Captain America: Civil War – a few thoughts (Spoilers)

(By the way, thank you to all who commented on last week’s post, including Mike, whose comment was to lend me a book.   I may revert to the topic soon.)

This is not a review of “Captain America: Civil War”, as I am not qualified to review films.  I have hardly ever seen a film performance and thought the acting was bad; I have no idea how to assess direction or cinematography – and as for special effects they are wasted on me.  I just assume that pretty much everything you can imagine someone can portray, and I take fictional dinosaurs, exploding planets etc in my stride just as Ron Weasley takes travelling by Floo Powder in his.  I judge films by a) entertainment value, with negative points for occasional moral turpitude; b) whether the plot makes sense; c) faithfulness or otherwise to book or source material.

CA: CW scored fairly high on all counts.  I have not met anyone who disliked it.  Of course it is true that to appreciate it at all, you really need to have seen two Captain America films and two Avengers films, and to appreciate it properly you also have to have seen three Iron Man films and Ant-Man, and you need to know quite a lot about Spider-Man.  That’s a lot of homework for one 2 1/2 hour film.  On the other hand the homework is quite fun.

As with all superhero films, there is a lot of punching.  There are three major female characters out of fourteen, which is a better ratio than many.

For those, like me, who have previously enjoyed the Civil War comic series on which the film is based, there were additional pleasures.  The scene where Iron Man/Tony Stark is confronted by a grieving mother was very similar to the episode in the comics, although movie Iron Man wasn’t actually spat upon.  The hint of romance between Scarlet Witch and the Vision is also from the comic, although not this story, as is the Black Panther’s stroppy female bodyguard. In a major way, the film was better than the comic version.  The latter was widely criticised in setting up what was supposed to be a fairly morally equal contest, and then making the pro-Registration lobby behave so appallingly that they lost all sympathy, and the story all balance.  But in the film Iron Man was not responsible for the secret prison, and when he found out that Bucky had been framed, he instantly (touchingly) dashed off to assist.  I personally remained on Team Tony throughout, but one could reasonably side with Team Cap, or indeed with both, or neither.

Here, we were given a story that was not primarily about an external threat, a story that related superheroes to genuine modern issues (collateral damage in war/policing; and accountability).  The scene where these were discussed round the table was excellent.  The issues are real, genuine, and difficult, even if superheroes are a bizarre concept.  Each of the characters had plausible reasons for the side they took – none took decisions lightly, and almost none without hurt, and some did not stick 100% to a single side.

Cap’s argument that the Avengers must be allowed to act without fetters rang alarm bells, although in Marvel comicdom governments are generally corrupt.  (Look at the way the X-Men have always been treated – oops, wrong film franchise.)  I would even say that the argument about not insisting on going it alone resonates with the EU referendum.

The set-piece fight scene with banter in the carpark (wasn’t it a carpark?) was extremely funny, as was practically everything Ant-Man and Spider-Man did.  I loved Falcon’s rebuke to Spider-Man for talking too much, and Ant-Man’s “It’s your conscience.  We don’t talk a lot these days” line.  It was also a clever move, however, to narrow the final fight to just Captain America and Iron Man.  I had a long argument with a fellow fan about which of the two were behaving more unreasonably in this fight, but we agreed that it was a pity that the Only Sane Man present (T’challa) could not apparently be bothered to come in and break it up.

The film commendably did not allow everything to be instantly put right at the end.

One quibble: the Scarlet Witch has now featured in two films, and I remain completely baffled as to what she can do.  This made it hard to appreciate when she made a (plot-crucial) error.

Superhero films/comics in general are a curious feature of the modern world.  The world view behind them is not really compatible with Christianity, despite the X-Men’s Nightcrawler being a devout Catholic; and despite the splendid moment (designed for monotheists) in the first Avengers film, where somebody warns Captain America not to interfere because “they [Thor and Loki] are basically gods”, only to be told, “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that.”

My ambivalence goes back to the second Superman film (Christopher Reeve era) when General Zod takes over, and forces the US President to kneel to him.  The President says something like, “But there is someone who won’t kneel – Superman”, thus effectively contracting out humanity’s self-respect and defence to an alien.

Superman is an alien.  Doctor Who, endlessly saving this and many worlds, is an alien.

Not all superheroes are aliens, of course.  Some of them are just very special people.  As Colonel Nick Fury (where was he, by the way?) said in “Avengers Assemble”:

“There was an idea… to bring together a group of remarkable people. To make them work together when we needed them to, to fight the battles that… we never could.”

The battles that we never could.

So the human race can’t save or look after itself, but needs to be saved or protected either by someone completely other (Superman, Doctor Who, Thor), by humans changed by genetics (Scarlet Witch), by humans altered by other humans (Hulk, Captain America, Ant-Man), or by humans who are simply amazingly gifted (Black Widow, or supremely Iron Man, “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” who built his suit “in a cave.  Out of scraps!”)

Yes.  Maybe the human race does need to be saved by someone outside… but couldn’t it be someone who is outside and one of us at the same time?  And maybe people can help, but without having to be super-powered, or hyper-intelligent, or amazingly gifted (or good-looking)?

Maybe, just maybe, it could and they can.

Love from the PPI Blogger

  • Malachi Malagowther

    20th May 2016 at 6:23 pm Reply

    The concepts of superheroes seems very ancient and prevalent across many religions. In Genesis there is a mention of a time when gods walked upon the earth and married the daughters of men. The gods of Mount Olympus were constantly coming to earth and siring superhuman children like Hercules but the Norse, Japanese and Celtic gods did much the same, not to mention the Egyptian or Hindu. It seems a basic part of the human psyche to anthromoporphise inexplicable natural forces. More modern religions like Christianity or Islam seem more uncomfortable with these ideas. The early church did seem keen on the idea of supernatural healing but tended to put the saints and angels behind a barrier in heaven. However the development of science in Islam and then Mediaeval Christianity tended to pour scorn on the idea of superhuman attributes because there was no reproducible evidence for them. I think the current rejection of Christianity and Islam by most scientists has left a vacuum for the old beliefs to creep back in to the popular imagination. Scientists are generally unsure that they know all the answers and are prepared to accept the possibility of billions of habitable planets, parallel universes and sources of unimaginable power while religious thinkers feel so challenged by science and the power of the universe that they tend to retreat back to a position where they just assert the supreme authority of ancient religious texts.

    I don’t think Jesus would have approved. The God Jesus described can’t be confined by either Death or ancient texts. He is unimaginably powerful and complex and so is the universe which he created. I like to think that Jesus would be quite entertained by modern superhero movies even if he found the characters morally questionable and worthy of a broken creation.

  • Clint Redwood

    20th May 2016 at 6:44 pm Reply

    I think the absence of Nick Fury is a peculiar mix up in chronology. CA-CW works on the assumption that it follows the CA-WS where shield is disbanded as its fatally compromised by hydra, but also follows AoU which did have Nick Fury and shield, since it depends on the ending of AoU for its primary plot device. Having seen AoU prior to WS I think AoU conveniently forgets that shield is no more.

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