Captain America: Civil War Could Be Better

Here’s what bothers me about Civil War: Tony Stark is all over the place.

It’s not so much a movie about super heroes. It’s about an ethical conflict. It’s a movie where Rogers and Stark debating politics over a conference table is more fun to watch than Captain America and Iron Man battling it out with their super friends.

And that’s all fine. I’d watch the two of them debate all day. That is, I would have, if Tony were written better.

Steve makes a strong argument. He refutes Tony’s point about accountability with his mini-speech about the right to choose. He warns that the oversight commission might one day prevent them from getting involved in a situation they all know needs their involvement. For the genre this movie is in, his argument is shockingly well articulated.

But Tony’s isn’t. He meets a woman whose kid dies, and it prompts him to argue that oversight is necessary because of that. Then he says he’s in favor because it’s a way to split the difference between being Iron Man and not, so his girlfriend won’t break up with him. Then he argues the measures are necessary in order to prevent some nebulous worse thing, which he never explains and we never see. And then he argues that he’s trying to keep the Avengers from breaking apart. Although, taking a hard line stance on a controversial issue is maybe not the best way to do that.

The result is, by the time the big showdown occurs, main characters are already criticizing the movie’s plot, saying thing like – This is not the real fight. And through this climactic battle, I find myself on the side of Vision, who sees the fight as completely pointless.

For that matter, so does Tony, eventually. What Steve warns could happen happens. Tony gets told to stand down, and he doesn’t want to.  He ends up acting against the oversight committee he has sworn to support. At this point the conflict is resolved. That’s it. Movie over.

But they have a last showdown after all, one on one. But the original conflict is resolved so they have to contrive a new one. Bucky I guess killed Tony’s parents.

So, Tony fights Steve over actions he wasn’t involved in, because he stood up for Bucky, who only did those things under mind control. Strangely, Tony didn’t take it personal when Hawkeye got mind controlled and blew up the airship thing, nor at Bruce after he was mind controlled into hulking out on a city. So why now?

Okay. We’re talking about his parents. It’s traumatic. Whatever. Tony is smart enough to know better than that, and even if he isn’t, we’re really just watching a fight that’s about Tony throwing an unjustified tantrum. And isn’t that kind of a stupid thing to have a movie about?

This frustrates me because it didn’t have to be this way. There is an argument Tony could have made, which is at least as strong as Steve’s position.

He has a history of caring about accountability. When Stark Industries was dealing weapons under the table, he became Iron Man to undo the damage, but he stayed with the company and fixed the problems. The company is a machine, and like any machine, when it malfunctions it can be fixed.

Tony touches on the idea that the documents can be amended, fixed. Safeguards put in place. He calls the actual signing a PR stunt. But it’s one sentence and then the idea is abandoned.

Tony could have stuck on this point. He could have even exposed Steve for a bit of a hypocrite. When Steve says he won’t sign, that he won’t let some government body tell him what he can’t do, Tony could say something like, “There are already people telling you what you can’t do. Signing the document doesn’t limit our authority. It grants us authority. Because without it we don’t have any. You can’t dress up as a flag, call yourself Captain America, and pretend not to be part of something bigger than yourself.”

From there he could argue that Steve is being a coward. He could argue that the only way to fix something is to be a part of it, and proceed to shame him for trying to run away from the issue.

And that would be a conflict they can’t easily resolve, that Steve can’t refute out of hand. They could have their final showdown, the movie could end, and they could have still not resolved this issue, leaving a rift that would change the dynamic of the whole series.

But maybe Marvel doesn’t have the guts to tell a story that way. Even with all the MCU movies have done, maybe they’re still stuck on the conventional wisdom that each movie must stand on its own, and end by returning to status quo.

That could be why Age of Ultron ends with Ultron being utterly wiped out. “You want to protect the world, but you don’t want it to change,” Ultron accidentally says about his own writers.

That could also be why after Tony (along with Hawkeye) sets the stage for his own retirement at the end of both Iron Man 3 and Age of Ultron, but at the beginning of Civil War, he’s still just being Iron Man. Everything has to return to normal. There can’t be too much homework for the viewer. We can’t have that be why some people didn’t see the latest movie.

Maybe it feels more pragmatic to make movies this way, but it makes the story weaker. The theme is watered down. And if you think that doesn’t matter, remember that Age of Ultron was actually considered a box office failure. It made far less than the makers expected.

Civil War still did fine – as much as I criticize, the movie did have a lot of good going for it. But it won’t last. The first Avengers movie and Civil War both proved that they can manage a growing ensemble cast of characters. But with three more Avengers movies already slated, eventually that concept will not be so novel, and people will be left scratching their heads about why the theaters aren’t as packed as expected.

It comes down to good storytelling. Civil War could have been a movie about a philosophical dilemma, and two strong, ethical people who cannot come to terms on it. Instead, we get a movie about two guys fighting over some circumstantial bullshit, which isn’t particularly important to either character, certainly isn’t important to me, and loses my interest right around the time the fighting started.

By the end, the movie devolves into an excuse to find out who would win in a fight between two vague sets of super powers. Spoiler: It’s the one whose name is in the title.