It’s impossible to go into any film unbiased, even if you want to. It’s easy to say you’re going into a film without any preconceived notions of what you hope to see and what you hope not to see, but the fact is that you’ll imprint your own persona on your opinion of the film no matter what.
Detractors of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been accused of being biased going in, whereas people who love the franchise go in open-minded and accepting of everything. This is dumb baby Internet bullshit, but it does bring up a point that I’d never considered beforehand. Not only are these films indistinguishable from each other in many ways, but they come out at such regular intervals that it becomes hard to view them on their own merits. It becomes like one long binge watch sometimes interrupted by things like sleep, life, meals, birthdays, pregnancies, weddings and death.
This has never been more obvious than with the release date of Captain America: Civil War. While it was certainly financially intentional that the film was released so close to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Marvel could not have predicted that DC’s film was going to trip and crack its skull with such violence. What’s most egregious about this is that both films start with more or less the same set-up — but who knows how receptive I would’ve been to the breezy, quip-heavy Marvel Universe’s take on superhero ethics if DC’s hadn’t been so dour and miserable? How will Civil War hold up 10 years from now, floating freely, away from the torrential downpour of superhero movies we currently find ourselves in? Does it even matter?
Soon after the events of the last Avengers movie, the media is taking the superhero team to task for the innumerable civilian deaths the team caused when trying to save the world. Left to govern themselves this whole time, the Avengers must face the fact that the government will no longer let them act as a self-policing guerrilla unit. On one side, you’ve got Captain America (Chris Evans), who does not believe that the government has any business telling him what to do; on the other, you’ve got Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), who believes the best course of action is acquiescing to some of the government’s demands now rather than later.
All of this is seriously complicated when it’s revealed that Cap’s old friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is being accused of a deadly terrorist attack in the African country of Wakanga which has killed the king of said country, stirred feelings of revenge in the man’s son (Chadwick Boseman) and generally added even more shit to the shit pot that the Avengers find themselves in. Everyone finds themselves taking sides and having a very long fight in an abandoned airport, as these things generally get solved.
This may be the first time that an MCU could conceivably be described as “complex” rather than “complicated.” For the first time, the moral and ethical issues at hand have an actual weight; even if much of the film boils down to “you’re not my friend anymore and I don’t want to play with you until you apologize,” you find yourself actually empathizing with the spandex figures zipping around on-screen. Even if the generally cheery disposition of the Marvel films means that you’re unlikely to see your favourite character take a shotgun blast to the head at the end of the first act, this actually does feel like a film with stakes that will carry on to the next films.
Captain America: Civil War isn’t necessarily less formulaic than the other Marvel films. It still has pretty much the same structure, the same quasi-pornographic interest in introducing new characters (the highlights this time around being Spider-Man and Black Panther, both as a way to “soft-open” their own standalone films in the franchise), the same fairly corny humour and (especially) the same abundance of riches cast-wise that leads to many characters getting the short shrift. What sets Civil War apart from everything that came before is that it has finally found a way to make all that stuff work for them. Sometimes it’s pretty subtle; other times (like the fact that the actual big fight everyone wants to see DOESN’T end the film), it’s blindingly obvious.
Either way, Marvel is incrementally moving towards giant lumbering movies with an iota of personality. I still find the standalone hero films more charming and interesting than these all-star Irwin Allen-type blowouts (though I suppose this is a standalone Captain America movie, if the title is any indication) that apparently only exist as narrative funnels to barrel everything along, but they’re becoming more enjoyable. Call it Stockholm Syndrome, maybe, but it works for me. ■
Captain America: Civil War opens in theatres on Friday, May 6. Watch the trailer here: