ll leave that nasty little vipers’ nest alone for the time being.

The fact is that previous Captain America outings have come across as celebrations of American idealism, but ‘Civil War’ seems more like a damning criticism of American imperialism – or at least, it would, if it didn’t obliviously frame the title character as the hero of the whole piece. Hell, Tony Stark does a better job as the American paragon, the billionaire innovator who develops his morality and now uses his wealth and expertise to reach out and solve the world’s problems, working with worldwide organisations to put an end to the reckless old-fashioned interventionism embodied by Steve Rogers’ violent exploits. The central conflict of the film is even borne out of a destructive mission on foreign soil to prevent the use of a weapon of mass destruction. It’s difficult to acknowledge these real-world allegories without subsequently viewing Rogers in a somewhat negative light.

And for me, this is the chief failing of the film; the fact that my sympathy is one-sided. The conflict between the two superhero factions is based around a lop-sided difference of opinion, and an unfocused one at that. The main fight between them all, taking place in an airport in GERMANY, I believe (more on locations later) occurs as Iron Man and his team attempt to prevent Captain America and his team from helping Bucky to escape arrest… I think. But it may also have been about the fact that some of them didn’t want to be regulated by the United Nations. I’m not really sure, because the film seems to languidly shuffle from one moral disagreement to another without too much in the way of thought for a more solid narrative. At no particular point was I entirely convinced by the motivations of any one person.

Spoilers below…

By the end of the film, Iron Man’s motivations have shifted to personal vengeance, and this actually manages to be much more compelling, and serves to highlight the flaccidity of the earlier segments of the story. It is revealed that Bucky, as a brainwashed servant of Hyrda, assassinated Tony Stark’s parents, leading to a surprisingly restrained sequence in which Stark’s fury drives him to bloodily avenge his family. His cool determination makes him nigh-on unstoppable, and it is a sequence so loaded with emotional impact that it truly outclasses a man in a rubber mask screaming “Why did you say that?” whilst a bloke in a cape mumbles “Martha” over and over again.

If ‘Carotid Artery: Bleeding More’ had opened with this personal conflict, the story would have been much more emotionally engaging. By having the other heroes team up with Tony Stark because of their loyalty to him, or because they felt Bucky was a genuine threat that needed to be brought in, whilst the others sided with Steve Rogers because of the loyalty he inspired or because they felt Bucky was being unfairly vilified, then the whole fight would carry more weight, and sympathy could be built on both sides. An exploration could made into the nature of guilt and responsibility: how do you prosecute someone who murdered a person’s parents whilst brain-washed by a Nazi spin-off group? For someone as powerful as Iron Man, how do you reconcile the balance between justice and vengeance? How far can you follow him down the path of revenge?

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Instead, we get a ropey and somewhat contrived disagreement over international regulation and oversight, which eventually turns into a more satisfying personal grudge in the final moments, and I’m somewhat disappointed that we didn’t get something more bloody and vicious for the full run of the movie.

With that being said, ‘Cardiac Arrest: Civil Disobedience’ is tremendous fun. I was surprised to learn that it is only five minutes shorter than ‘Baldspot v Screwtop’, and yet it packs in a wealth of more interesting characters, each with a great deal more development. It has great dialogue delivered by a fantastic cast, action scenes that are varied and entertaining and, beyond everything else, it manages to maintain a level of excitement that is simply absent from the DC alternative.

Although I have hammered the movie for its flaws, it triumphs in spite of them. I would not call this the best superhero movie ever; I’d barely call it the best superhero movie this year, but it succeeds precisely where it needs to: it is enjoyable. It doesn’t bore, it doesn’t inspire incredulity, it doesn’t provoke depressive episodes. It’s just a well-rounded cinematic experience, and it uses the charm and charisma of its characters to blind you to its flaws just as the most talented of sex workers use their wiles drive from your mind any concern for the cocktail of contagions that will be the source of future discomfort.

‘Certain Apathy: Terrific Bore’ (these ones are much more difficult) demonstrates quite ably that a film can still succeed as a source of entertainment even if it doesn’t succeed at being a coherent story. Other films aim higher and miss completely; this film sets its sights n the achievable and scores a bull’s eye.

Probably the biggest issue, more so than the story or Captain America’s characterisation, is the use of LOCATION TITLES obnoxiously imprinted across the entire fucking screen in BLOCK CAPITALS that cover MOST OF THE PICTURE. It is so bloody distracting and annoying that it genuinely affected my enjoyment of the film, and I hope whoever came up with the idea gets to spend their life locked in small concrete room as someone with a fucking megaphone screeches the names of RANDOM CITIES at them at full fucking volume.

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