I loved Captain America: Civil War. It was fun and somehow pulled off the monumental feat of not being a bloated, nonsensical mess despite the presence of like 734 super heroes. Except one thing: no one of importance dies in Captain America: Civil War, and someone should have.
I would apologize for the hitting you with a spoiler here, but nothing has been spoiled, and that’s its problem. Sure, the Marvel movies are good precisely because they haven’t been put in the hands of a nutjob who thinks Bruce Wayne should have been prison raped, and I’m not saying they should be taken in that direction. Nobody wants to see Hawkeye get his back broken over The Winter Soldier’s knee here, okay? All I’m asking for is a little more consequence, and a little less reliance on inertia.
All the stakes-free punching and kicking has taken some of the juice out of these movies. The big airport battle royale in the middle of Civil War was a delight, but I never once felt like any of the participants were in danger of suffering any real harm, which takes out the anxious suspense that comes with a rumble. (Was anyone shocked to see the supposedly paralyzed Other Iron Man get a set of robo-legs at the end?) This was supposed to be a fight between a bunch of badass superheroes defending their deeply held beliefs, but the battle itself proved as inconsequential as a spirited game of dodgeball. Even the guys who lost and had to go to Ocean Jail were only in Ocean Jail for, like, two days!
Think of where Captain America and Iron Man stand at the beginning of Civil War. The former is a stubborn do-gooder who is suspicious of institutions of power, and the latter is an increasingly weary and guilt-ridden TED talker with bad sunglasses. The two are basically buddies. By the end of the movie—after each have participated in a civil war that supposedly tore the world’s super hero community apart—Captain America is a stubborn do-gooder who is now suspicious of institutions of power, and Iron Man is an increasingly weary and guilt-ridden TED talker with bad sunglasses. The two are basically buddies. You know what would have taken either of these characters in a surprising and meaningful new direction? If one had killed the other.
We could use some real pathos in these movies, you know? It’s hard as hell for a story to achieve that when the main characters never have to sniff anything resembling real tragedy. Say what you will about a movie like Watchmen, but at least it had the stones to let Rorschach die over his principles. I didn’t even really like that movie, but I admit to feeling a twinge or two of pity while watching him get blown up by his big blue buddy.
I realize that those of us in the audience are supposed to feel as sad about the innocent civilians that keep getting buildings dropped on them as Iron Man does, but that’s not how movies work! I don’t feel bad for the Wakandan aid workers that Scarlet Witch accidentally blew up because I haven’t spent nearly a dozen movies getting to know those people.
There’s a scene at the end of Civil War, in which Colonel Zemo, unexpectedly one of the best villains in the Marvel film universe, unwittingly delivers a stinging bit of meta-criticism. While explaining why he set out to tear the Avengers apart, he points out that after all of the earth-shattering problems our heroes faced in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, they just got to go home, like nothing had happened.
It’s a good point, and one that relates. After all, what reflection did moviegoers get from paying their $15 and holding their pee, just to watch superheroes punch at each other for two and a half hours? None. There was no cliff-hanger to discuss, no serious plot-twists that might alter forthcoming Marvel-universe movies. We all just went home, like nothing had happened.