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Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Captain America: Civil War

Oh, before I start, there's not going to be a review this Friday. I've actually known that for ages, I just completely forgot to let you guys know until now. Let's Play part should go up as normal. Also, while we're at it, no review on July 20th, because I will be having drugs injected into me for medicine purposes and will probably spend most of the day asleep.

Captain America:
Civil War.

Today and tomorrow's reviews, together, are probably going to end up being controversial. People get surprisingly hot under the collar about comic book films (to date, a good ninety-percent of angry comments on this blog, or on social networking sites, have been about one comic book film or another), and people have been getting exceedingly worked up over whether Captain America: Civil War or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the better film. 

It's kind of understandable that people would draw comparisons between them: They're superhero films produced by rival (or 'rival') companies, both revolving around a conflict between  a rich gadgeteer and a US-themed superhuman, with various other superheroes having bit roles. It's a bit reductive, I'll grant you, and in light of that, I've decided I'm going to do the daring thing and completely not buck that unhelpful and reductive trend in the slightest - which is why tomorrow we're doing Batman v Superman, and we're going to be directly comparing the two.

Captain America: Civil War picks up with our new team of Avengers as they chase down Crossbones, a former member of Hydra. When Crossbones reveals he has an explosive vest on, Scarlet Witch attempts to levitate him away from a crowd, only to have him explode near a populated building, killing several people. In the aftermath, the UN prepares to pass the Sokovia Accords, laws that will establish UN oversight over the Avengers - only for a bomb to explode during the ratification of the accords, with the blame pinned on Bucky Barnes. Intent on finding Bucky before he can be killed, and later on proving his innocence, Captain America, along with Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye and Antman go rogue, and end up clashing against the now government-backed team of Iron Man, War Machine, Black Widow, Vision, Black Panther, and Spiderman. 


In the interests of full disclosure, let me start by saying that I absolutely hated the comics storyline this film was loosely based on. That might be biasing my opinion here, but I don't think it is.

So here's the thing: I don't think this film works particularly well for audiences outside the US. That's an odd thing to say, because I think the comics storyline it's based off actually works fine for non-American audiences, despite being legitimately terrible, but this film's narrower focus means that, in almost every instance I've encountered, it's kind of critically failed to resonate with watchers who aren't Americans. There's that kind of fraught element of international appeal at play with Batman v Superman, too, but I think it handles it a lot better, for reasons I'll get into tomorrow.

The reason I don't think it works for worldwide audiences is thus: The filmmakers clearly want you to sympathise with Steve. There aren't really shades of grey there, you're meant to see him as the good guy in this, as a kind of lone soldier standing up against an unfeeling, bureaucratic machine - and you're meant to see Tony as not thinking straight, as siding with the government not out of any rational need for accountability, but because he's just overwhelmed with guilt.

Black Panther is pretty great.

For American audiences, that a pretty easy sell: Steve's design and character ties into centuries of cultural narrative, meant to set audiences up to see him as wholly trustworthy, wholly good, and as inherently more competent - I mean, he started off as a propaganda character, 'playing off cultural narratives' is literally their raison d'etre. Similarly, the treatment of the UN and the pro-registration (pro-accords, whatever) side ties into another longstanding cultural narrative about scary foreigners coming to take away people's freedoms. It's kind of key that all of the acts of violence that are meant to drive the plot forward towards the accords happen outside America and primarily to non-Americans, which is something of a trope in films meant to kind of create a sense of detachment from the victims.

(Again, this trope is going to be a relevant talking point tomorrow, as well, but for slightly different reasons.)

For audiences outside the US - I don't think I've encountered anyone who's wholeheartedly pro-Steve. Most countries outside the US are part of larger organisations of countries, after all: The Commonwealth, the EU, the UK, and a few other blocs (quite often, they're part of multiple blocs, like how any country in the UK is also necessarily part of the EU and Commonwealth), so the idea of oversight from other countries isn't as scary and alien to them. Similarly, most people outside the US aren't primed to always see Steve as trustworthy - in fact, they're kind of culturally primed to see him as untrustworthy, because most of the world is uncomfortable with the idea of overt patriotism, and especially uncomfortable with the idea of overt patriotism while engaging in violent actions in another country, and especially uncomfortable with both of those things when it's America involved.

What I'm getting at, basically, is that every time Steve and his allies were on screen I wanted to reach through and throttle them. 

Speaking of, Chadwick Boseman does not look 39. He looks like he could pass for

Moreover, what I'm getting at is that the whole premise of this film lacks universality, and that means that a lot of characters who we're meant to see as good end up looking very, very bad. When Hawkeye comes out of retirement to help Steve, we're meant to see that as an awesome moment, but it was just irritating to me. When Wanda throws Vision through the floor, we're meant to see it as tragic - but for her, not him, as if she's making the only choice she can in an impossible situation, when actually, all I saw was a grown woman (and I feel the need to clarify that, because the film consistently treats her as if she's a child) violently attacking someone so that she could run away from taking responsibility for her screw-up. We're meant to cheer when Sam calls Tony egotistical, even though that just felt self-righteous to the point of, ironically, egotism; we're meant to be happy when Natasha switches sides, even though that felt kind of weirdly out of nowhere; we're meant to see Steve and Bucky beating up Tony at the end as sad but necessary, when it actually just feels like needless brutality.

Which is a shame, because technically this film is pretty strong. It's not a particularly daring film, if I'm being honest: It relies on pretty tried and true film techniques, a pretty well-worn story structure, and some fairly safe and well-loved story tropes - but I've always said on this blog that a film doesn't have to reinvent the wheel to be good, so despite the fact that I'm a little disappointed (because Marvel always does their best work when they are pushing the envelope a little), it doesn't make it any less of a technically solid film. The acting is all very good, literally across the board (I even managed not to hate Martin Freeman! This has never happened to me before!); the soundtrack is great; the special effects are good; the fight scenes are well-choreographed; yadda yadda nearly every technical aspect of this film was good.

Also, the fact that the whole 'war' was just a scuffle in a carpark with lots of pushing
and shoving wasn't that great.

I might not have enjoyed it much (because in the parts where I wasn't actively seething with hate, I was just bored), but I understand why it was critically well-received, because with the exception of a few gaping plot holes (how did Zemo know Tony would be coming to that super-soldier lab? He had no way of knowing that, unless Ross is secretly working for him, which he's not), and a few terrible choices (no, go on, Marvel, just - shoehorn a random, kind of creepy romance with Sharon Carter there, literally days after her aunt, Steve's first romantic partner, has died, I won't stop you), it's very nearly a technically perfect film.

Hilariously, in a film where they're really only meant to be supporting characters, Spiderman and Black Panther steal every single scene that they're in. That was my big take away from this film: That I want to see the MCU's Spiderman and Black Panther films. I want to see them as soon as possible, and I will probably go out and watch them in their first week in cinemas.

So, that was Civil War. A very technically strong but also very safe film that I just didn't enjoy at all. I think the last MCU film I reviewed was Ant-Man, and I pretty thoroughly panned that as well - and before that was Age of Ultron, which I gave a pretty positive review at the time, but which the shine has kind of worn off of since. But hey, maybe the next MCU film will be another one I really enjoy!

- Oh, right, it's Doctor Strange, with Benedict Cumberbatch and whitewashing. I honestly don't even know if I'm going to watch that one.

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