Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Approaching Infinity Part Thirteen: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Oh, Tony - don't you ever get tired of being wrong? Or possibly right, maybe? I haven't decided.

So this is a Captain America film in name only. It's pure Avengers territory, and no worse off for that. Probably not quite up to Winter Soldier standards, but it doesn't miss by a huge margin. Also, I have to give it credit for doing something interesting with the bad guy here. Which brings us neatly to...

The Villain
I've seen a few professional reviewers and a ton of Talking Internet Faces giving Civil War shit for having a weak villain. I disagree. Not only is Zemo one of the most believably driven bad guys in the MCU, but he pulls off the tricky feat of providing credible opposition with neither personal might nor an army of CGI thugs going for him. His plans and goals are entirely directed at righting a specific wrong, and he pursues them whether it's Hydra, the CIA or the Avengers themselves standing in his way.

The Story
Civil War deals in a big way with something that superhero stories are often seen as ideally suited to avoid: consequence. We get a lot of character work for Stark - more than for Rogers, in fact, and it's all designed to push him down a questionable path. His own mistakes and ego have been the cause of virtually all his misfortunes so far, leaving him perfectly primed to fall for the false absolution of the Sokovia Accords - which, naturally, he does.

Meanwhile, Zemo sets up Bucky in expert fashion, then seizes control of him to drive a wedge into the heart of the Avengers. You can bat around the number of things that have to go exactly right for his plan to work, but I think it's fairer to say that Zemo's moves are dictated by opportunity and circumstance. He adapts his game as the board state changes. In the end, he probably saves more lives than he ends by destroying the last of the Winter Soldier programme. By contrast, Rogers' greatest achievement in the film is failing to stop him from wiping out a roomful of near-unstoppable murder machines.

The Universe
There's a case to be made that Civil War's biggest contributions come from putting both Spider-Man and Black Panther into play. Those two additions pretty much justify the film's existence on their own. Ant-Man kinda sneaks into the wider Marvel world along the way, and gets some very cool moments of his own. So, yeah - the MCU takes a few pretty hefty steps forward with this flick.

The Stinger
Bucky goes back into cold storage in time for Black Panther's end credits scene and Peter Parker gets a... flashlight, I guess?

The Take-Away
I give Civil War credit for a couple of strong decisions. Firstly, I love that it delivers its biggest action punch at the half-way point, with the airport fight. From that moment, the focus gradually narrows down to an agonising pinpoint in the final confrontation between Cap and Iron Man. That last fight feels like it has much higher stakes than any of the the slam-bam stuff that preceded it, and to end it on a conversation between a skulking Black Panther and a suicidal Zemo was basically genius. Furthermore, having Panther not only let Zemo live, but actively prevent him from killing himself is a strong move from a series that's been murdering a good percentage of its antagonists so far.

Previously: Ant-Man
Next: Doctor Strange

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