Saturday, May 14, 2016

Three Takeaways From Captain America: Civil War

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: most comic book fans and nerds in general lack perspective. More to the point, comic book fans lack the ability to compartmentalize. It's nearly impossible for them to judged one thing independently from something of similar style and proclivity. When a superhero film comes out, in order to recognize its identity, the tendency is to compare it to other superhero films. And with the amount of comic book intellectual properties currently in play at nearly all of the major studios in Tinseltown, I expect this trend to continue.

This isn't to say that I see myself as a better class of comic book fan, but I take pride in my ability to compartmentalize when it comes to comic book films. I feel very comfortable judging the merit of one film – be it an origin story, a sequel, or an installment in a large universe – without being affected by a previous on-screen story.

However, with the amount of superhero related films, network television shows, and streaming entertainment series, even I feel the pressure of measuring one film against its counterparts. This is why, instead of providing my usual rapid fire reaction to Captain America: Civil War, I decided to let my thoughts digest before going to see it a second time and providing my response.

My conclusion: Civil War is a fantastic film, but not without its flaws. Here are my three biggest takeaways:

Marvel Being Marvel
I've already explained in previous posts that my introduction into comics didn't actually come from comic books, but from cartoon adaptations like Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men: The Animated Series. And even before the glory days of the 1990's, Marvel was always known for being more mainstream and more progressive than any of its independent or commercially successful competitors. All of the Marvel cartoon adaptations gave fans characters in bunches, while DC Comics was always very reliant on single characters like Superman and Batman.

Over a decade later, and that trend hasn't change. From the first X-Men film to the iconic Avengers movie, Marvel has always been very comfortable giving fans images of multiple characters from their universe. Civil War is no different. It overwhelms the audience with a myriad of characters and superpowers interacting with each other, giving people the chance to pick out their favorite flavor and brand, like shopping at a superhero mall or department store. It's not groundbreaking from Marvel's perspective, but it's also not something you see in every film.

From a performance perspective, I wasn't impressed with the villain in the least. I understood Helmut Zemo's place and his motivations in the film, but nothing about him scared me or made him a true threat to the heroes. As a story, however, I was incredibly fascinated watching a normal man in Zemo take down the main pillars of the Avengers family in a way that Hydra, Ultron, or Loki never could.

Impact From Black Characters
As an African-American, I can't begin to express what an incredibly proud moment it was for me to see the amount of black characters in the film, as well as the roles that each of them play. Falcon's character has been an interesting evolution. We've seen him go from running a Veterans' Assistance program, to becoming Cap's best friend, to becoming a valuable contributor to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And it was really cool being able to juxtapose Falcon's character with War Machine, one of my favorite characters as a kid. Civil War, both the film and its source material, is very much a social commentary on what doing the right thing means. Watching Falcon and War Machine express why they each chose opposite side of the war was important because it shows, to put it bluntly, that all black folks don't think alike. We have shades and levels to our intellect just like everybody else. And I'm very glad we have a superhero film that illustrates that.

From an on-screen perspective, Black Panther's dazzling amalgam of strength and cool was incredibly refreshing, especially considering that he is the only black character who isn't acting as the best friend/sidekick to a white counterpart. I was extremely disappointed, however, with the lack of accuracy in Black Panther's depiction when compared to his comic book portrayal. In that regard, my biggest issue is with Wakanda, an African country that, while possessing a rich comic book history, is known primarily for being extremely private and reclusive.

The idea that Wakanda would do something as drastic as join the United Nations solely because their political envoys were killed in a superhuman crossfire is preposterous. Wakandans, prideful almost to a fault, would at least attempt to handle the issue themselves before considering those measures. The Black Panther alone would have several contingencies for dealing with the Avengers if they got in his way. However, the real kicker was when T'Chaka is killed, and no one in Wakanda except T'Challa does anything about it. I look forward to a thoughtful and thorough explanation when the Black Panther film drops in a year or so.

A Requiem For Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Although I saved this part for last, this speaks directly to my opening point regarding compartmentalization. I loved both Civil War and BvS. Both are excellent films that tell excellent stories about superhero fighting each other, using different methods in order to achieve very different objectives. I can enjoy one film without comparing it to the other.

The vast majority of comic books fans, for whatever reason, don't seem to know how to do that. A good way to make me upset is to go see Civil War and say "See...that's how a superhero movie is supposed to be made" when nearly every criticism levied at BvS could be used against Civil War.

People called BvS dark and joyless, not the kind of movie you take your kids to (and I'm still not sure why that's such a big deal). And while Civil War kept the standard witty banter that we're accustomed to in the MCU, Winter Solider killing Tony Stark's parents in the manner that he did wasn't exactly the kind of thing you'd recommend to kids either. Critics said the violence in BvS wasn't "earned". Exactly when did Iron Man – Mr. Anti-Establishment and godfather of the MCU – earn the right to suddenly walk hand-in-hand with the government and turn his back on his contemporaries?

I've heard the term "murderverse" thrown around when talking about BvS (which I think is unfair to compare one film to an entire universe with an eight-year head start). But Falcon, Black Widow, and Scarlett Witch all kill their enemies within the first ten minutes of their appearances in the film. I understand that Superman isn't held to the same standard that these solider-based heroes are, but I'm also not the one who started the comparisons in the first place.

The most insipid argument I've heard is that Captain America stories are essentially Superman stories done correctly. It makes me die inside every time someone utters such nonsense. If Superman really believed what he was doing was right, like Captain America did in Civil War, then he would have done everything he could to hold back on Iron Man, especially considering what he knows about his parents. But unlike Clark, Steve Rogers is a soldier. Priority One is to save lives. But Priority One-A is to kill the enemy. Not hold back. Not show mercy. But to kill the enemy. He didn't kill Tony Stark, but he didn't pull any punches either.

The truth, as I've explained in a previous post, is that people aren't comfortable with Superman doing what all of the other heroes are doing, and they're still generally pissed off about Superman's portrayal in Man of Steel.

My point is that if you like Civil War better than BvS, fine. But comparing both films to make your point is really unfair, not to mention shallow.