After the belly flop of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, I wasn’t feeling very confident in comic book movies. There were a few reasons to maintain my optimism. In my ranking of favourite comic book movies, I think Marvel holds at least five top spots. Avengers: Age of Ultron wasn’t anything to jump for joy about, but it kept the pace up, and introduced new interesting characters. Still, I was feeling more than a little apprehensive. Would Marvel’s incredible franchise finally crumble? Would my interest finally exhaust itself? No, and hell no, are the short answers.
The story of Civil War unfolds organically. The Avengers are under metaphorical fire from the international community after several civilians were killed and injured during an incident in Lagos. The US government, along with 116 other countries, want to put the Avengers under the control of the UN through the “Sokovia Accords”. Lines are drawn between those who sign the agreement, and those who want to remain independent. At the same time, Bucky, aka the Winter Soldier, is being targeted.
The review contains some spoilers
From one situation to the next, the story feels logical in a way that was a breath of fresh air compared to BvS. It could be argued that some of the characters’ reasoning is flawed or short-sighted, and that even with the tight script things can get bloated, but the movie makes up for it in a lot of awesome ways. First, however, I have to compare it a bit more to BvS, because it is just too tempting.
The films are very similar, and in more ways than just having good guys fighting each other. There is a third party, for example, who really wants the good guys to fight. The questions the films raise are the same. Who holds the authority over those with ultimate power? Who decides who gets saved? How can you punish those who fight the baddies we can’t punish ourselves? Where Batman vs Superman failed to grapple with these questions in a meaningful way, Civil War picks up the argument and lets the characters hash it out. Whatever side you are on, you have legitimate concerns and arguments to make. The characters give voice to many of them, and it feels so good not to have to shout at the screen about missing points or obvious flaws in people’s reasoning.
Tony Stark comes at the argument from a very personal place. He is upset at the real human cost of their actions. On the other hand, Captain Rogers comes at it from a place of principle, and a moral obligation to stand above politics. But the film doesn’t make them stupidly stubborn (just a little). When Batman vs Superman finished, we walked out of the cinema laughing about the plot holes and absurd motivations. When we left Civil War we had our own version of the argument, and it got quite heated! While the film might lean somewhat towards Captain Rogers, it does not do so unequivocally. There is no simple misunderstanding to brush the whole conflict away, and no easy fix. In the end, very few characters have changed their minds, and it is up to us to decide who was right.
Back to the actual film. As I mentioned, much of the plot is moved forward in a event-reaction way, and even though we need a lot of information I was never bored or found the exposition clunky. The action is good, at times spectacular. All the characters fight in their own style, and when those styles meet awesome things happen. We don’t have time to delve into everyones’ motivation, but mostly we are given enough to understand why people pick their sides. It is also a lot easier to infer their reasoning when you’ve been getting to know them for so long.
The only character I felt bad for was Spiderman. Don’t get me wrong, he is funny in just the right way I like my Spiderman, and I giggled like a child in every scene with him. But in the comics – (oh god, I’m that kind of geek now)- he reveals his identity in a very public way, chosing Stark’s side. In the film he doesn’t get a real choice because he isn’t told what they’re fighting for, and he goes along with it because he’s a bit star-struck by Tony Stark. But the fact that Spiderman even fits in as good as he does is a testament to how Marvel handles team-up movies.
The film doesn’t have a huge villain planning world domination, and that is a welcome change of pace. It means I wasn’t exactly sure how the final showdown would go. In the end it was amazing precisely because it wasn’t big. It was hard-hitting, great action, but it was intimate and emotional. I didn’t know who I wanted to win, mostly because I didn’t want one of them to lose. That’s how you do good guys fighting each other. It was tense, well shot, inventive and both were fighting with raw emotion.
Some might say the last fight isn’t really about the Accords, and that the mystery of the bad guy might seem contrived. But it worked because it forced Stark to fight against the very thing he had been arguing for the whole movie: government oversight. His attack on Bucky is vigilante justice. And doesn’t that just put things in perspective for everyone? Surely Rogers must know if he thinks the Avengers themselves can make the decisions, Stark might be completely in the right to decide Bucky’s fate?
The fact that every fight has both moral questions and emotional baggage tied to them is what makes Civil War such an experience for me. It’s far from perfect. There are a lot of characters, and many seem to disappear when not shown explicitely on screen. I think I might have to come back to this film when it doesn’t look so good compared to Batman vs Superman.
Dice roll: 5