This is my theory: superhero movies are filling that gap in our entertainment lives that would be filled with ballet, if we were wealthy and/or Russian. You go to the ballet to gasp in awe at the feats of physicality, to be emotionally manipulated by music, costume, movement, and spectacle, even if you don’t know what the fuck you are watching.
And let’s face it, Swan Lake makes a lot more sense than Captain America: Civil War.
That’s the only reason I can come up with to justify the giddy love for CA:CW, a movie that I and two 11-year-old boys found decidedly meh. The combination of beautiful women, muscular men, and choreography must just set the lizard brain awash in happy juice, decoupling it from all rational higher brain functions.
I love looking at Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans as much as the next person, and I love Sebastian Stan’s glower, Chadwick Boseman and Paul Bettany’s voices, and everything about RDJ’s Tony Stark (but mostly the cool tech). The costume design and manufacturing, the special effects, most of the fight choreography, the shot compositions: all great. But like so much ballet and opera, it’s sound and fury with no significance, no story that can survive even the barest consideration.
From a big picture standpoint, MCU need Cap and Iron Man to fight in this one. They couldn’t do the Civil War storyline from the comics, because it’s no longer topical to talk about how awful the Patriot Act is (although it should be). Also, Tony was just an ass for no reason in the comics…but in giving Tony credible motivation for the movie, they put Cap in the position of being morally in the wrong. Which he should NEVER be.
There are two stories in CA:CW. One is about the Sokovia Accords, and the other is about vengeance, pretty much. It’s about the fact that the Winter Soldier killed Tony’s parents, and Cap has somehow known this and not told Tony. The Sokovia Accords is Scarlet Witch’s story, but since female characters don’t get to have stories, it’s used here as a giant misdirection for the audience and the backdrop for the bad guy to pull off his amazingly convoluted plan to set two of the Avengers at each other’s throats.
Swan Lake asks the audience to believe that a human can shapechange into a swan. Everything else is pretty straightforward, following the excellent advice that a story can only have one fantastical element in it. If none of the other rules of physics applied in Swan Lake, it would be surrealist at best, rather than a classic. CA:CW asks the audience to believe all the superhero stuff: a woman can do telekenesis and mind control; a couple guys were given serums that made them super-strong and durable, frozen for 50 years, and are OK now; a man is mind-blowingly rich and flies around in a magic metal suit; several characters have suits or accessories of the magic metal, which breaks every law of physics; a guy can become bug-sized or giant-sized, still be heard when he’s bug-size and not dent the ground when he’s giant-sized, etc.
With all that the rest of the story needs to be plausible. Instead, we’re somehow supposed to believe that there were at least three perfectly positioned and IR-equipped cameras exactly at the spot where Bucky ambushed the Starks. One caught the action from the front of the car, one from the back, and one was just right to get a close-up inside the car. “No witnesses,” say Hyrdra, but man they were great about ensuring the video record.
OK, but even if you give the movie that dumbass premise, we then have to believe that Zemo decrypted all of the Hydra files Black Widow made public, somehow found the video in them when no one else did, and then thought “I know! I will make Iron Man and Captain America fight each other! This will tear the Avengers apart! Somehow that will make up for my loss…and it’s so easy! All I have to do is make sure Iron Man sees this. I’m sure Captain America already knows it, and I’m sure he will act to protect this Hydra assassin, because I’ve seen the first two Captain America movies and I know that Cap’s love for Bucky is stronger than any other relationship he has!”
Having come up with this watertight plan, Zemo does the obvious: he emails Tony.Stark@starkindustries.com, Subject: You need to see this and attaches the mp4 file.
Except no, he doesn’t.
He teaches himself Russian and German (let’s assume he already spoke English and Sokovian), decrypts all the rest of the Hydra and SHIELD stuff on Wikileaks, builds an EMP generator in a closet in a German hostel (or brings it, which might be even harder) during UN meetings he clearly planned for, develops Mission: Impossible-level disguise abilities, makes himself look like the psychologist that he somehow knew would interrogate Bucky after Bucky is apprehended due in part to the interference of Black Panther, which Zemo somehow also knew about. Oh yes, he had previously disguised himself as Bucky in Vienna in order to have the cops go after Bucky. All that under the noses of the JTTF and JSOC, so that’s comforting. In and around this he located former Soviet Hydra agents, out-smarted and out-fought them, located the secret Hydra base in Siberia, dragged Cap, Iron Man, and Bucky to it, killed the Hydra murder squad (because he knew that it wouldn’t be ALL the Avengers coming after his ass), and then played the video there.
Zemo is AMAZING.
He is like 5000 times more competent than any of the Avengers. He should be running Stark Industries. He clearly plans big, and then fucking executes like a boss. And he’s got no superpowers and no bank account.
But we still have the Sokovia Accords. It’s almost possible to believe that people would be so scared of superhumans that they wouldn’t be able to think through “If Scarlet Witch had left the bomb on the ground, many more people would have died,” but I still feel like that was all a giant waste of screen time. Not as much of a waste as the Spiderman stuff, which was a mini-movie, because the Spidey stuff was just clearly a trailer for the next set of Spiderman movies.
It’s possible CA:CW could be recut to actually be about something. Zemo’s right – an empire that falls because it comes apart from internal fighting never returns. Marvel had a chance to talk about the internal fighting in the US, fomented and fed by the media’s control of what people see and when. Zemo chose what the heroes saw and when and led them to conflict, but there was a core of truth that pushed Red Guy and Blue Guy to fight. This could really have worked, but I suspect RDJ didn’t want to be seen as a Trump proxy, and Marvel, a media giant, didn’t want to criticize the media.
Next time, I’ll spend the $100 it cost me to take two kids to this movie on ballet tickets instead.