Posted by : Wendy B Saturday, 14 May 2016



Marvel's Civil War was where I stepped back into comics after a long break up, only to discover that the problems that made me ditch comics in the first place had only gotten worse. Worse because now Marvel's focus was entirely on selling as many books as they could with this new tie-in crossover epic event bullshit. Civil War should have been a great story and it started that way, pitting Cap versus Iron Man over a mutant registration act that would help keep super powered beings in check. Too bad the result was convoluted plot lines and out of character characters that devolved the entire thing into a giant episode of "who would win in a fight: ___ or ____?"

For me, the only good thing to come out of that mess was this moment in Amazing Spider-Man #537:

When they announced that the next Captain America movie would be Tony versus Steve in Civil War, I wanted none of that.

And yet, the Russo Brothers had already given us The Winter Soldier, a movie that showed a level of character depth and realization--for women and people of colour no less--that is sorely lacking in the glut of superhero movies we've got going now. Plus Joe and Anthony Russo specifically said that, while the concept of registration and keeping super powers in check would be a focus of the film, they were not delving more deeply than that into the comic source material.

So months later, here I am walking out of the theatre with my faith renewed in the future of the MCU (if not super hero movies in general, since we've still got other problem ones out there...). I took my 8yo daughter who likewise loved The Winter Soldier and Captain America himself. "We're on Captain America's side, right mom?" she asked at the start of our day. "Because Iron Man is kind of mean, even if he did save the world." At the end of the movie, she was still very much Team Cap, but she could see where Iron Man was right in many ways and the ways in which Cap was wrong too, while for me, I found myself questioning my loyalties--which is exactly what the original Civil War story was supposed to have done had it not chosen instead to make Tony and several others into fascist assholes, resorting to underhanded methods to get their way.

There were some very specific elements that the movie did capture from the comic, such as this scene.  The most powerful moment for me was a variation of the "No, you move." speech above. But it was not Cap saying it to a Spider-Man questioning his choices. It was Sharon Carter speaking Peggy Carter's words *to* Steve.

There were many, many other emotional scenes in the film, framed beautifully by the score, or by silence. The Russos know how to make a moment, I tell you. From the more obvious heart wrenching moment of a dead father in his son's arms as a legacy is passed on, or a man clinging beyond all hope to his friend.
See those words up there? Those are the words of a person who gets it. One half of a team who gets it. I was able to appreciate Age of Ultron because I saw it with my kids and could appreciate their perspective, but when I sat back, I saw it for all the flaws. I gave Joss Whedon some credit for having  to cobble together that mess into one single movie when it should have been at least two, but I hated his reliance on every trope possible, including the ones he himself has made standard practice in his own work -- from motivational shock death to abyss kiss -- along with all kinds of visual distraction. With all the things going on in the MCU, having everyone show up in a Captain America movie seemed like this film ought to have suffered the same problem, and yet the Russo Brothers managed to weave together a completely cohesive story that did yet another thing 100 comics failed to do: give every character an absolutely legitimate reason for being there and for choosing a particular side and even letting them recognize where their views might be flawed.

And the disagreement over those views -- was it enough to justify all out battles against each other to the death? Well that's the thing. The movie didn't set it up that way at all (though the marketing of course capitalized on this in a similar fashion to BvS). "Move. Or be moved." That's what the battle was about, rather than a straight up death match, The comics had someone die to add weight to the story, but in comics, death means so little. The movie instead leaned heavily on the death of innocents, while with the heroes fighting each other, it offered us pain. Very real pain with very real, long lasting ramifications. There was no real fear that any one of these characters were going to actually kill their comrades -- at least not until the very end where that tension became very, very real when the villain -- who himself was not some simplistic monster -- made his final play. In the final show down between Cap and Iron Man, I had to assure my daughter that it wouldn't end the way it seemed to be heading, but frankly, I wasn't so sure.

Here for lulz and truth.
 Credit to whoever made it. 
This was a Captain America movie that involved far too many people, but, for the most part, it sidelined none of them (which is no surprise after seeing Falcon and Black Widow in The Winter Soldier (which included the kind of empowerment of characters that is at the heart of who Cap is), nor did it stick them into weird story lines or relationships that made no sense beyond serving as plot devices (yes I'm looking at you, Age of Ultron).

Let me take a minute to talk about Wanda. Everyone's talking about Black Panther (and I will too), but Wanda. She was dismissed by Maria Hill as the "weird girl" in Age of Ultron, and fans of the character have feared for her depiction after her horrible treatment in the comics. The Scarlet Witch is the "crazy" one. The frightening, powerful woman that needs to be destroyed because oh how easily she could slip into madness. The movie dips into this. Tony is aware of her capabilities and tries to keep her in check because of what she is capable of, but the rest of her compatriots never express fear in working with her. She shows awareness and  responsibility for her own actions, and we get wonderful moments between her and Vision as they both seek to understand their powers and their place in this world. More of this please.

Even Tony gets to be more than just the antagonist here as he continues to deal with the repercussions of all of his actions and adventures since his first movie, as well as his father's legacy. The Russo Brothers don't let him off the hook for his ego, nor do they allow him to be simply the villain the comics made him into.

Consequences and responsibility is the theme for everyone in this movie, and no one is let off easy. Action stories and super heroes are fun, but little mind is paid to the innocent lives lost even as the good guys save the world. This was not a gimmick. The movie held true to this purpose from start to finish.  It was an emotionally heavy film, without being an overly dark and gritty one. It could still have fun (I need a Bucky and Sam sitcom) while delivering the necessary gravity.

One of my few beefs with the film beyond the technical plot details (such as why did no one bother to analyze that one image of Bucky?) is related to Tony, in that the very first appearance--or even mention--of Maria Stark is basically all about her being fridged in order to push Tony's resolve. She might as well have been named Martha.

My other criticism comes in the form of Spider-Man. That is to say, I loved Spider-Man. The pithy introduction of Peter Parker and his aunt made absolute sense and worked well. It almost makes me forgive them for forcing yet another Spider-Man movie down our throats if only because we might actually get one that doesn't feel the need to tell us once more about spider bites and Uncle Bens. But let's talk about why Spider-Man was there in this movie. See, in the comic event, his story line carried some serious weight as Peter struggled with his choices. Initially, he sided with Iron Man, willing to reveal his long hidden identity to support the registration act.
Peter Parker, Spider-Man: Civil War | Marvel Comics
The announcement that the MCU had obtained Spider-Man from Fox implied that this tipping of the scales was some how in the works for the movie story line. But in truth, while I liked Spider-Man's appearance, he served no greater purpose than for his comic relief (which Ant-Man was already providing) and his particular abilities. In which case, I am extremely disappointed that the opportunity had not been taken to introduce Miles Morales (and his mother) instead. Miles has already made the move into the Marvel comic canon from his original Ultimates run, he is an established character on the cartoon, and, precedent has already been set with Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury. Why not give us something fresh for the web crawler?

But, while there is a serious dearth of women of colour in this film, I guess I should not expect another man of colour in a movie that already features three black guys. I'm so ungrateful, I know.

Ah well. Let me move on to that one black guy everyone is talking about and for damn good reason: Black Panther. There was some question prior to release in regard to what Black Panther was doing in the movie in the first place and why he had such a hate on for Bucky. I was deeply worried that he was just being shoved into this film as a promotional piece. I was deeply worried that all the heart and soul Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze are putting into the new comic book series would be wasted. But Marvel has clearly invested in this character and the movie did not sell him short at all. Black Panther was everything he should be in shape and form and function--he even moved like a cat, complete with silent landings that have made him my daughter's new favourite character in accordance with her obsession with our own pet black cat. T'Challa was regal and uncompromising--until he needed to compromise, and then his humility was a thing of beauty. He literally stole the show because frankly, his arc is what Cap should have gone through in coming to terms with the reality of Bucky's situation. I love to hear the excitement over his solo movie, especially with casting and directing news like this.  

So yeah... this is what a super hero movie should be. Yes there were fight scenes and explosions (though none that were as mind numbingly confusing as Age of Ultron -- I didn't even mind seeing Civil War in 3D since it did not abuse the medium) but none of them were wasted within the movie itself. We got the big pay off battle, but it wasn't just the man pain punch fest that other movies have promoted and then skimped on. Every moment had purpose and power, and, despite all that had to happen to continue the MCU wheel that is turning, it all worked together (sometimes with questionable plot jumps, but at least not ridiculously glaring ones... mostly) while still taking the time to remind me of what made me love comics in the first place: the characters. I love being able to see myself in those characters, even and especially when I hate their decisions and actions. Super powers are cool, but what makes those people mean something to me is because they struggle the same way I do with their choices and their relationships. For all the costumes and abilities, they are still very much real. Very much human, rather than gods among us.....

WHAT IS THIS?

This is my mindspill. Mostly about comics, books, video games, movies of the science fiction and fantasy leanings. Sometimes recipes and parenting stuff will sneak in, along with a real world rant or two.

I also write about geek culture at Women Write About Comics, and I review genre fiction at The BiblioSanctum.

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