Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Marvel's Superhero Civil War

The massive comic story that inspired the upcoming Captain America threequel isn't exactly accessible for most casual readers. It's a sprawling story that encompasses nearly every regular Marvel comic and character, which took almost a year to unfold, and, frankly, wasn't terribly well executed in places.


Which is a bit of a shame, as it was built around an intriguing notion: the idea that these masked characters, with or without super powers, need to somehow be held accountable for their actions, and that secret identities, by their very nature, reflect a threat to an ordered society.


This animated video explains the comic story fairly comprehensively in 4 minutes, in case you are interested in the source material at all. It is by no means required watching, any more than the comics are required reading; Marvel is a smart enough studio to recognize the need to keep the story simple, even as their cinematic universe grows more and more complex.


The MCU doesn't really make much use of secret identities: Tony Stark outed himself as Iron Man as his final act in the first movie, it appears most people and certainly all SHIELD agents know that Captain America is Steve Rogers, and this fall we will meet Benedict Cumberbatch as Earth's Sorceror Supreme who doesn't even have a flashy nom de guerre, Doctor Strange. Thankfully, now that Sony Pictures has allowed Marvel's favourite son to appear in Marvel Studios movies, at least Spider-Man will be on hand to bring the classic alter-ego angst to the proceedings.


But Captain America: Civil War started production well ahead of Spider-Man's return to the fold, so it begs the question: without the privacy angle for costumed adventurers, is there enough story left in Civil War to hang a summer tent pole on?


Probably, yes.



With the marketing asking everyone to pick a side between Cap and Iron Man, this event film has all the earmarks of a prize fight, with evenly matched teams of colourful characters lining up against each other in the manner of a football scrimmage. And don't get me wrong, I am really looking forward to one of, if not the, biggest hero-on-hero conflicts ever depicted onscreen. But such a showdown is not the heart of the story.


Civil War is about the choices people make. Tony Stark chooses to stand up for a world where 'normal people' can perhaps feel a bit safer around the increasingly powerful individuals living among them, which is certainly a laudable goal. Cap, on that her hand, is committed to individual liberties and the freedom to act, which seems fairly reasonable for someone literally wrapped in his nation's flag. Because it is his movie, Cap is probably the more right of the two, but that by no means makes Tony wrong.


Watching him and the others navigate the choices they make and the repercussions that ensue, and the possibility of others changing their minds, that's what is going to make this movie a compelling watch. As happy as I am to see Ant-Man riding one of Hawkeye's arrows, and Black Panther fighting alongside Black Widow, and Spider-Man in all his Technicolor 1960's glory, bright and beautiful in a way that Zack Snyder's muted Superman can only hope to emulate, what I am most looking forward to, honestly, is a movie wrapped firmly around an idea.


Yeah, sure, that idea comes colourfully, even gaudily wrapped, with legendary characters squaring off against each other (did you realize Captain America turns 75 this year?) but Kevin Feige and the rest of the Marvel Studios brain trust have firmly grasped onto the idea that comics are, in their fashion, the mythology of the 20th century, carried into the 21st by our love of the avatars of the mythos. Mythology has always been a means of using larger than life stories to explore and understand the world around us.


I'm no expert, but to my eyes, the United States is currently experiencing a level of fractious divisiveness unequalled since the actual American Civil War: Republicans vs. Democrats, rich vs. poor (or perhaps middle class vs. everybody), citizen vs. immigrant, black vs. white, the list goes on. Captain America: Civil War may present a more apt look at our southern neighbors than any of us are really comfortable in admitting.


In the end, it doesn't really matter to me which side 'wins' this conflict; superheroes fight each other all the time, it is practically a trope-ish requirement; look at how Thor comes into the Avengers. No, what matters is how they move forward, and that is what I hope they get a chance to address in Captain America's fifth movie appearance.


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