'Captain America: Civil War' shows how dumbed-down we like our cinema
Caution: Spoilers ahead
Let’s get the good stuff out of the way: the action in Captain America: Civil War is a notch above anything we’ve seen so far.
Action sequences really work when they have an emotional graph of their own, and at least two sequences in Civil War can boast of having that; a beautiful chase sequence which ends with Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes fighting it out in and around a helicopter, and a gigantic clash, perhaps *the* civil war itself, at the airport. The Russo brothers outdo their gritty, immersive action in The Winter Soldier to give us a big, fun film.
The problem begins when the film is hailed as ‘the best superhero movie ever’ and suchlike; because if you look at it, it isn’t even the best Captain America film to come out so far.
Captain America: The First Avenger was an understated, un-flashy film, but one that triumphs because of the World War II period texture it achieves, a terrifying villain in Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull, and the good, old-fashioned American patriotism it resorts to (without having it explode in your face like Donald Trump’s bigotry).
In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, its greatest victory was the character of the Winter Solider itself, a cold-hearted villain who you root for because you sense a conflict between heart and mind, set in the world of modern day espionage and terror.
In fact, the Winter Soldier happens to be the most intriguing character in Civil War as well, because you now see that his past isn’t only linked to Captain America’s past, but also to Tony Stark’s. And Sebastian Stan nails the balance between being a good guy at heart, who’s teetering on the edge of losing his mind and turning into an amoral HYDRA assassin.
Meanwhile, the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are hardly known to be substance-heavy, but even in that context, Civil War is a film that is genuinely devoid of heft.
Take the manner in which Tony Stark chooses to take a side in an international plan to regulate the Avengers; not just a classic case of white man’s guilt, but an elaborately set up trigger – knowledge of the death of a black American teenager in Sokovia, a kid with a heart of gold, because he was in Sokovia building sustainable homes for the poor. (Because, you know, the death of a normal teenager who prefers to spend his free time on Candy Crush, just doesn’t cut it.)
Of course, Tony Stark doesn’t think twice before enlisting another teenager in a war between ‘enhanced individuals’. (Spider-ling does make a bit of an impact though, and Marisa Tomei as the new age Aunt May, or simply May, is a bit of a casting coup.)
Then, of course, there is the true conflict at the heart of Civil War, the actual antagonist of the film – Daniel Brühl’s Helmut Zemo. The character is an intriguing one, no doubt. But the level of war in the MCU has escalated. As Vision puts it, since 2008 when Iron Man came before the world, the number of enhanced individuals has increased, and so have events of a potentially world-ending nature.
In such a world, despite his motivations being an assortment of grays and not coated in all-black, MCU’s Zemo just doesn’t seem fit enough to be a villain.
Where and how an ordinary Sokovian covert agent manages the resources to fox the world’s best law enforcement agencies and the world’s mightiest superheroes is a question that we aren’t allowed to ask of this film, because, hey, Marvel. (The same questions were rightfully asked of Gaurav’s international escapades in Fan, but that’s okay.)
And ultimately, all that planning, so much dependence on variables beyond his control, such large-scale destruction, all for what? So Zemo could show Tony Stark a quarter-century old video. (If only we had an online platform where we could upload and stream videos worldwide for free. Hmmm.)
The point is, Civil War is a fun film that fits well into the larger universe and sets things up nicely for future films, but it uses its slickness and pace to mask its lack of a truly thrilling plot.
It doesn’t have Joss Whedon’s signature touch that both Avengers films had. Compare the emotional undercurrent for Tony Stark when Agent Coulson dies in The Avengers to that moment in Civil War when he feels that he may have lost his best bud Rhodey, and the importance of the Whedon touch becomes clear. Both Avengers films were filled with such moments, and the mammoth ensemble casts were much better managed.
The world has become a dumber place since The Avengers came out in 2012, and our response to Civil War proves that.
We’ve grown to like our films bloated and mindless these days - a clear symptom of our decreasing attention spans and affinity towards appearance more than substance. Captain America: Civil War entertains, no doubt; but let’s not set our standards at this film. You’d much rather watch something else on a lonely, dark night.