Apart from the fact that MCU is an interesting beast of transmediality, which complicates things in terms of storytelling, I can’t help myself but feeling torn about Marvel’s last entry: Captain America: Civil War. Here’s why. Is CACW a good film on its own? No. I am sorry. Amongst other things because it relies too much on the « crossover’s way » of storytelling that Marvel has been building up for the last (almost) 10 years.
Yes, CW is well shot, the pacing is good, there’s humor (Go Spiderman go!), action, and there’s no shortage of eye candy stuff to look at. But for the emotional impact to work (at some point towards the end of the movie), the screenplay assumes that we have acquired the necessary knowledge to understand the universe lying before us and that we know the prior story lines (from all the standalone movies) and character’s relationship history. What is at stake in CW, as interesting as it is (meaning the conflict between 2 ideologies which is, by the way, brilliantly set up and well balanced in the storyline), doesn’t work entirely if you haven’t seen the 10 standalone entries and the two Avengers’ movies that came before. If you haven’t, you won’t feel emotionally involved with the characters as you should.
The thing is, we should not feel obliged to have watched every Bond movies to appreciate Casino Royale. The first Star Wars Trilogy works well on its own – but not The Force Awakens (guess what? Disney owns Lucasfilms and Marvel). Thus, to save yourself some quality time with your family, and considering that the relationship between Cap and Iron Man is at the core of Civil War, you really don’t have to binge watch Hulk, Thor, Antman, etc. in order to understand and feel what’s at stake in Civil War. My suggestion, only if you feel rejected by your friends who seriously consider that not watching Civil War is the end of the world (in that case I would also recommend you to change friends!), would be to watch only these movies in that particular order before watching Civil War (FITAWU order):
- Captain America: the First Avenger (2011)
- Iron Man (2008),
- Thor (2011),
- The Avengers (2012),
- Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) and
- Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015).
You will get the feeling that you lack some informations, due to characters popping out from nowhere, who already have been introduced in another movie like the Black Widow in Iron Man 2 (believe me, no one wants to endure that movie again just to see Scarlett in action!), but does it really matter at this point? Which is sad for the art of cinema, now contaminated by the formulaic television ways of telling stories. No one needs a standalone Han Solo movie prior to the original trilogy to deeply enjoy it (I’m afraid for the SW future suddenly). Nowadays, you practically go to the cinema theater to watch your favorite TV show. Of course, the strength of the MCU is that they make us care about the characters, but its weakness is the long term investment necessary to care about them!
A really good, well written movie should make you care about the characters in two hours! I didn’t need to watch the entire Firefly series to get emotionally involved with Captain Reynold’s crew. I watched Serenity (2005) first (a way better movie, on its own, than CW), and I got hooked by those characters created by Joss Whedon. I cared about them instantly, and then I decided to invest a few hours watching the series. A movie has to create tension, to make you feel something, not just amuse you with special effects and a thin plot.
We might say that Civil War is one of the best entries in the franchise, like we could say that one particular episode in a particular TV series might be one of the best in the season, but does it make Civil War a good movie? Apparently yes, according to Rotten Tomatoes with its 92% for CW. But again, it is also according to the standard setup by Marvel themselves who seem pretty good at putting the critics to sleep! From my point of view, The Dark Knight (2008) put the bar too high for Marvel to reach, placing Nolan’s movie in another league!
Does it mean that I hated Civil War? No at all! I enjoyed it. I really had a good time. The airport scene is awesome and the action well choreographed. I laughed when the witty Spidey teen made his appearance, now I can’t wait for his standalone movie (the marketing department at Marvel must be clapping their hands right now!), and the final showdown is visually intense and well edited. But, again, I also enjoyed CW based on my prior knowledge of the characters, played by actors that I respect, like Robert Downey Jr. who set the bar high with the first Iron Man, and Chris Evans, who gives his character just enough layers to make him believable and interesting. Unfortunately, for now, I see no one else to take up the torch as effectively as these two. In the end, I can’t shake off this weird image coming from those Japanese movies about street gang fights, like in Miike’s Crow Zero, in which the protagonists always come out alive. Where is the tension then? Nowhere…