Marvel's Cine-CHAT-ic Universe: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Ali Gray,
Matt Looker,
Becky Suter,
Ed Williamson,
Luke Whiston

21st August 2020

Marvel movies. Remember those? We do. Thirteen months after we discussed Ant-Man, we are finally ready to officially kick off Phase 3 of Marvel's Cine-CHAT-ic Universe. It's not like the world has had any distracting major events or global catastrophes over that time period or anything.

Previous Marvel musings
Ant-Man (2015)
Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Iron Man 3 (2013)
The Avengers (2012)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Thor (2011)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man (2008)
Luke: This was the first one of these that actually seemed like it might be interesting - the Avengers, all bickering and in-fighting! It's the start of the third act in the overall arc of things maybe, I think. A low for everyone, the gang getting all fractured and divided by loyalties and morals.

I never saw it at the cinema though. For some reason my parents got me it on DVD for Christmas, despite a) never showing any interest in these films, b) specifically messaging all my family to tell them if they do risk buying a film for me for Christmas then in must be on blu-ray. This is worse than the time they got me an Ang Lee-directed Woodstock film.

It would be quicker to do this a a podcast. But then people would hear the desperation for it to all end in our voices.

Ed: Oh good it's on Netflix, will watch it later.

Luke: Is Ken Burns the one with mutant arsonist powers?

Becky: That second pic looks like it says Ass of Ultron, which is correct.

[one week passes]

Ali: Has everyone watched it yet or have we entirely given up on the concept? Although I have probably done it in the past, I am not really one for ranking the Marvel movies in any particular order, because it's quite self-defeating and my preferences change over time depending on what I want to watch. But I think Civil War would probably consistently be in my top 3. It has everything I want from an Avengers movie, with the added benefit of not actually being an Avengers movie - it has all the action and punch-ups and crotch-kicking you want to see from a spectacular tentpole, but a singular focus. Basically I love it dearly and I want Cap's babies. Give me your spectacular tentpole, Rogers.

Matt: I have to admit I'm a little torn over this one. There are lots of factors that make this a tougher watch for me, but they all amount to the same thing: the actual premise is a hard thing to get behind. This is a film about creating a rift between the Avengers, which means for most of the film there's no clear antagonist. They cover it up well: we know that Daniel Bruhl is up to something, but we have no idea what. Bucky is set up as the ACTUAL antagonist, although we know that he's not so we cant quite get on board with that idea... there's just no immediate conflict. Only an unsettling internal one that grows over the course of the film.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but it's a hard sell in this franchise. Hey, kids, you know both of those superheroes you love and aspire to and root for? Well now they hate each other. PICK ONE.

It makes this one of the few MCU films that I find hard to rewatch again and again.... all apart from the airport fight. In fact anything from the moment QUEENS flashes up on screen to War Machine falling out of the sky is pure gold for me. It's my favourite sequence across the whole set of movies and I would argue that it's better choreographed, more fun and a more interesting use of the whole ensemble than anything that happens in Infinity War and Endgame, albeit with far fewer characters. Pure joy.

But the rest of the film? Oof. Tough.

[Matt orgasms relentlessly]

Luke: I was really confused because I didn't know Ant-Man could get big too.

Matt: It's the first time he does though. He basically explains it in the film at the exact moment it happens as 'a new thing they've been working on'.

Luke: I don't know these things, Matt. Can he keep getting bigger in the same way he can keep going smaller?

Ali: It's explained in the movie, Luke. He can only hold it for a short while. HELLO it's SCIENCE.

Luke: Idk they keep inventing these new things from nowhere. Can they invent a way to make him hold it longer? Can they put the infinity gems in his bum and he makes himself small again? I should probably rewatch it, in high def this time too.

Ali: See, I think the conflict is very well integrated into the story. It's a luxury that no other franchise can afford - to base entire stories, character motivations and events around things that happened in previous movies. So you have a direct connection to the events in Sokovia from Age of Ultron influencing the plot of this movie, meaning there's no need to spunk the whole first act creating a crisis to break the team apart. It feels very natural to me, and it asks questions regarding accountability that very few superhero movies do. Also it's a simple conflict to understand - you either work for the government or you go rogue - and yet there's no obvious side to pick.

Matt: But that's the thing - not knowing which side to pick makes this a harder watch than just Avenger Good/Monster Bad. And that's ok - you're right, its a brave and mature thing to explore in this kind of film - but I think it spends too much time establishing the dilemma rather than letting us see the consequences play out. We see the characters talk about hypothetical issues that arise from the Accords rather than have them experience them directly. This film is 20% action, 80% debate.

Imagine this scenario instead: The Sokovia Accords are signed by everyone at the start of the film, even if some don't agree with it entirely, and then the fight with the (whatever) Big Bad that they have at the end of the film directly brings those Sokovia Accords into play - the consequences of each Avenger choosing to abide by the Accords or 'do the right thing' is what leaves Team Stark and Team Cap separated. That just feels more dynamic to me than arguing over the ethics in a conference room.

And I think the biggest problem this film has it that the catalyst that breaks Cap and Stark apart is the discovery that Bucky killed Tony's parents, but this doesn't track back to the Sokovia Accords. It has nothing to do with accountability or the different ideologies that separate the characters. It's just a different plot-line throughout the film that is trying to serve the same purpose: to break the Avengers up. I don't know. I think the film handles the themes really well, but there's certainly something a bit muddled about how it gets to where it does by the end.

Ed: It's about the tension between public and private agency though, right? Which Man of Steel sort of flirted with as an interesting idea (is it necessarily a good thing that this alien is here to protect us but does so entirely under his own steam and isn't accountable to us? Should we nationalise Superman and run him like we did the railways in the seventies?)

Tony thinks the Avengers' powers are best discharged in the private sector: he's happy enough to fund it but in return doesn't want to answer for his methods or give up rights to his tech. Cap is a strange American hero in that he's a Big Government guy; he trusts in the apparatus of the state and thinks his powers should be directed by it. Most traditional American heroes fit more of a libertarian, Clint Eastwood-style model: do it yourself, don't rely on help from anyone else.

All of this is an interesting direction for a superhero film to take and I suppose highlights the depth of the franchise: it's got so much time and space to develop ideas that it can afford to spend a whole film asking a key question about superhero accountability. With a big punch-up at the end, natch.

Ali: This would be a very interesting point if you hadn't got it back to front - it's Tony Stark who is in favour of accountability and oversight and it's Captain America who thinks that oversight comes with agendas and that the Avengers should operate independently. Jesus, Ed, why are you part of the book club if you're not even going to read the book?

Ed: Oh is it? Yeah haven't seen it since Christmas Eve 2016, just remember the key takeaway. Anyway it was the sort of thing a clever person might say so I think we can all agree that's the most important thing.

Ali: You made those points with such conviction, though. Very much from the Nigel Farage school of politics. Next I suppose you'll be telling me that the villain in Civil War is a metaphor for George Soros.

Ed: If there's one thing I've learned from politics over the last three years, it's that sticking to your argument despite overwhelming evidence that it based on faulty evidence and without merit is what gets results. Therefore I stand by everything I said. You've all got it wrong.

Pictured: Trump Vs Clinton

Becky: It's a very mature take on a superhero film (Civil War, not Ed). Sometimes you need a bit more drama than smashy smashy stuff, otherwise you don't understand anyone’s motivations.

I don't agree with Matt's point that you have to pick one side - we clearly shown are not everything is as black and white as that. Everyone wants the same thing, but in different ways. If Captain America was a true, whiter than white hero, he wouldn’t mind being under regulation but he’s compelled to save his friend, so he’s more flawed than we thought. And going by the same premise, you'd think Tony Stark, Head of a massive corporation, wouldn't want to be controlled but he’s driven by guilt. The big bad here is emotion, guys and I'm shocked none of you have picked up on that. Shocked.

[three weeks pass]

Ali: oh no

Luke: This is the lull. The end of act two period of no hope. The bit with Hawkeye's family.

Matt: I still disagree that the film is effective in its purpose. We come away thinking that the film is about the Accords and that's what separates the main characters, but it's not really is it? We just spend so much time with them that it overshadows the whole film. The real conflict comes from Bucky. From Cap doing what he thinks is right because he believes in his friend, but acting as a vigilante in the process. And then the actual SPLIT happens because of the big reveal at the end. The Accords are nothing really, and it says a lot that Stark ends up ignoring them anyway and they have no impact in any further MCU film.

BUT I love the set-up here. I love how the two main characters are positioned. Ed would almost be correct if he wasn't so, so wrong about everything. Tony Stark IS the independent, rebellious one who flies in the face of 'the man' but he's at an all-time low, he feels guilt over that kid's death and so tries to be someone he's not as a result: he signs up to the Accords in order to be a safer hero, but he ends up hurting his best friend as a result, not to mention literally endangering another kid by bringing Spidey into the fight. Meanwhile Cap is the do-gooder turned do-badder going against the government in trying to protect his friend.

They're both acting against their normal nature and that's what makes them act rashly and split them apart. I live for this character mirroring stuff - both on opposite sides of a coin, but with shared commonality. It's no coincidence that Tony is separated from Pepper here just as Cap loses Peggy, or that it's Rhodey - Tony's own Bucky equivalent - who gets seriously injured. I love seeing how all those things are layered in a film like this in order to really land the impact come the film's end.

Fuck you, Ed. These aren't just films about magic men and their laser fists.

Ali: I agree: fuck you, Ed. Whatever it was that you said, eight months ago.

[one month passes]

Matt: Um. Any other points to make?

Ali: No. It's been so long since we last discussed this movie I've finally outgrown it. I'm old now, and I've aged terribly. This is the worst chat yet. I like how they are steadily getting less organised and focused. The one for Endgame will just be Matt writing essays to himself while the rest of us sling insults at Ed.

Matt: That's kind of my ideal version of these anyway, tbh.

Ed: They made fun of Jesus, too.

Matt: Good note to end on. I'll put this live this week.

[literally 13 months pass]

Ali: oh no.

Coming soon: Doctor Strange! Next week, probably!

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