Having only directed episodes for nine TV series and three TV movies besides one feature-length comedy, brothers Joe and Anthony Russo weren’t necessarily regarded among the best filmmakers of their time prior to Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 2. But Captain America 3: Civil War leaves no excuse to disregard The Russo Brothers. Helmed by Disney, Marvel was smart enough to sign the siblings into both of the parts that will close the Avengers film series, concluding the era of superhero movies that so many skeptics are looking forward to seeing collapse.
In a time of readily available information, it’s becoming increasingly important to ask why in general. Not only in matters of questioning authority or finding oneself, but also in analyzing and thusly understanding the world we live in. Why are superheroes so popular? Why are they so hated by others in return? Why are love and hate of things mutually exclusive concepts? Civil War does not answer those primordial questions, but it does bring some fine quality entertainment for masses who enjoy mainstream accessibility.
Be it 3D, 4D, or good ‘ol 2D, Captain America’s final trilogy chapter closes so many loose ends and opens up so many new worlds of possibilities, in such carefully crafted ways, that even the most hard-hearted of purists would be delusional if they denied that Marvel actually makes good cinema that acknowledges the parts within its continuity.
Let’s start from the script. The very first slam superhero movies get is for being too formulaic, almost engaged in a tragically Oedipal romance with Joseph Campbell, immortalizing his name as the daddy of screenwriting clichés. Hero rises, falls, rises again. People weep in awe at the Phoenix and all ends as it started, only improved. But why is this bad? At one point does a story stop being full of conventions and instead become full of organic parts? My personal answer is that it isn’t. Superheroes are definitely a stage of film history (hell, Marvel was smart enough to divide it in Phases), and it will eventually end. But even the fall of its empire is entertaining to watch. After all, that’s all it’s supposed to be: entertainment. And entertainment itself is a human necessity. Ergo, superheroes are just a part of a human need.
Let’s move on to the film: everything the viewer wanted was delivered like a checklist. Anyone familiar with Civil War knows and expects a set list of things: Iron Man vs. Captain America, Black Panther, Spiderman, Ant-Man riding Hawkeye’s arrows, Ant-Man becoming a giant, a speech of planting oneself like a tree and telling others to move on, and so on. In various comic book iterations, both Tony Stark and Steve Rogers eventually die at some point, so the source material canon has some pretty high stakes raised already. But even if you know nothing of this movie and the above stated elements were spoilers to you, you’re in for a fun ride.
The marketing for the movie was exceedingly clever, down to the things that the studios didn’t even control: Batman v. Superman was definitely meant to be released earlier. And it was totally meant to be a much less entertaining movie (for one, it has less characters, it has a much more serious tone, and its intent is to bring some cinematic solemnity to the Justice League). Following Joss Whedon’s beloved method of quippy remarks, the characters in Civil War breathe like regular humans. They bleed much less than regular humans, but they do so nonetheless, and they complain, they hurt, they hesitate, they repent, they improve, and even though they don’t… spoiler… die at all (only ONE character with a known name and speaking role dies in the movie… if you solely count sequences more than five minutes long).
Civil War does many things right: it continues the storyline, mood, and settings introduced by its predecessor (in a world where, for instance, Iron Man 3 is so disjointed from Iron Man 2, this is particularly noteworthy). It introduces characters in the best way possible (Black Panther is the only character truly shown for the first time in film), and it gives just enough screen time to the many characters is crams together without turning it all into a mess. Where Dawn of Justice stumbled and struggled while building a fearsome villain, setting up sequels and putting one side of ideals against its opposite (I thing BvS did all those things well, but you could feel the work it took), Civil War maneuvered seamlessly with little more than a few seconds of awkward editing that is expected in action movies. At least for once, we’re getting a properly packaged product where every scene promised in the trailer is actually shown to us in the movie itself. That’s a relief nowadays (and we even get to figure out who the mysterious bald woman in the Age of Ultron is).
And the core of the movie itself is about minimizing damages: sure, superheroes will always cause deaths, as the nature of a hero is to challenge the very concept of mortality. Following the ideology that saving a few lives is ethically “more right” than saving nobody at all, the movie imploded its capacity of failure into enjoyable plotlines that preserve the magic we all love in cinema. No hero is tarnished in the movie. Even its main villain is given a bitterly heartfelt moment to tragically grieve his motivations into the audience, and into a character changed for the better as a result of this apotheosis (what defines a hero). This movie is about consequences, and the anti-hero’s journey is almost the same as the hero’s (watching an empire fall), the only difference is that the hero attempts to stray the least from the rules (even though the system descends into synonymous entropy that following rules in full results in not doing the right thing) while the anti-hero writes his own, and then ignores his own rules.
Certainly, the movie itself is not about opposing forces, about the impossibility of true neutral balance, or about the Confederacy raising musket bayonets against the Union, as advertised in the title and as the least clever parts of its marketing would have you believe. But it is about many other related things, and it feels real in a world with routine news of terrorist attacks, increasing climate change, and unending conspiracy theories by self-proclaimed clickbaity journalists. Civil War is a needed breath in superhero movies. It is a necessary conclusion to storylines left hanging by the company that keeps the dreams of mice alive. It is a fair product of sacrifice and hard work, mostly by the screenwriters, actor, directors, and even the audience. And it is a deserved moment in comic book history, where nerdy fans can see their haven immortalized in what is arguably the most complete of all art mediums. I keep saying “in this world”, because in this world the superhero is supposed to die any time. But mark by words, heroes never die.