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“Captain America: Civil War” Offers Comic Book Relief From Real-Life Politics

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The film's familiar characters make it the cinematic equivalent of spending a night out with old school buddies

Like it or not, the fact is that sometimes current events can affect the way an audience, even one full of professional critics, responds to a motion picture. For instance, just minutes before the screening of Captain America: Civil War was to start, people began receiving social media alerts that, barring any further surprises, the two major political parties in the U.S. had pretty much determined who would be their nominees for president this year. No one on either side looked happy. And as the lights began to dim, you could see dozens upon dozens of weary, resigned faces turn toward the screen and silently plead, Just entertain us for a couple of hours and help us forget the real world for a little while. Can you do that, movie? Please?

Mission accomplished. Captain America: Civil War is certainly not the best Disney/Marvel movie to date, but it may be one of its most entertaining. Part of the reason for that lies in the way Marvel has built up these characters over the preceding 12 movies (yes, 12). By now we’re so familiar with most of the team that they can simply interact with one another and it’s fun to watch. The admiration/irritation dynamic between Cap and Iron Man, the hate-flirting between Iron Man and Black Widow, the continued disrespect of all things Hawkeye — everything is just the way we like it. A good portion of Captain America: Civil War is basically the cinematic equivalent of spending a night out with old school buddies, and the film wisely recognizes this, giving us plenty of non-action scenes to hang out with our pals.

The other reason I found the film so enjoyable may not apply to everyone. As someone who began collecting comics in earnest at the age of six in the early 1970s, there are moments of fan service in the film aimed directly at people like me. The Vision and The Scarlet Witch make goo-goo eyes at one another, Bucky and The Falcon exchange barbs as part of their unspoken rivalry to be Cap’s best friend, and there’s a singular moment with Hawkeye and Ant-Man straight out of the comics that made my small nerd heart grow three sizes when it happened. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has its faults, but forgetting the people who read these stories years before they conquered the box office isn’t one of them.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the new heroes who appear this time around. We get a few moments with the MCU’s new Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and he’s pretty much perfect. It’s almost enough to make you wish he wouldn’t get his own movie but rather just keep popping up as a guest star the way he does here. On the other hand, there’s the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), whose characterization here is heavily influenced by Christopher Priest’s seminal stories. His standalone film scheduled for 2018 can’t come quickly enough.

As entertaining as it all is, though, the movie is not faultless. Its villain, for example, is almost immediately forgettable, which is unfortunately a problematic trend in the MCU. As for the story, it’s bare bones even by comic book standards. Basically, the world’s governments have grown tired of the destruction resulting from the various super-battles depicted in the previous films and demand that the Avengers submit to their authority. An ideologically driven Captain America and half the team think this is a horrible idea, while a guilt-ridden Iron Man and the other half see it as a reasonable compromise. Lots of punching each other in the face ensues.

That’s not to say there isn’t food for thought in the movie if you want it. With Captain America posing questions such as what if a government, for no reason other than personal political gain, forbids the Avengers from acting when lives are in danger, the movie broaches the subject of when it’s morally justified to disobey the law. From a Catholic perspective, the answer is that all authority is derived from God, so lawful entities should be obeyed, at least up to the point where they shouldn’t be. That point, the Catechism tells us, is when our loyalty to civic authority conflicts with our loyalty to the ultimate authority in heaven, at which time disobedience to earthly authority becomes a moral imperative. Not willing to drag God into the conversation, however, the film only gives a little lip service to upholding generic ideals and quickly moves on to the face punching.

It sure is entertaining face punching, though. So if you’re among those who need an evening’s break from the real-life government shenanigans going on right now, watching the comic book politics of Captain America: Civil War might be just what you need.

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In a world he didn’t create, in a time he didn’t choose, one man looks for signs of God in the world by … watching movies. When he’s not reviewing new releases for Aleteia, David Ives spends his time exploring the intersection of low-budget/cult cinema and Catholicism at The B-Movie Catechism.

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