by Cormac O
Don’t believe the hype. Captain America: Civil War opened last Friday to rave reviews. A consensus that has me utterly perplexed. The superhero movie over the past five years or so has become Hollywood’s biggest cash cow. The genre is cinema’s contemporary blockbuster. It’s former cult status has catapulted to the stratosphere and become a mainstream phenomenon. Nerd culture has not only become acceptable, but revered. The jocks have lost their mojo and the dorks are finding chemistry in other areas besides their sets. Hell has frozen over.
Some critics disparage the superhero movie, regarding it as the death knell of cinema, a dumbing down of the art form to its lowest common denominator. I’m not one of these critics – I don’t even think I can be labelled a critic. I don’t get paid for this shit! – There are some great superhero movies out there – Kick-Ass, Spiderman 2, X-Men: First Class, Superman – but when it comes to Civil War, I get the sudden urge to sniff wine and bask in my own farts. I’d sacrifice myself, become a pretentious douche-packer, if I didn’t have to see another movie like this again.
I enjoyed the mythology and WWII iconography of Captain America: The First Avenger, was let down by The Winter Soldier and as a final insult, got rear-ended for this third installment. Within the first ten minutes I lost interest. The first and major problem with Civil War is the action. This high speed HD superhero combat is incoherent and simply boring. The effects are similar to the Soap Opera Effect you see on smart TVs and LCDs (our brains telling us that this was not shot at 24 frames per second). Some might find it slick, smooth and hyper-detailed, but it all happens so quick that you are unable to relish it when someone gets their head smashed in. I want to bask in the ultra-violence, not skim by it all squeaky clean.
Second problem. I gave a recent favourable review of Batman V Superman. In the review I was critical of superhero movies becoming so downtrodden and losing their sense of playfulness. Civil War is playful, but it’s also trying to be “so serious”. It doesn’t know what it wants to be. One moment it’s attempting to evoke emotional depth and moral complexity (which doesn’t work), the scene after that they’re cracking one liners (and bad ones). The balance of comedy and drama doesn’t work here. It’s as if the filmmakers pocket dialed the entire Emoji lexicon and projected it onto the big screen.
It’s civil war so you know they gotta pick sides. That’s what the entire movie is about. A battle. So the whole film builds up to this moment – Capt. America and his team vs Iron Man and his – Cities burned to ashes, hundreds of civilians dead, friends torn apart. This is it! The big scene! And what do the filmmakers decide to do? Turn the big battle of superheroes into a bad Late Night Show monologue. A cringing display of affairs. How can we get invested in the drama if the bad comedy breaks you out of it. We don’t care what happens to them, plus we know they’ll survive to come back for the next installment. We can’t even get invested in one character because we don’t get time alone with one enough to engage. It’s a Marvel collector’s wet dream with Spiderman, Ant-Man and Black Panther all up in the mix.
I think the biggest fault comes back to the action. For a superhero film you can get away with bad acting, story, but your action scenes have to make audiences forget all about that with spectacle. And in my view, that’s why Batman V Superman is the better movie. Despite its incoherence, Zack Snyder had the visual prowess and style to make his film entertaining, at least. The directors, the Russo brothers, come from a background in television, which is a writers medium essentially. They’re directors for hire. Not that they d0n’t have the skills to be good filmmakers, but action cinema at this level seems way out of their reach. They lack the visual poetry of a Zack Snyder, a Christopher Nolan or a Matthew Vaughn. Captain America: Civil War is like a kid cracking open his toy chest and flinging all his favourite toys around the place. And kids are stupid.