I just got back from seeing Captain America: Civil War, and I wanted to get my thoughts down while the experience is still fresh. So this will be more of a stream of consciousness post.
A two and a half hour master class on writing
As folks like screenwriter Max Landis have pointed out, Hollywood relies on a formulaic mashup of derivative visuals and sounds, stunt casting, and trend chasing designed to associate each assembly line blockbuster with fond, familiar memories in viewers' minds.
Unlike its increasingly shallow competitors, Captain America: Civil War founds its action and special effects on rock solid writing.
Here are just a few of the masterful touches that elevate Civil War's script above the blockbuster mob:
- The opening act sets up an intriguing mystery culminating in a big reveal that's genuinely startling--without cheating.
- Despite featuring every Marvel superhero up to and including Kitchen Sink-Man, Civil War pulls off what no massive comic book crossover flick has yet managed: remaining coherent without feeling crowded.
- I think I know how the film makers successfully wrangled their massive cast. Where lesser writers/directors would have ground the plot to a halt with exposition on each new character's origin, the Russo Brothers allude to a character's background in his first scene while making sure to clearly state his motivation. Everything else you need to know is deftly scattered throughout the film like breadcrumbs.
- Therefore, new characterization theory: if front loading a character's origin would bog down the pacing, then give a brief nod to who he is and instead establish what he wants. Make his motivation sufficiently clear and compelling, and you can parcel out the background info later.
OK, but is it good?
Thanks in no small part to the exceptional writing, Captain America: Civil War meets both defining criteria for a good movie.
- It does what it sets out to do.
- It generates fun while doing it.
This statement might be premature, but as of right now I have no qualms about saying that Civil War is the best Captain America movie, the best Avengers movie, the best Marvel movie, and possibly the best superhero film yet made.
I'm still digesting what I just saw, and someone will probably come along and name something I forgot in my haste that could arguably be a superior film.
But as things stand right now, I'm trying to think of a better written, more enjoyable superhero flick, and I'm drawing a blank.
Plot and themes
I'll do my best to keep this part as spoiler-free as possible. But if you haven't seen the movie yet, proceed with caution.
First up: the personal liberty vs. collective good dilemma. Both sides are represented well, mainly due to the fact that every character's motivation is firmly established and internally consistent, which evokes audience sympathy for everyone, including...
The real main antagonist: remains a tantalizing enigma until the final shocking act. I wouldn't dream of giving away the surprise. Let's just say that the Russos eclipsed Christopher Nolan's admirable foray into Magnificent Bastard territory from The Dark Knight. Civil War's villain works better, though, because the plot never cheats for him.
Seriously, this guy takes a series of seemingly unrelated actions as mundane as sending a package, checking his voicemail, and ordering breakfast, and he weaves them into one of the most diabolical plots in contemporary film.
Team Iron Man or Team Cap?
Alright, if you insist on pinning me down, I'll climb off the fence and make a statement.
There's no way to explain my decision without spoilers though, so beware.
After thoroughly and conscientiously weighing the evidence, I side with...
It all comes down to which side upholds the principle of objectively greater value.
Simply put: Cap argues against signing based on personal freedom. Tony appeals to the greater good.
The flaw in Rogers' argument--and it's fatal--is that freedom is inherently value-neutral. It's like a form of moral currency, which is worth no more and no less than the objective goods it grants you access to.
Cap appeals to freedom for its own sake, which is an empty set. Tony's position, though flawed, wins by default.
General Ross gives a definitive analogy that's never gainsaid on screen: superpowers have comparable destructive force to atomic weapons. Is it really prudent to let private individuals walk around on their own recognizance with suitcase nukes?
Would you have no objection to letting someone with that kind of power anonymously walk into your kid's school unsupervised--even if he only had the best of intentions?
I support Team Iron Man, with one major caveat: giving superhero oversight to an organization as corrupt and inefficient as the UN is hardly less reckless than letting the supers do as they please. So while I agree with Tony in principle, in practice I wouldn't sign the damn thing, either.
What side are you on? Get yourself informed. Go see the movie!
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