Friday, May 6, 2016

Civil War: High Action, High Emotion, High Thrills


Nobody likes it when the parents fight. And when the family in question is the Avengers family? That's an extra-heavy dose of "from bad to worse."

Going into this movie, I expected nothing more or less than what my best friend called an "emotional horror show." Adding to that, I figured that, like the best movies out there, this one would go for a full-spectrum emotional experience. Many movies of the MCU have approached this full spectrum, but not quite reached it - perhaps The Avengers has come closest, followed extremely closely by Guardians of the Galaxy. Typically, non-MCU Marvel movies have done better in this regard for me, particularly Big Hero 6 (although that one's tangentially Marvel at best, I still count it because of its origins in an obscure comic line, Disney pedigree, and Stan Lee cameo) and The Amazing Spider-Man (both 1 and 2, but especially 2.)

Now, however, I've got a new favorite MCU film, one that goes for the broadest range of feels yet.

Captain America: Civil War, as promised, is a massive game-changer. Phase One of the MCU set things up for the ultimate team-up in The Avengers, while Phase Two expanded the universe still further and built up the ultimate threat in Thanos. Phase Three, if Civil War is any indication, is the point where Marvel's cast of glorious characters hits rock bottom in such a way that only the forthcoming Infinity War duology can bring them back together again.

In this movie, we get a sharp, strong sense of that rift in the division of the Avengers et al. between two rival camps, each of which has been relentlessly emojied and hashtagged all over the internet over the last few months (including by me.) Team Cap and Team Iron Man are at odds because of the Sokovia Accords, which seek to "regulate" the Avengers under government control - never a good sign, amirite or amirite? But unlike the highly political comic line from which this movie takes its name, the registration and other aspects of the Accords aren't the only source of the Avengers' conflict. Naturally, this is quite an improvement, because let's face it, given the state of politics today (especially in the US, where the election is just the biggest, longest bad joke in history at this point), the Avengers have better things to do than get involved. There are real dangers out there that they need to face.

And this movie begs the question - how does superhero regulation figure into the equation?

Cap's argument is best summed up by his line: "The safest hands are still our own." Stark, on the other hand, believes that unrestricted activity on the Avengers' part can only lead to disaster (that's part of how Ultron happened, after all.) They draw the proverbial line in the sand here, and no less than ten other heroes take sides.

Half the new Avengers from the end of Age of Ultron rally around Cap as their leader (Falcon and Scarlet Witch), while the other half rally around Iron Man (Black Widow and Vision). The latter of each of these sets of two being on opposite sides is further complicated by the budding relationship between the two of them (just look at the part where the surprisingly adorkable "Vizh" tries to cook a Sokovian dish for Wanda, only for her to tell him, "That is not paprika.") Each team also has itself a weapons specialist (Hawkeye on Team Cap, War Machine on Team Iron Man), a mysterious and shadowy wild card (Bucky Barnes and Black Panther), and because Marvel movies aren't normally as serious as their DC counterparts, comic relief (Spider-Man and Ant-Man).

“Bug Bros.”
@tomholland2013 @captainamericacivilwar #captainamericacivilwar #spiderman #antman #tomholland #paulrudd #lordmesaart #mangastudioex5 #teamironman #teamcaptainamerica
Lord Mesa's got it right.
These two would hit it off so well.

Everyone has their own unique motivations for the side they choose. I also noticed a pretty serious difference between the two teams - Team Cap members tend to have people they really fight for, deep personal connections either within or without their group (Cap's two besties, Falcon and Bucky; Hawkeye's family, Ant-Man's daughter), while members of Team Iron Man run more on all-consuming guilt and don't have as many personal connections and, therefore, less responsibilities (Black Widow especially comes to mind.) A notable exception, however, is Black Panther, whose motivation is revenge for an attack that takes the life of someone very close to him. Revenge in general proves to be a common running theme throughout this movie, motivating not only Black Panther, but also Stark towards the end as he discovers his parents' killer, and also the movie's main villain, who has helped manipulate world events for the express purpose of tearing the Avengers apart.

Sometimes, though, I still feel as if it's just conflict for the sake of conflict. Sure, my first creative-writing professor loved talking about "what's the conflict?" and always used Stephenie Meyer as her go-to example for how not to write because, in her opinion, Meyer had a complete inability to write conflict properly. So, because this movie delivers an excellent, high-stakes conflict that will take more than just two and a half hours of screentime a year to solve, Civil War excels on a writing level. However, my optimistic side still wishes that they could have all just gotten behind Cap and turned against the Accords. I once proposed a theory in my fanfics (Spider Soulmates, if I remember correctly) that the Accords were secretly proposed by HYDRA in order to bog down the Avengers in government bureaucracy. I really, really wished this one could have been canon, although by now HYDRA's largely relegated to Agents of SHIELD anyway.

And they're responsible, indirectly, for the defilement of
my fave AoS character after the Son of Coul. *weeps for Daisy*

And, in addition, I felt that some of the characters were only on certain sides (mostly Team Iron Man) because the filmmakers needed to even out the teams' numbers. I'm especially looking at Black Widow (although, as with the Wanda/Vision example above, Nat's previously-established chemistry with no less than two men of Team Cap helps add another layer of tension there), and also Spider-Man.

Going back to my point about Team Iron Man having a diminished sense of responsibility (especially if they allow the government to regulate them), this seems to run totally counter to everything we know about Spider-Man. I've also come to the conclusion that this may have been another factor in Spidey's recasting, because this new incarnation, as played by Tom Holland, is very young and eager and comes across as a bit foolhardy, even as he kicks major ass with the rest of the cast. He certainly doesn't have the sense of responsibility of previous Spideys (but, again, he's the youngest one to date.) Responsibility was a hugely important part of Andrew Garfield's Spidey, so I'd like to think he would be on Team Cap. Although guilt plays a huge role in his character development too, so perhaps he'd also have made a good Team Iron Man candidate too...but I still would like to think he'd be on Team Cap just because I see so much of myself in him.

That's also the only reservation I had about Holland's Spidey - the fact that, as spot-on and spirited as his performance is (and uniquely, his version is immediately shown living in a cheap apartment with Aunt May, scrounging and repairing old tech for money - gotta love that vintage Mac he keeps on his desk!), Garfield would inevitably remain my favorite because I relate to him so well. I see the three Spideys in my mind in very different ways. Tobey Maguire's Spidey (whom I never really connected to because his movies came along when I was very young) is the guy my parents wanted me to grow up to be - mild-mannered, soft-spoken, and friendly, but perpetually lousy with the ladies. Garfield's Spidey (whom I first saw when I was a year out of high school) is the guy I want to grow up to be - a charming loner with a secret past just waiting to be discovered, a thirst to prove himself creatively, and a strong sensitive streak - and who's not so lousy with the ladies, despite his tendency to trip over his own tongue when he talks to Gwen Stacy.

And who can blame him? She's his perfect other half! #StillShipEm

As for Holland's Spidey, he's the boy I wish I could have been as a teenager, rather than trying so aggressively to be like Maguire to please my parents - the right balance of brains and brawn (not that either of his predecessors, particularly Garfield, failed there), a cocky attitude, and more than a trace of wide-eyed fanboy wonder. 

"Hey everyone."

I can still be like Garfield (especially given my tendency to occasionally be mistaken for him, which is neither here nor there), but I think I might have missed the boat on being like Holland, so his Spidey is second to Garfield in my eyes as a result. But all respect to Holland, though. All of it, honestly. I had zero hope that anyone could come close to matching Garfield as Spidey after Marvel announced his recasting a year ago, and I'm happy to say my hope has been restored - especially with Holland's solo Spider-Man debut, Homecoming, only a year or so away.

Also helping in the comedy department for this movie is Ant-Man, though that's to be expected after his solo movie debut last year. He can't help but keep the entire theater in stitches with just about every word out of his mouth. None of the rest of the characters are half-bad at the humor either, especially not Stark. That's part of why this movie is so much more beloved than Batman v Superman - it's not all doom and gloom, not in the slightest. Even Howard Stark says it - "sarcasm is a great metric for potential." Thank God for Ant-Man, yeah?

"Did he just say 'Hi, I'm Scott?'"
"Scott, abort mission! Abort!"

And completing the trifecta for this movie - we've got the brain, we've got the heart, and we've most certainly got the muscle. The Russo brothers are going to do great things with Infinity War, just based on this movie alone - it's not all action all the time, but when the action scenes happen, they move at a breakneck speed unrivaled by any other MCU film to date. Especially the ones that involve automotive stunts like the one in the Berlin tunnel (or was it Bucharest? But I know the filming location was Berlin; the same tunnel having appeared in Mockingjay Part 2) - I mean, WHOAHOLYSHIT!

So, going forward, the MCU is gonna be flooded with awesomeness. The Inception-esque Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Homecoming for this movie's newcomers, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Infinity War...the next three years will really be something after this A+ action-thriller.

And now, I'm gonna contemplate how to alter my fanfic according to the fact that most of my plot predictions did not come true - and thank God for that, because some of them would have just been too devastating, even after that one scene with Stark watching his parents die 25 years after the fact. (Worry not, Marvel's Folly readers - my in-universe self is hopelessly tangled in his own brain, but the real me has a contingency plan.)

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember - Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

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