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Captain America: Civil War •••1/2

Captain_America_Civil_War_posterStarring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 147 minutes
Release Date: May 6, 2016


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Scott, I don’t want this to come to blows, but it’s time we reviewed the latest film from Marvel Studios.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Yep, this time it’s all-out warfare among the good guys. Let’s recap.

We meet the Avengers fighting the good fight in Lagos where villain Brock Rumlow is attempting to steal a biological weapon. After defeating Rumlow and his minions, Captain America (Steve Rogers, played by Chris Evans) captures Rumlow (Frank Grillo) who tells him his long lost buddy Bucky (Sebastian Stan) is alive. Cap, stunned by the news, lets his guard down long enough for Rumlow to ignite his bomb-vest. Ever alert, Scarlett Witch (Wanda Maximoff, played by Elizabeth Olsen) uses her powers to contain the explosion. But she is not powerful enough to prevent it from tearing through a building, killing several Wakandan citizens.

Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) informs the Avengers that the world will no longer tolerate them having free reign to decide which missions to pursue and how to execute those missions. The United Nations is about to approve The Sokovia Accords establishing a UN committee to oversee all Avenger operations. Some of our superheroes, led by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), are in agreement with this new oversight, while others in the group, led by Steve Rogers, oppose it. The resultant internal fight compromises the group’s ability to stop supervillain Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) from carrying out his evil mission.

Scott, after suffering through last March’s Batman v Superman, Civil War was a welcome respite. Here is a complicated story with multiple heroes told in a compelling, thoughtful, and still exciting manner – all the things missing from the ponderous BvS. While there were slow moments in the film (the meeting with a very young Spider Man () brought the movie to a standstill), overall, this was a movie worth the nearly two-and-a-half hours running time.

This movie had it all. A huge cast with lots of action. And, everybody on-screen wanted something. There were no hangers-on. There were no merely-mentioneds. Nothing went to waste and everything pushed the story forward. This was a logical completion to the Captain America trilogy, and it sets us up for future Avengers films. I was fully satisfied.

Greg, Civil War is an appealing movie for all the reasons that you mention. How many times over the years have we said, well, Marvel has done it again: Another smart, crisply told story with rich, appealing characters. As you mention, Civil War pulls out all the stops by including almost every superhero in the Marvel universe.

Ironically, these added characters augment the Avengers while also compromising them. Legitimate philosophical differences divide the group, which I found fascinating and realistic. What I didn’t find realistic was the group fighting each other to the near-death. So I have the same criticism for this film that I had for Batman vs. Superman, namely, the implausible premise that super-smart and super-virtuous heroes would be so dumb as to try to kill each other.

Yes, at a superficial level it is fun and cool to watch all these superpowers matched up against each other. But come on. We should expect more from our heroes than brutish fighting among them. Isaac Asimov once said that violence is the last resort of the incompetent. I agree. What’s next, a movie in which Jesus and Gandhi get into a knife fight?

So while I admire the impeccable craftsmanship of this movie, I question its premise of having super-good guys deciding to do super-bad things to each other. Violence is not the answer, and it never will be the answer, to human problems. We need role models who exemplify this basic principle, not violate it. I understand it wouldn’t have been much of a movie if the Avengers resolved their differences peacefully. Sadly, we only gravitate to movies in which conflict is settled by brute force — even when it’s our so-called superheroes who initiate that brute force.

Well, all I can say to that is that violence has solved all our major wars. And, we have super smart people at all levels of government and still we fight senseless battles. So, while I agree with your sentiment, there are plenty of counter examples about smart people and stupid solutions.

The thing that impresses me is the lack of villains in this story. We’ve written before that the best villain mirrors the hero in every way. What better way to create oppositional forces for heroes – than other heroes? It’s a deft move on Marvel’s part and creates a tension that you could not possibly create with pure-evil villains. Here we have heroes fighting heroes where we can see both sides of the argument. There is no clear right or wrong. And, as we have seen before, the best villains think they are in the right. Team Cap and Team Iron Man both strongly believe they are in the right. It’s a strong composition of equal heroes instead of equal heroes and villains. Very cool stuff.

We do encounter a couple of villains in this movie, such as Brock Rumlow at the outset and Helmut Zemo throughout most of the story. In fact, dealing with Zemo’s villainy is what drives the intra-group conflict within the Avengers. I was struck by the inner schism of Bucky Barnes — he is part hero, part villain, which metaphorically characterizes the schism within the Avengers.

It’s interesting to consider the mentors, or lack of mentors, in this film. Perhaps the Avengers foolishly fight amongst themselves because they are lacking good mentorship. Who is there to tell Tony Stark that he should allow Steve Rogers to follow his own path? No one, and that’s a problem. Heroes who lack mentors are prone to doing stupid things, which is exactly what transpires when the Avengers begin self-destructing. In a sense, The Sokovia Accords represent an attempt by the world’s nations to mentor the Avengers, to help them use their superpowers more wisely.

Those are some interesting thoughts about mentors in this story. Often we see former heroes become the mentors for the up-and-coming heroes. However, the Avengers are in a strange place – they are the first of their kind. While Captain America does mentor the younger Scarlet Witch, he is, in fact, the prototypal hero. There is no one to guide him.

On the other hand, we have Iron Man. He should have been mentored by his father. But we see that Tony Stark was largely ignored by his father, and so Tony lacks a proper mentor. In fact, it is possible that the elder Stark may be considered a dark mentor as he offered negative examples for his son.

Rating Captain America: Civil War is a challenge. On the one hand, we have the flawed premise of super-virtuous people fighting each other. On the other hand, we have Marvel’s impeccable execution of this flawed premise. There’s an old adage that goes, “You can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig.” The flawed storyline here doesn’t render the movie entirely piggish, as there is still much to like here. Civil War is great fun to watch and represents another technological marvel for Marvel. So despite the flawed premise I will award this film 3 Reels out of 5.

The heroes here do go on a journey of divisiveness and healing. The schism begins with the presentation of The Sokovia Accords and ends when our heroes finally come to their senses after nearly destroying each other. Have they changed much as a result of their journey? Besides all the bruises, they may have been humbled and reached some understanding of the pointlessness of their fighting. Again, a Heroes rating of 3 out of 5 seems about right.

As we’ve noted, there isn’t much mentorship going on here, which may be the main problem with our heroes engaging in their senseless battle. You’re right, Greg, about Tony Stark lacking a moral compass from either his father or from Pepper Potts. Steve Rogers just does his thing without help, and it shows. The Sokovia Accords is the world’s attempt to mentor our heroes, but they’re a pretty stubborn bunch. The best I can do is give a rating here of 2 Mentors out of 5.

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Scott, I think you have to rate a film on what it attempts to bring to the screen. If this were a slapstick comedy, I’d rate it as a slapstick comedy. But since it’s action-adventure, I believe you have to rate it on the genre it is slotted in. I appreciate your non-violent leanings, but as you point out there is no story here without the conflict – it is subtitled Civil WAR after all. I enjoyed this film and I think it nicely rounds out the Captain America trilogy. The filmmakers delivered on their promise and I happily award 4 out of 5 Reels.

But I have to agree with you on the Heroes rating. These heroes are fairly well-established here and there is little growth or transformation. That is the primary thing you and I look for in a hero’s journey and it’s lacking here. Nobody really learns anything. In the end, Captain America and Iron Man go their separate ways after a knock-down-drag-out fight. However, the secondary characteristics we look for in heroes (charisma, strength, loyalty, etc…) are there in strong measure. Like you, I award 3 out 5 Heroes.

And there is little mentoring going on here. We see suggestions of dark mentoring from the senior Stark, but there are no past heroes to guide our up-and-coming heroes. I can only muster 1 out of 5 Mentors for Captain America: Civil War.

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  1. You comments on mentorship are interesting – I would say the Tony Stark acted as somewhat of a mentor to Spiderman (probably more implied than overt in the film), both in the meeting at his house and during the epic airport battle.

    One thing I took issue with is War Machine’s injury – he basically fell from the sky because his suit was struck by Vision – but if you remember from Iron Man I Tony Stark made the same landing in the original suit he made in the cave and walked away.

    Also, based on your review it appears you felt Winter Soldier was a better film – I would be curious how you would rank the 5 films in the MCU.

  2. Note that I meant to ask what your top 5 films are in the MCU

  3. Greg Smith says:


    Thanks for your feedback. What a great observation about Tony mentoring Peter Parker / Spider Man. I had, in fact, overlooked that interaction. Usually we look at the main characters in the story for their growth and their mentors. But I think you’re right that there is proper mentorship going on there. I wonder if he’s a dark mentor? He pulls a youngster into an adult battle.

    Also, you bring up a good point about War Machine. In the structure of a movie’s plot, at the 75% point in the film someone close to the hero may die (or there is a significant setback). We see this clearly in Star Wars. I expected War Machine / James Rhodes to actually die here. I felt they cheated the audience in merely crippling him. The point of killing off a character isn’t just for shock value, but to show the audience how high the stakes are in the story.

    I like your idea about ranking the MCU movies. We have plans to do some focused reviews on past hits (like a review of Pixar films.) We will take your suggestion into serious consideration!

  4. Yep, great call, Patrick, on Tony Stark’s mentoring. I agree with Greg that it was dark mentoring, which is consistent with my displeasure about the movie portraying superheroes doing super-bad things.

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