Thoughts On: Captain America: Civil War - Resolution?

11/07/2018

Captain America: Civil War - Resolution?

Thoughts On: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

The Avengers are torn apart when a question of responsibility is posed to the group.


It's been quite a while since I first saw and reviewed this film - more than two years now. On the first watch, I liked much of this movie, the mid-point especially, and this remains true. That said, much of what exists around the airport sequence, viewed as entertainment, is lacking. However, I must say that, having seen Black Panther, I saw these elements in a very different light on this re-watch. When first going into Civil War, I only cared to see the action and wasn't looking for too much story. But, going in today having seen Black Panther and its relatively sophisticated narrative sensibilities, I can certainly see Civil War as preemptive, thematically, tonally and structurally, to Black Panther. Black Panther, I believe, remains the better movie, but, there certainly is a little more to Civil War than what I initially saw. Furthermore, it has to be noted that T'Challa has a much stronger presence in this narrative as a developed character when watched through the guise of his stand-alone film.

That said, I am both struck and torn on the content of Civil War's drama. Its commentary is then slightly confused and meandering, but, when sorted through, has a point - how cohesive it is is questionable though. Put most simply, this is a film that sees a group of superheroes reach a peak of success. However, having come so far and done so much, having secured some relative peace in the world for the time being, the world has begun to turn against them, started to point out their flaws. In such, the deaths that the Avengers caused in saving so many lives have come back to haunt them. And so this is where all debate and conflict starts.

Objectively, it is far too easy to suggest that the Avengers are a force of good, that they clearly save more people than they inadvertently put in harms way. It then becomes somewhat unjust that they be labelled murderers for not saving everyone, or, for not confining all destruction to a minimum. This is a point far easier made with the ending of Avengers Assemble and the alien war than with the opening of this film, which shows Wanda inadvertently kill a floor full of people. Because this is not a black and white situation, and because the superheroes have something human and empathetic within them, failure is highlighted and, for some, this is crushing. Thus there forms two sides of a debate on the question of what to do about the lives not saved and the lives put in danger. (And it must be noted that this debate becomes pivotal considering the fact that, with the emergence of the Avengers comes greater forces of bad; aliens, robots, such and so on). The debate goes as follows: Do we introduce more organisations into the Avengers, giving them to power to decide and control them under the guise that they will provide checks and balances to minimise damage.

The rather American response to this question, one that calls for freedom and little influence from government and bureaucracy instead, individual responsibility, is embodied by Captain America. Opposition is provided by the more emotionally charged, yet maybe more humble, Iron Man, who sees collaboration as a force of greater good. Thus, the real debate here is predicated on individual responsibility being prioritised over collective responsibility; should the Avengers alone decide and take responsibility as individuals, or should a greater organisation built around them do this?

This is a debate between two philosophies that is difficult to sort out without a test or experiment. However, conflict arises when this debate becomes a yes or no: sign papers that agree to a philosophy-turned-ideological and political structure based on collective responsibility or else. There is no real middle ground or slow integration of government powers into the private organisation. As a result, we have a civil war.

What has just be described maps out the thematic movement that this narrative takes all the way up to the third act. The established initial theme is wrapped up in blame, but, this transforms into a debate between collective and individual responsibility. As a result, the Avengers stop having their mistakes thrown back into their face, and this becomes a covert operations, chase thriller with huge action set-pieces, doses of comedy (and more) film. However, in the third act, after the fight between the two sides of the Avengers, comes clarity. Iron Man sees that he has made a mistake, that there was something constructed about the events that lead to the debate, and that Captain America is the only one willing to actually confront this. He then joins him, breaking an agreement with the government he purports to support. From here the initial theme of blame is brought back.

It turns out that the debate, the civil war, was constructed by someone wanting revenge: Zemo. He then exasperated the reality of the debate between Iron Man and Captain America. To finalise this, he reveals the truth that Captain America has been lying, that he concealed from Iron Man the killer of parents for the fact that the murderer was his 'possessed' friend: Bucky. It is now then that Captain America and Iron Man contradict themselves. Captain America protects Bucky because he does not believe that he can be judged to hold individual responsibility; it is rather Hydra's fault that Stark's parents are dead, and so Captain America picks up an argument for and fights with collective responsibility. On the other hand, Iron Man sees Bucky as individually responsible for his parents deaths, and decides that he must be killed. This switch of positions then brings out the worst in both characters and their new-found philosophies; Iron Man wants to kill and Captain America conceals truth. With this, they betray themselves as, if you are to assign everyone personal responsibility, you have to be compassionate, otherwise the philosophy becomes tyrannous and everyone is made to take the weight of the whole world onto their shoulders - which might just be too much personal responsibility. We see this manifest around Bucky; is there a way for him to have personal responsibility without having to die for a crime he committed under the influence of hypnosis or possession? Captain America also betrays himself, however. He does this by refusing to be transparent whilst advocating collective responsibility. How can a group be collectively responsible if there are any secrets? The system falls apart with such a bending of the rules. And so vengeance manifests around Bucky and Captain America.

It is from this contradiction and betrayal of espoused truth that there is the final fight. However, what is emphasised above all is the scene outside with T'Challa and the man who killed his father. In their side-scene T'Challa holds the killer individually responsible for his father's death, but he refuses murderous vengeance. He then does what Iron Man couldn't and showcases reasonable compassion.

With the fight between Iron Man and Captain America concluded, nothing is settled. In a letter, Captain America provides a weak apology and offers little in the way of penance. Instead, he opts to just sweep things under the rug. This is not what a superhero should do; he should pick up all the responsibility that he can and act out what is true. Bucky then needs to be allowed to pick up some responsibility without Captain America essentially coddling him. In truth, Captain America should have let Bucky and Stark fight. With Bucky defeated, Captain America should have stopped Stark from killing him - and that's all he really should have done as a friend to Bucky in my estimation. Furthermore, the Avengers should have returned to the places they destroyed and helped rebuild them as a means of paying penance - the fact that they didn't in some capacity is actually rather ridiculous. Alas, the narrative ends having shown no real conclusion and having raised and let die both the debate on collective and individual responsibility as well as the conflict around blame and vengeance.

Seeing this, Civil War is slightly frustrating: Could this not have been condensed and many of the minor characters extracted (many of which give very little to the film) so that a more complete debate could have been staged? I can appreciate and really respect that all characters show major fault and are presented as deeply human in the mistake they make in this film, but, this is to the detriment to a complete narrative. And we know this now having had 6 films follow Civil War. Nowhere in Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther or Infinity War are we given a real arc or conclusion to the set-up in Civil War. Whilst Infinity War brings this conflict up, it again suggests that the conflict should just be swept under the rug for now. Is this really necessary? Are we really going to have to wait for around 10 films to get some resolution to a somewhat confined issue raised in Civil War? This should have been a film about the difficulty of making amends, about Bucky trying to apologise to Iron Man and the Avengers tying to give something back to the world as to make up for their mistakes. (This should have thematically resembled the film The Sweet Hereafter). However, everything is stuck on a question of how to start making amends. Without resolution here, without resolution anywhere, this becomes tedious and stagnant for little reason.

With a better understanding of its internal debate, some better structuring, less characters and plot, with better writing in general, Civil War could have been a thematically whole movie. This should have been a movie about Iron Man and Captain America with Bucky as the force that induces all debate. Instead, too much focus is put on a wider political debate that, to a far worse degree than the conflict between Iron Man and Captain America, has been swept under the rug and ignored. I'll then end on the opinion that this should have wrapped up far more conclusively than it did. However, do you appreciate the open end, and do you think there is more resolution provided that what I suggest?







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