Captain America: Civil War is exactly what you want

By Dan Cava

May 7, 2016

Marvel movies have a nice habit of inadvertently defining themselves by brief little bits of dialogue. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the last Marvel superhero movie to feature almost a dozen main characters, it’s the moment when Hawkeye stands in for the audience by exclaiming, “The city is flying! We’re fighting an army of robots! And I have a bow and arrow! None of this makes sense!”

In Captain America: Civil War, which I suppose is the kick-off event of Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Avengers series (although who’s counting anymore), it was this:

“This doesn’t have to end in a fight.”

“It always ends in a fight.”

As I pointed out a little too academically in the beginning of my Batman v Superman review, the “comic book” part of the comic book movie genre is overcoming the “movie” part. Like the vast crowds of extras in these movies, we now live in a world of superheroes, whether we like it or not. Twenty years after Spider-man, the essential formula for these movies is very firmly established. When it works really well, the audience has a blast and 1.5 billion dollars rolls in. When it doesn’t, the fanboys and girls complain a little online, and 1.4 billion dollars rolls in. I think the question on the minds of most of Civil War’s inevitable attendees is whether or not the movie is good enough to earn both that extra little .1 billion dollars and that extra bit of enthusiasm from the faithful on Facebook.

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

The answer is: yes. Captain America: Civil War is a ton of fun, in the same way that the other most beloved Marvel movies are fun. The action scenes are marvelous (pun intended), finding new micro-joys in the now endless ways to combine and contrast the superheroes’ abilities. The humor consistently works in the broadly clever vein that Robert Downey, Jr and company have refined over the last dozen or so movies. The MCU’s casting remains dead on, so the performances by both old and new actors are exactly as good as they have been. The only people that won’t like Civil War are the ones who never liked this kind of thing in the first place.

I feel I could stop there. I mean, what else do you want to know? Most folks are pretty spoiler averse with these movies, so if you are looking for reassurance that the movie is worth seeing, you have it. This is the movie the fans were hoping to see, and the answer to all of their questions, as far as I can tell, is yes. Does it improve on Age of Ultron, the last Marvel party movie that failed to meet the expectation that these movies should exceed all expectations? Yes. Does the introduction of Spider-man work? Yes. Black Panther? Yes. Special effects: yes. Little bits of emotion: yes. Jokes: yes.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes to all the blockbuster-entertainment-based, comic-book-based questions.

As for the other possible questions, the ones about art or originality or meaning or depth, I’ll refer you to the movie’s fight dialogue above. In other words, don’t worry about it. Asking those other questions is asking Civil War to do or be things it was never meant to be, and that will be less fun.

That’s because Captain America: Civil War, like all Marvel movies so far, is supposed to be complicated, but not complex. While these movies’ topics are getting noticeably more nuanced, it’s a mistake to expect anything in the form of real, grownup insight into the world we the audience actually inhabit. It’s superficially exciting that the movie uses difficult geopolitical “security vs freedom” questions to divide our heroes, but we shouldn’t waste too much time looking for subtext. When Captain America resists UN oversight, we should think, “Yeah, don’t let them control you!” We shouldn’t wonder whether or not the filmmakers knew they were making a two-and-a-half hour defense of Bush-era American unilateralism. When Cap and Black Panther square off, we should just enjoy the fight. We shouldn’t ask ourselves why the movie wants us to side with the white guy in a law enforcement outfit who punches a grieving black man and insists that “your dad’s death was a misunderstanding.” No, we shouldn’t worry about that because (and I really mean this) the scene is really just about cool powers and the fun of seeing superheroes brawl. It doesn’t mean or signify anything other than a great excuse for the characters to mix it up for a little while. To its credit, Civil War makes no attempt to intellectually resolve the “issues” it brings up in the service of its set pieces. Marvel wants these movies to have real-world resemblance, not real-world resonance.

Courtesy Marvel Studios

I apologize. The last paragraph was kind of a buzz kill, and Captain America: Civil War is all about some good old reliable comic book movie buzz. So, go do what we’ve done twelve times already, and do it in the knowledge that you’ll be getting what you hope you’re paying for. Marvel has never wanted or needed to teach, elevate, or challenge its crowd, and it’s misguided (and exhausting) to expect them to. At the truest, most innocent level, regardless of all other concerns or wishes, it can be a lot of fun to watch superheroes fight. “It always ends in a fight.” Might as well enjoy it.

Star rating for Marvel movie fans: 5 out of 5 stars

Star rating for everyone else: You’ll like it.

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