Civil War

captain-america-civil-war-9-1500x844I have written extensively about the super-hero genre. All of that press from me toward the Overwomen and Men derived from comic “books” has been positive.

That ends today.

Civil War is a silly movie. It does not make up for its lack of seriousness by being entertaining either. There are so many Overwomen and Men running around that you can’t care about, or even focus on, any one of them in particular. On top of this, the story makes zero attempts to ground the special abilities of its heroines and heroes in a logical hierarchy. We get the feeling that “Cap” [and his band of brothers] ultimately wins in this movie [I can’t call it a film] because his name precedes the Civil War in the title. That is bad storytelling. You design the rules of your system and then you adhere to them forever [no matter whose name is first in the title] or you admit you are a Follower of the one and only God… out of the machine.

I want to say to myself, so what? Bad movies get made with a much higher frequency than good movies get made, so who cares if creativity has disappeared from the genre? This was bound to happen to the genre eventually, right?

My problem with Civil War is not that it is a silly movie. My problem with Civil War is not even that it is making obscene amounts of money. [The Transformer series has already inoculated me against the hope that audiences will reject inferior products just because they are full of spectacle. Edison is still right. May there dawn a day when it moves, and we don’t watch it.] My problem with Civil War is that both critics and audiences SEEM to think Civil War is a GOOD MOVIE.

I want to cite three reviews from Rotten Tomatoes:

Civil War is fun. It’s smart. It’s coherent. And, most importantly, it allows its heart to beat strongly amid the chaos, with character moments and set pieces working in tandem to create perhaps Marvel’s best film so far. (1)

Nothing written in those four sentences is true. Amazingly, the short review in which these sentences live offers no justification of these assertions either. They are, simply, stated as given. We’ve all seen the movie. We all loved it. Therefore, the four sentences are true.

That’s a treacherous syllogism.

But “Civil War” remains entertaining throughout, even as it turns introspective. The Russos, who also directed Chris Evans & Co. in the excellent “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” from 2014, have reteamed with the writers of that movie, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Like “The Winter Soldier,” “Civil War” is relevant and resonant without becoming heavy-handed or self-serious the way, oh, say, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” did. It’s got some intelligent, important matters on its mind but also finds a way to deliver in terms of  summer thrills. (2)

Sentence one here is unsupported. Sentence two is irrelevant fluff. Sentence three is tacky and also irrelevant [are we reviewing Batman v Superman, or Civil War]. Sentence four is also unsupported; it also happens to be false. There is nothing intelligent or IMPORTANT being discussed in Civil War. To accuse this movie of importance is shrill to a degree which warrants revocation of the Critic’s License to critique. “Cap’s” obsessive impulse to save his friend no matter the cost is never examined at any depth. It’s a reason for a story that splits Avengers into teams. That’s it. It’s a reason to see Cap and Iron Man fight. That’s it. The idea which underlies Cap’s thinking, teleology, is unknown to the screenwriters and to the critic who called it important.

As a culture, our critical thinking skills are in freefall.

The philosopher Thomas Hobbes had a word for this method: “exorbitancy.” Three hundred and sixty-six years ago, in an uncanny trailer for Marvel, he wrote, “There are some that are not pleased with fiction, unless it be bold, not onely to exceed the work, but also the possibility of nature: they would have impenetrable Armors, Inchanted Castles, invulnerable bodies, Iron Men, flying Horses, and a thousand other such things, which are easily feigned by them that dare.” As the feigning wears off, and “Captain America: Civil War” crawls to a close, you sense that the possibilities of nature have been not just exceeded but exhausted. Even the dialogue seems like a special effect: “You’re being uncharacteristically non-hyperverbal,” Black Widow remarks to Iron Man. Translation: “Say something.” ♦ (3)

This is, as you would expect given the source, better. Yet, it is still mild. Where is your vitriol Mr. Lane? He lays out two of my objections: 1. There is zero respect for internal logic in Civil War, 2. and the intellectual battleground of Cap’s dispute with Iron Man is barren, but Mr. Lane does not organize these criticisms into a conclusion. He ends with journalism’s worst trick… witty ambiguity.

The conclusion any cinephile should draw from bad movies like Civil War is:

Movies as bad as Civil War are going to continue to be made [because of the obscene piles of cash they deposit into the bank accounts of already obscenely wealthy people] until they are systematically shown to be poor objects of Popular Art.

Civil War currently has a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That means, “critics” think Civil War is as good as I think Fargo is.

A true obscenity.

Rating: Almost Unwatchable


  1. The critic is AP Kryza from Williamette Week.
  2. The critic is Christy Lemire.
  3. This last comes from Anthony Lane at The New Yorker

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