There is this bit of wisdom that I realized as I was sitting inside the theater, halfway through Captain American: Civil War (2016). Said nugget of wisdom was imparted on me by all-knowing 10-year old nephew who declared that the movie feels like it has all the bits and pieces of the other solo movies of the superheroes involved. That is, all the Iron Mans, and the Captain Americas, and The Avengerses. And it is true. Here lies the brilliance of Marvel. They actually managed to create a SHARED cinematic universe. There is consistency and unity in tone and feel, which makes everything feel like one epic narrative. Which in turn makes me feel like I have actually been on one long journey with these heroes, hence I feel more for them, root more for them, and love them more.
But here’s the thing, the “consistency” I was talking about doesn’t mean the same old time-worn plot of invading aliens and robots and megalomaniacal villains. The narrative is not revolutionary, but well-written and engaging, and goes at a slightly different path than what they have given us before. Now for as long as I can remember, the amount of carnage in superhero movies have long been the subject of discussion. Buildings turn to dust. People squished and squashed every which way. Cities leveled and incinerated out of maps. And after that? Nothing. The hero goes home. The villain is vanquished. Disaster averted. Mission accomplished. We don’t hear a peep about the after-math. Who is responsible? Who shall we turn to? Civil War finally takes up this issue of collateral damage in a way that makes actual sense, and sans excessive melodrama and the recitation of platitudes. Well okay, the arguments they posit aren’t exactly flawless because what are you to do when a sentient robot alien tries to take over the world? But props to the screenplay writers for establishing coherence, at least.
Now, one of the things that makes for a terrible superhero movie is when it becomes all about the superpowers and nothing about the men under them. We know Iron Man can blast someone’s heart out of their chest, that has been established. We know Captain America can throw his shield as far as the eye can see, a fact known to all. But what about Tony Stark and Steve Rogers? A genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, sure. A sickly kid from Brooklyn turned super soldier, yeah. But here delve a little deeper into their memories, unlocking a little bit of who they are. Who Steve Rogers is in terms of Bucky Barnes. Who Tony Stark is through his parents. And most of all who they both are in the eyes of their friends, The Avengers. And yes, it is only in this movie that I realize that, damn, their friendship must be terribly complicated. Superhero-ing makes it that way.
Captain America: Civil War goes beyond being an assemblage of brightly colored heroes and CG spectacle. It actually reveals a lot about human nature. It talks about friendship and family. About guilt and regret. And yes, the movies is still very much as joyful as you can imagine it to be. The dialogue is vibrant and quipy, with a smattering of jokes. The airport showdown drew audible ooohs and aaahs from the crowd in the cinema. And the introduction of The Black Panther and the new Spiderman will give you goosies. And I love how they managed to put to good use Paul Rudd as Ant-Man in a movie with a cast as big and colorful as this. A tiny ant dude can easily get lost in there you know. And the fight scenes are terrific by the way. Iron Man blasting Captain America punching Black Panther clawing The Winter Soldier ka-powing Spiderman webbing Falcon. It’s just mayhem! The kind that makes fanboys and girls terribly happy.
I walked out of the cinema stuffed to the brim with joy, awe and wonder. If I am to complain about one thing, the 2 hours and 40 minutes could’ve used some cutting. Snip off a scene here, and a scene there. But hey, I guess ultimately I didn’t mind spending more time inside this wonderful universe.
And this folks, is how a superhero movie is done.