More noise than signal

Captain America: Civil War

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Marvel Studio’s latest in its Films for Babies series will almost certainly be the biggest film of the year, so I’m sure enough of you have seen it, and the rest of you will have heard enough about it, so as to make a detailed plot recap redundant. So you’ll excuse me if I take care of that quickly and skip past all of the layered subtleties that aren’t there.

Tony “Iron ‘Robert Downey Jr’ Man” Stark is sad because normal people died off-camera during a colossal alien invasion in the first Avengers film, and that boring robot/city garbage in the second Avengers film, and during a terrorist incident at the start of this film, all of which would have been incalculably worse if they weren’t around to stop it. Nonetheless, if he’s not swayed by some pretty shaky logic that the Avengers need government oversight there wouldn’t be a film, so he is.

Steve “Captain ‘Chris Evans’ America” Rogers is sad because he posits a hypothetical that governments can’t always be trusted, or something along those lines, and so doesn’t want to be part of their so-called system, man. His position is also redolent with flaky logic and reasoning, but again, without that there’s not much of a film here.

Those refusing to sign up to a new Registration act are supposed to hang up their spandex and retire, but a personal crisis for Cap shows up when Bucky “Winter ‘Sebastian Stan’ Soldier” Barnes reappears, having been activated by Daniel Brühl’s Zemo, Brühl being probably the best thing in the entire movie, and also entirely under-utilised, because this is a garbage film for garbage people.

What with the Winter Soldier being a dangerous murderer and all, he’s immediately put on a kill list, but Rogers still thinks of him as his wittle fweind and undertakes to bring him in peacefully which soon enough proves to be unviable, leading to the Avengers team splitting in half as some, without any reference to logic, reason, motive, or sanity, take Rogers side in protecting a mass murderer against the rest of the team, who are cast as the villains, somehow.

This leads, after an interminably boring hour and a half or so of set up, to what is in theory an exciting clash between the opposing teams, but is really just another in the ceaseless parade of boring CG set-pieces the mainline Marvel films have dribbled our way. There’s a few bright spots- Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man gets perhaps the best lines and the only interesting CG moments, and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man also has his moments, although introduction of Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panter gets more screentime. Through no fault of his though, he’s just another costumed freak clogging up the works and getting in the way of the story.

Captain America: Civil War runs to nearly two and a half hours. Two and a half hours! There’s a film I like in here somewhere, but it’s about one hour and eight characters lighter. There’s a hint here and there that the Russo brothers understand that, particularly the conclusion that’s stripped away most of the excess and brought it back to where it should have been all along, Bucky, Rodgers and Stark throwing haymakers at each other in a grimy, disused facility. I should note this is exactly how I’d wished both Man of Steel and to an extent Batman Vs. Superman had ended, so on a theoretical level at least I applaud this, even if I was so completely numbed by the preceding eighty-nine hours of blandness that I couldn’t bring myself to care about the actuality of it.

Unfortunately for the rest of the film the Russos and their ominous Marvel overlords have succumbed to the temptation to make this a full Avengers film in all but name, rather than the smaller scale side story it should have been. As such the massive, star laden returning cast are given about five lines each in which to vainly attempt to inject their personalities and character, leaving a film strewn with underserved side arcs that are abandoned without hope of resolution, making the whole thing wildly unsatisfying on a dramatic level.

A common fault amongst the ‘serious’ Marvel Studios films, it appears. They appear to be under the delusion that these paper-thin, computer generated marionettes that populate their films are in some way capable of having real human emotion mapped on to them, which is charming but divorced from reality. The dafter entries, like Ant-Man work by having an awareness of the stupidity of their situation. The serious ones are hamstrung by their pretence at being a real film, with real characters, feeling real emotions, but their decidedly unreal characters are not best suited for bearing that load.

It doesn’t help, of course, that the leads are not on their best form – Chris Evans has never shaken the reports and impression given by his turns that he doesn’t much care for this role, and the normally charismatic and dependable Downey Jr largely phones in this performance, with the exception of the odd flash in a couple of scenes, particularly those shared with the young Spider-Man.

Now, largely to amuse myself and tangentially to annoy the more rabid of the fans out there, I’ve been reviewing this in the style of the bulk of the notices for Batman vs. Superman. It’s satire, see, because I can’t for the life of me see why that was pilloried for its many logic and character issues while this gets a free pass by the same people for equally mystifying decisions, when to me it’s clear that Batman vs. Superman, for it’s faults, asks much more interesting questions about heroism, and had much better characterisation and motives for those character’s actions. Not fantastic characterisation and motives, to be sure, but anyone claiming this is better must be huffing glue.

Largely, the only feeling Captain America: Civil War was able to evoke from me was boredom, which appears to be the Marvel Studios end game. This peculiar state of affairs is even lauded by some, claiming as evidence how easy it is for all these many characters to exist in same universe when all that really means is that every character is blandly interchangeable with every other one, and this film is a real showcase for that. Sure, it’s a polished film, but in taking all the rough edges and spiky bits off it becomes a flat, dull experience with no hooks at all.

The DC and X-Men films certainly do many things worse than the Marvel films, but they also do things better. You trade a mix of moments of greatness and abject failure for boring consistency, and while your mileage may vary I know which experience I prefer.

Boring. Avoid.