Superheroes have become our myths. In the vein of the stories of Ancient Greece, or the more contemporary example of the American westerns, these characters and stories have come to define the extravagance and excess of the movie system.
The latest entry for Marvel, Captain America: Civil War, may be the apex of what the superhero myth can do — combining most of the well-regarded names in their arsenal into one polarizing view of both what this studio can accomplish and the manpower they have behind the scenes to make it. Not only that, but the latest entry from directors Joe and Anthony Russo pit two of the flagship’s most recognizable and beloved faces on the poster — Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) — against each other.
This is not another installment where the heroes must muster up the courage to absolve their differences in order to bring about the greater good. In this entry, the greater good is split. After yet another cataclysmic event, which left many people dead in the wake of an Avengers “peace mission,” the government feels that the best course of action is to regulate the activities of the team and make them accountable for their actions with the added bonus of adhering to a United Nations counsel.
In favor of this plan is Tony Stark/Iron Man, who feels that more rules placed on the activities of the Avengers, the more it will benefit the team in the long run and keep them from having to split apart. Captain America/Steve Rogers does not share the same feeling, instead finding the proposed rules to be a clasp on what makes the Avengers work and a terrifying precursor to more governmental intervention into their efforts.
Civil War is expertly layered with tension because of the groundwork laid out by previous films. We know Iron Man and Captain America from their inception and we have seen them grow into a pair of allies through the events of The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, which makes their disagreement and violent disdain for each other in this latest film that much more poignant.
In between the skirmish is Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), a man investigating the past of The Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) as a resource to enact revenge for the loss of his family during the events of Age of Ultron. Zemo is yet another uninspired Marvel villain, but more than the others, one that doesn’t seem necessary for the story’s central tension. The fight is not against some masked villain, it is between two friends who are too stubborn to look past their ideological differences and decide that force is the only way to solve their problems.
Marvel has spent years working to this point where their heroes will thread the line between good and evil — leading to a fissure in the group. Civll War does reach that breaking point, and does so rather quickly, but also shows the true flaws in Marvel’s grander system. For years, we have watched these heroes interact and grow, and this progression has led to affections and affiliations with different characters.
As Civil War heads to its finale (SPOILERS) — ending in a final bout between Captain America and Iron Man that leaves both broken — the movie finds its ending in a note written from Rogers to Stark in which the former apologizes for the actions that transpired and hopes everything can be resolved in the future even though what he did had to be done. He also leaves Stark with a cell phone, which he says is there to call Steve Rogers should he ever need his help.
This olive branch not only sucks any sort of emotional discourse that came from the past two and a half hours, but shows that Marvel is still too afraid to take any sort of risk with their characters — including one as small as leaving these two heroes on poor terms. It may seem asinine to pick out this one minor point as the reason why this movie doesn’t entirely work for me, but it also shows a hole in their grand scheme.
Marvel movies (and superhero movies in general) are the modern myth, and that is okay, but if we allow them to not challenge us or expect them to clean up everything nice and tidy by the end then they are not successful or fulfilling myths. Stories don’t always have happy endings and sometimes the characters don’t get along, but this system that Marvel has enacted leaves no room for any sort of negative resolution. Captain America and Iron Man have to be friends again because they will be re-teaming in Avengers: Infinity War Parts 1 and 2.
Superheroes as the modern myth is fine, but poor (or frightened) storytelling is unacceptable. Civil War has a lot of strong elements that make it one of Marvel’s most entertaining movies (the moments with Spider-Man were surreal for me, a lifelong fan), but it ends in such a hollow and underserved way that I can’t call it remarkable — even within the pantheon of other superhero movies.
Having an excess of characters and plots is one thing, but this is another reminder that Marvel needs to focus on the small aspects and forget about what is coming up next.