August 24, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Random Subtitle is the story of how superheroes are great to have around unless you make the fatal mistake of attempting to bring one of their friends to justice.

Now let me start by saying I'm not exactly a fan of Marvel, or of comic books in general. My teenage boy phase of comic collecting ended around age 15 and I haven't given two shits about comic books since then. After that, I watched the occasional comic book film, and they were kind of decent. I liked the first X-Men film alright (from waaay back in 2000), and I watched Iron Man on the airplane and found it to be a movie. But basically, once I saw Spider-Man II and The Dark Knight (the latter about 3 years after it came out), I was just kind of done with superhero films. So I haven't seen The Avengers or the other Captain America: Random Subtitle movies or any of those Hulk things or any of the X-Men or Wolverine movies that came after X-Men: The One Where Everybody Dies. I've seen both of the Fantastic Four movies that have the CGI character playing the Invisible Woman and both of the hysterically silly Ghost Rider movies, and the bottomlessly shitty Daredevil and its even more shitty spin-off? sequel? funeral march? Elecktra, but those I sought out because they're crap. The other Marvel movies, to judge by Iron Man: The Iron Man, seem to be a generic, bland paste that don't really stand out enough to be either good or bad. They're just there.

I mean, for action sequences and super-powered beings punching each other, Spider-Man II seemed to be the best there ever was or will be. And The Dark Knight is the best comic book film in every respect but that of action sequences and super-powered beings punching each other. So I didn't see much point in watching any more such movies. What were they going to do that hadn't already been done better by those two films?

To judge by Captain America: Whatever, the answer is absolutely fucking nothing.

This movie was pretty bad, in ways I wasn't expecting. I thought it would just be another Iron Man: The Iron Man that I could put on to help me sleep on the plane while Iron Man punched Captain America and Captain America punched Iron Man and Scarlett Johansson struggled to speak in a remotely human fashion. Instead, I was confronted by a morally reprehensible mess, in which Captain America (and the movie is positively loath to address him as such) critically injures numerous police officers, betrays all his friends, and causes the deaths of dozens of people solely just to keep his terrorist murderer friend from being arrested by the proper authorities. (To be completely fair, Cap and Iron Man do punch each other, and Scarlett Johansson remains as robotic and unnaturally stiff as ever.)

Now I never liked Captain America. I didn't dislike him, either. I just didn't care about him one way or the other, because he's basically Marvel's version of Superman. Not in the powers department (Supes is essentially Christ himself descended, while Cap is more the pushing of human physiology to its absolute limit), but in the morality/leadership department. If Superman is the Last Boy Scout of Krypton, Cap is George Washington with Arnold Schwarzenegger's physique. When I was in my comics phase, I was much more interested in the antihero asskickers who gave the bad guys what they deserved and did it with a whole lot of attitude, guys like Wolverine and the Ghost Rider. (Okay, Ghostie didn't really have attitude, but he had a flaming skull for a head. That's like 1000 cool points right there.) I didn't have any patience for namby-pamby do-gooders like Cap and Supes who tried to bring their enemies in alive instead of bringing the rain to wash the scum from the streets.

Now of course, I'm a bit older and so would probably be moar interested in the moral dilemmas of the goody-two-shoes types, if I wasn't also old enough to not give a shit about comic books any more. But what I don't understand is why people who are fans of Captain America aren't pitching a fit over this lousy movie. I don't know that much about Cap's character, but what little I do know is completely pissed on by the makers of Captain America: Does It Matter, Really?. And Jesus, how bad do you have to fuck up to be the worse half of a double-header in which the other film is Batman v. Superman? That's right, people I've never heard of who made Captain America, I watched your film back-to-back with a fucking Hack Snyder film, and you lost. When your story is less interesting than that of the man who gave us 300, you need to hang up your movie cameras and go home. I can't fucking believe I watched the two biggest superhero movies of this year and the only thing I enjoyed at all was Ben Affleck in a batsuit. If you spent a million jillion dollars on a movie and Ben "Gigli" Affleck was the best thing about it, stop making movies!

The plot, I guess. The Avengers are split in two over a proposal to actually subject them to oversight. That is, the United Nations wants to have power over the Avengers' going somewhere to deal with a problem, as opposed to their current M.O. of brazenly violating the sovereignty of any nation they please in order to handle whichever situations they see fit, without asking anybody's permission or having any kind of accountability. This is primarily because the Avengers have, according to this movie, a pretty bad track record of getting innocent bystanders killed when they perform their feats of heroic derring-do. Let me say again, the movie says the Avengers' actions have gotten an untold number of civilians killed. (Though as Cap explains to some girl who's so powerful she seems to eliminate the need to even have the rest of the team, she isn't responsible for all those people's deaths because, you know, the bad guys started it. Yes, it's the felony-murder doctrine, applied to people who can level entire cities with a thought.)

So the Avengers split, with Iron Man leading the "we gotta stop being vigilantes" side and Cap leading the "fuck the normies, we handle shit our own way" side. Wait, what? Yes, you read that right: Captain America, the conscious of the Marvel Universe, says screw the United Nations and people who don't have superpowers. We don't answer to them. We go where we want when we want, because the UN might, like, investigate a problem to see if it warrants sending in a super-powered Scarlett Johansson, and we'll have none of that, mister. I just want to make sure it's clear that Captain fucking America is taking the position that super-powered beings--or at least the ones on his team--should remain laws unto themselves, answerable and accountable to no one. That's right, Captain America, who in his last movie was in S.H.I.E.L.D., an organization of superheroes...answerable to the United Nations. This leads to an incredibly boring and silly fight as the Avengers fight each other in truly the saddest "Who would win in a fight between Superman and the Hulk?" that little boys have argued about since time immemorial. ("No way, Xenophane! Apollo would totally kick Hermes's ass if they wrestled!") It's embarrassing to the human race that the biggest movie of 2016 has all the dramatic tension of two 9 year olds arguing on the playground.

I remember being confused when I first heard about the titular "civil war". Surely, I thought, I'd misheard. Cap should be calling for an agreement to work with the governments of the world and not running around the world as uncontrollable vigilantes, and Tony Stark should be telling the world to kiss his ass, determined to do things his way. Am I the voice crying in the wilderness, here? But upon seeing the film, it's even worse than that, since Cap doesn't even stand against the agreement on principle. No, he opposes it mostly because those governments are trying to arrest his buddy Bucky, since they (and Cap) have very good reason to think the Buckster planted a bomb at a UN meeting that killed like 60 people.

I'd like to mention that again: Cap also has good reason to think Bucky committed this terrorist act, as he sees the evidence himself. In fact, at no point does Cap suggest Bucky is not guilty of this crime. (Of course he isn't guilty, because that might have been interesting, but for most of the film Cap doesn't know that.) He simply assaults dozens of police officers, causes a fight that paralyzes Don Cheadle from the waist down (the Black Guy Always Gets Crippled First), and breaks his fellow rebelling Avengers out of prison (where, need I even say, they absolutely belong as they have knowingly and willfully and repeatedly violated the law). And the movie ends, by God, the movie ends with Tony Stark admitting Cap is right and grovelling in front of him. Yes, the man who made the difficult yet absolutely morally correct decision is forced to kowtow to the very asshole who betrayed his comrades and willfully became a criminal so he could protect Timothy fucking McVeigh. And we're expected to cheer this moment! God, I want to punch this movie.

In the last 4 minutes, I just sketched out in my head the outline for what might have been a decent Captain America film with the same general plot. Of course this time, Cap will be on the right side, that of law and order and oversight and not being a fucking answers-to-nobody mete-out-God's-own-justice vigilante. Being presented with evidence of Bucky's guilt, Cap reluctantly does the right thing and agrees to work with law enforcement to bring him in, while Tony Stark castigates him for selling out his friend to the normies and vowing that the Avengers will handle the situation in-house, apprehending Bucky themselves and handing him over to the authorities only if they determine him guilty. The film would have Cap slowly realizing that some of the people's he's working with are less than committed to bringing Bucky in alive and actually giving him a fair trial and are more interested in Osama bin Laden-ing him in revenge for the terrorist attack. At the same time, Stark is dropping hints that Bucky is being framed, testing Cap's resolve for sticking with doing things the right way. The writers could take it from there. We'd still get our fanservice "Avengers fight each other" scene, but at least this time it might have some weight since it has Cap doing the right thing for the right reasons (putting aside personal feelings to follow the rule of law) and Stark doing the wrong thing but still for the right reasons (trying to save a possibly innocent man from a system that isn't giving him a fair shake). We might even get some *gaspshockhorror* tension. Can Cap bring Bucky in alive while still working with the corrupt law enforcement that's trying to take him out?

Not only would this scenario be more in keeping with each character's established, er, character (and let me stress again that I've never cared one whit about either Iron Man or Captain America, but I hate it when characters act completely out of character), but it would be a Captain America film that centers on, oh I don't know, fucking Captain America instead of being a half-assed Avengers 3.

Captain America: Avengers 2 1/2 is a morally repugnant character assassination of a character I never gave a shit about anyway. The people who made this movie need to get their fuckin' heads checked after getting their asses handed to them by Ben Affleck and Hack Snyder in the storytelling and character departments, something I didn't think was possible under the physical laws governing this universe.

Oh well. At least the, what, 3rd incarnation of Spider-Man in the last 9 years was pretty nifty. I'm glad somebody was behaving in character around here.