Sunday, June 11, 2017
Sunday Best: Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time # 11 - Captain America: Civil War
This is the movie that people wanted Avengers: Age of Ultron to be. In this film you have your core heroes, your pillars go to war against each other. And a house divided cannot stand.
One of the things that makes this movie work so well is that neither Iron Man nor Captain America are the bad guy. There is manipulation by a villain, but there is no mind-control silliness. Both sides make excellent points and you can see where each is coming from. But their paths are too divergent.
From my review:
As a philosopher, I love the fact that this is a superhero movie about ideas. Tony and Steve are fantastic friends whose convictions are pulling them apart. Anyone who has any kind of political or religious divide in their family and friends understands this tension. And as in our own relationships, we hope that our mutual respect and affection will overcome all of the differences. That is what makes Civil War so universal and so tragic.
And the ideas are not simply black and white. Even though Captain America is the title hero, Tony is not necessarily in the wrong. Not since watching the TV series Battlestar Galactica have I had the wonderfully frustrating experience of seeing two points of view that are in a sense both right, but sadly leads to great conflict.
Tony has experienced the destructive power of playing God first hand. He believes in the frailty of human judgment. He does not trust his own inclinations and so desires to place the power he wields in the hands of legitimate authorities. He thinks that great power in the hands of someone who doesn't think they could be wrong is too dangerous.
Steve is someone who has never doubted his inner moral compass. His conscience is too solidly formed for him to ignore it. As he says, "The safest hands are our own." He doesn't see himself as above legitimate authority. But he does say that the duty to what is right, even when the authorities tell you not to, is the most important thing to being a hero.
Steve thinks Tony doubts himself too much.
Tony thinks Steve doubts himself too little.
Because there is so much philosophy behind there is a lot of down time for exposition, but this only serves to deepen the tension and character development. Because this is a sequel, very few introductions need to be made at this point and the characters can begin growing from the first scene.
But the large amounts of exposition do not take away from a fantastic action film. I have read a number people who said that this movie was reminiscent of childhood when you would take all of your superhero action figures and have them fight each other. And truth be told, there is a child-like joy in watching this come to life. This is especially true when it comes to Spider-Man (Tom Holland) who brings a whole new life an energy to an already high-octane show.
The actions sequences are spectacular. The hit you with small details (like showing our heroes run faster than cars through the streets) along with the eye-popping special effects.
But even through the philosophy the Russo Brothers remember that art must not only be provocative but evocative in order to work. Ultimately, the battle comes down to some primary emotional chords that are so simple that they pull at the heart (but I will not spoil those here). There is also an "evil villain" plot that is essential to moving the story forward, but is much less interesting (or so it seems) than the hero conflict.
The biggest downside to this movie is how much it feels like a transitional movie. So many different stories will have their jumping-off-point from the events of this film. Even though Winter Soldier was also open-ended for sequels, that film had more of a sense of completion and closure than this. I came away with a distinct feeling that this film was mainly about setting the board for the big battle later.
As a Catholic, one of the things I really loved was that this movie was ultimately about conscience. It is a great illustration of how two people could have developed their consciences in different ways and yet they are morally bound to obey them. It is a story that is about standing up for one's convictions.
And as Dumbledore said, it is one thing to stand up to your enemies but another thing entirely to stand up to your friends.
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE REST OF THE ARTICLE
One more note on the movie regarding the ending. It was gratifying to see Tony come to a epiphany after the confrontation at the airport and go to help Steve against Zemo. And I know that there are a lot of critics who are tired of all the last-minute twists regarding movie villains. But the twist as to Zemo's motivations was exciting. And the video he showed was powerful.
I wrote in an earlier post:
"This is the best performance Downey Jr. has done as Tony Stark. He has been funnier and more charming, but he has never been this intense. You can feel his anxiety as he sees everything slowly slipping towards destruction and Downey Jr. makes you twist inside the way Tony does. I really think he should (but won't) get an Oscar nomination for this."
Having re-watched this performance, I can see even more what Downey Jr. has done with the role. He has taken the cumulative history of the character as he has been battered around in the last five movies and makes us feel those scars. Tony has grown a conscience that is tearing him apart. It is heartbreaking to watch his desperation as his shining dream of the Avengers begins to escape his grasp. And when you can see how he hates himself for not being able to stop his attack on Captain America all the way to the end.
And this is never more evident as when he watches his parents get murdered. He becomes a little boy again in that moment and you can see that powerless child use all of his powers as a super hero to try and avenge their deaths. And you can see the guilt in Steve. He screwed up. The whole point of the Civil War was Cap's moral authority and now it has crumbled regarding Tony's life.
This movie deserves its place on the list not only because of the high-flying action, because of the strong philosophical and emotional punch it packs.