Sunday, 8 May 2016

Captain America: Civil War, A Somewhat Spoilery Review

Reviewing cinematic failure is easy. Flaws are usually obvious, or numerous, or even interesting, which make for good material. Some films can be so bad that writing about them is a safe way to vent. Yes, you are supposed to maintain some attempt at objectivity, which is why I make a point of finding strengths and weaknesses, but catharsis is catharsis. A legitimately excellent film is more difficult to talk about. On the fanboy level, you don't want to say too much for fear of ruining the experience. Its like explaining the joke, or dissecting the frog, you can't put it back together when you've finished. Similarly, you doubt if your own response is a reasoned one. Were you swept up in the moment? Do the nitpicks matter? Do you have an unacknowledged bias? Or will your opinion presumed to have one? I've already been extremely hard on the distinguished competition, after all. Going by fan reactions, and the occasional gulf between critics and those fans, you'd think most films are either excellent or dire, with nothing in between. This problem becomes worse when the film is a sequel, especially one which is part of these new, "universes".

Its at least partially a generational thing, back in the 80's, 90's, even at the millennium, ye olde video tape days, honestly good sequels were rare. Franchises did exist, don't let anyone tell ya different, but sequels were usually the domain of the lazy cash grab or the niche. This attitude still remains common in film critics, whom often take the view all works should be self-contained, rather coast on a previous success. Its not a baseless complaint though, diminishing returns is a thing, and its rather annoying to see a bad film presume a follow up. A persistent doubt is whether you can fairly judge a piece of a whole? And whether this flaw is a plot-hole or a sequel hook? As you liked the first film, aren't you sold on the sequel by default? And, when you get right down to it, multi genre long form story telling is some that hasn't really been done on screen before. Its not unique to comics, but its not exactly routine for Hollywood. When it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we have all of the above and more. The Marvel films have yet to produce an actual turkey, a few Ds certainly, but tending towards Bs for the most part. And people love them, assuming they don't have a dislike for the genre. But Marvel's consistent success adds to the review difficulty. We have an idea what to expect now, there's certainly enough for haters to hate, but, somehow, the movies keep on surprising us. And when they don't, we at least have something you can watch twice. The Law of Averages demands they must do a bad film eventually. Perhaps there was one, and we just loved them so much, we don't care. Does familiarity breed contempt? Or maybe this will run and run, like your average soap opera or Last of the Summer Wine. What will happen first, the end of the MCU, or the heat death of the actual universe?

Yes, I am stalling for time.

Look, you only need to know one thing about this film: its another success. If you need to know two things? The harshest criticism I can make is that it is indeed a sequel. Its drawing on eight years worth of material, which runs the risk of alienating new viewers, but just about everything that makes this film exceptional is made possible by that legacy. Could they have cut a few characters? Yeah. Would have been a better film? Probably nah. The airport fight that the trailers feature is a spectacle on a level we haven't seen since Avengers: Assemble, the sense that another fanboy dream has been made manifest. Whereas there the joy was that somebody had finally “got” the idea of a team of heroes with different powers, this film pitches two such teams against each other rather than disposalible foes, and its worth the price of admission by itself. All of a sudden, every single X-Men film looks like a missed opportunity. But more important than that, it sells the conflict. The film works because we know the characters, because we know that they would act like this, and we know what's at stake. Its like watching your parents divorce, or two mates in a nasty argument. Its a tragedy that plays out in front of you, as deep bonds are broken on principle. Who is right? Is the argument even about government oversight? Neither, and not for long.

Comparisons to Batman V Superman are impossible to avoid, and while its not really fair to make one, the contrast is sharp. Even with eight years of continuity weighing them down, and potential for Robert Downey Jr. to steal the show, the Russo Brothers has created a narrative that makes a hell of a lot more sense and doesn't shortchange anybody. Its still the Captain's film at the end of the day, plot threads from his previous solo outing being the starting point. As with the Winter Soldier, this film takes another sledgehammer to the status quo, but is notable for having something of a downer ending. Perhaps not for the reasons you might think, and certainly not the ponderous gloom of Bats v Supes, its a case where the actual villain of the piece wins. Marvel tends be criticised for its bad guys, because if they aren't Loki, they tend towards being 2-dimensional in some way, or not being given the due screentime. The antagonist in this probably won't defuse those complaints, but does go against the trend, and is used with same level of intelligence of the rest of the film.

I don't want to say much more at this point. With Marvel consistency being what it is, you know how you will likely react to this film. Spider-Man? Yeah, he's great. Black Panther? Nicely done. Vision and Scarlett Witch get some great scenes. I will end on this thought. Captain America: Civil War may not be the best film ever made, but its one of the best Marvel has ever done, and certainly top ten material.

Images copyright Marvel, used under fair use provisions

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