For perhaps the first time since I moved to Japan, a movie I was interested in seeing was released here before America! To celebrate such a momentous occasion, a visiting friend and I saw Civil War in IMAX 3D. On its own, it was enjoyable, but I was pleased with our decision from the moment the Rogue One trailer started. I dunno about you guys, but I’m so hyped for that movie. The next time I saw it, a fellow Ono ALT and I split a (very reasonably priced) large half & half popcorn for the second time that weekend, having seen Zootopia the evening previous (which is a great movie; so-called children’s media has been on-point lately). If you haven’t seen Civil War yet, you should start with Age of Ultron (even though it’s terrible), Ant Man, and, of course, Winter Soldier. Otherwise, you’ll be confused by the presence of three characters and the absence of certain organizations. Also, there will be spoilers from here on out, so beware.
First: the positives. I felt most of the characters were sympathetic and had understandable motivations. Much of the action was character-driven, which is a welcome change from some of the recent MCU entries where characters would behave in unusual ways so the plot could progress. I (and many others if the whisperings on the internet are to be believed) found T’Challa, AKA Black Panther, to be a standout in regards to compelling characters. Witnessing first his father’s death as a result of Zemo-masquerading-as-Bucky spurs him into seeking vengeance. At the film’s climax, he sees how the lust for revenge-masquerading-as-justice has clouded the judgment of so many other characters and turns away. His arc was compelling, and made all the better by my having first watched unaware he would be in the movie. Spiderman was another enjoyable character. He at last behaves like a teenager and there’s finally a plausible origin story for his tricked-out suit. Additionally, both factions, those for and against the Sokovia Accords, had worthwhile points about the pros and cons of being subject to the UN’s whims. Having lived through many of the hoops Japanese bureaucracy makes one jump through, I’m not sure that this is a plan I would support as-is.
Second: the pitfalls. While audiences are left to form their own opinions on the Sokovia Accords, much of this is because the movie becomes horribly distracted from this premise. Plot threads are introduced and dropped nearly as quickly. This isn’t to say the film is bad or unenjoyable, but it could’ve been great had the writers stuck to one over-arching plot instead of many. The debate over being at the UN’s beck and call could easily have occupied the entire film. Instead, we’re treated to a convoluted plan of a rather forgettable antagonist. Zemo (intentionally?) misleads the Avengers into thinking he wants to take over the world with five additional winter soldiers. This causes them to follow him all the way back to a defunct Hydra base in Siberia, where he then (cue dramatic music) SHOWS THEM A VIDEO OF BRAINWASHED BUCKY KILLING TONY’S PARENTS!!! What a twist! What, though, would he have done had Tony actually followed the Accords? There was very little to be gained without both Bucky and Tony there (and Steve, too, really; Tony would’ve straight-up murdered Bucky in the heat of the moment otherwise). This great, evil, diabolical plan hinged on many small details that could’ve easily gone awry. There were probably much easier ways to sow discord amongst the Avengers which weren’t quite so susceptible to failure. Honestly, Zemo (and Bucky, for that matter) could easily have been written out of the script. A more streamlined approach would’ve been better for the characters, the plot, and the emotional punches they could pack. Illogical convolutedness is hardly compelling (and I enjoy many, many convoluted messes! JRPGs tend to be prime examples.).
As has tended to be the case, the MCU still has a problem with portraying diversity in meaningful ways without brutalizing their characters (if they even bother to include certain groups at all). A black man’s death and his grieving mother are the impetus for Tony to accept the Sokovia Accords. Another black man’s death– and the king of an exoticized, imagined African nation at that– is Black Panther’s primary motivation through much of the movie. Of the Avengers, the only one to suffer a serious injury is Rhodes, whose paralysis will likely take him off the team permanently, despite however much money Tony will throw toward his rehabilitation. Representation for women of color is even worse. The only major WOC characters I can think of off the top of my head come from the TV shows. And would it kill anyone to have even just one queer hero? I think not. Hogarth, her wife, and her mistress of Jessica Jones are a decent first step (and shows that sexuality has nothing to do with how much of an asshole you are; many forms of media shy away from this, usually opting to kill queer women instead), but I want more! And not just as minor characters!
Civil War does a great many things well, but also falls into the same traps plaguing the MCU as a whole. As a summer blockbuster, it gets the job of entertaining audiences done well. Hopefully, the next MCU entry will avoid handing out disparate plot threads to everyone who goes to watch it.