I am not really interested in superhero movies. The last one I saw was Guardians of the Galaxy (2014 dir. James Gunn) and for one reason or another I never ended up seeing another one after that. Well I broke my personal embargo to watch Captain America: Civil War (2016 dir. Anthony and Tony Russo). Ultimately the film was neither entertaining nor challenging. It was a completely standard and boring superhero flick that failed to excel in any category. It was too long, confusing, completely devoid of substance and poorly constructed with the exception of the ending twist and the appearance of Spiderman; both of which served as welcome breaks to the monotony and the incredible lack of nuance in the film’s politics.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a beast so great that preserving it has overtaken the studio’s desire to actually make compelling cinema. Because an audience would potentially need to see twelve other films and One hundred twenty four episodes of television to get a full idea of the background for Civil War it is impossible for the film to effectively build tension or suspense, do justice to its characters, or adequately wrap up a narrative in this film or in any of their future films. It is almost impossible to follow the meaning of the narrative or the growth of the characters because it is spread pretty thin among an absolutely immense amount of material.
The natural extension of this of course, is to introduce a character in these movies to entice viewers to watch other movies both past and future to learn more about them. In this way Spiderman, while entertaining, is also one of the worst parts of the film: he is nothing more than a huge advertisement for a future Spiderman film. Worst of all, this model of filmmaking has made such an astronomically huge amount of money for Marvel that other studios are falling in line and copying it. Both the Harry Potter and Star Wars series already have myriads of interconnected spin-offs and sequels planned. This entirely profit motivated model has overtaken the entire industry and it appears that we will be trapped within it for years to come.
Ideologically, the film is a mess, boring, and sickeningly pro-status quo. It attempts to play at the only truly interesting question surrounding the superhero genre today: is it responsible to have super powered individuals intervening in world politics wherever they see morally fit? The Avengers in this film are a clear stand-in for American military interventionism. The opening scene outlines an action scene that could very well be in any American military movie, and one of the superheroes might as well actually be called “Captain Drone,” considering how his talents are used and the completely impersonal way in which he indiscriminately kills bad guys from a position of safety.
While the film comes frustratingly close to examining whether or this kind of arrangement is moral it never actually develops the opposing opinion to a point where it would threaten the ideological safety of the superhero universe. The film makes a clear stand on which side is morally in the right and with absolutely no surprises it is Captain America (Steve Rodgers) and his rag tag band of underdogs who of course represent all the forces of American military intervention. The film even ends with Tony Stark, the Iron Man–who represents the bureaucracy of the state but also its responsibility to regulate itself–allowing Captain America to break his fellow super-conspirators out of prison, clearly indicating that Rodgers’ methods and plans are the right ones.
By having Captain America–-who is the living embodiment of American values and the American state in the Marvel universe–-as the lead the film even manages to dissociate the cruelty perpetrated by the state in the film from a notion of the “True America.” The moral cowardice exhibited by the American government in the film is not really a part of America but the result of bloated bureaucracy run by people out of touch with the “true American values.” Separating a state from the politics of the state is ideologically dangerous and allows the film to use the horrors perpetrated by the state not as criticism but to support the American military interventionist policy embodied in Captain America and his cronies; like the only solution to combatting politics is letting a group of super powered ideologues wreak havoc in other sovereign nations.
The ideology expressed in the film is inextricably linked to the corporate model in which it was made. A system of filmmaking based entirely around profit is not equipped to discuss actual social issues. In order for these films to make money they have to be as ideologically “safe” as possible. This is cynicism of the highest order. We live in a time where police indiscriminately kill people of color in this country and put down peaceful protests with incredible violence. A protofascist has been elected to the highest political office in the country and the enormous ideological divides that have been hidden away for so long have angrily and disgustingly boiled over to the forefront of the American political reality.
Instead of attempting to address these issues through art Hollywood continues to churn out boring politically safe films that re-affirm the corrupt fantasy of a wholesome and powerful America that is rightfully enforced by a group of incredibly unfairly powerful few who should be accountable to none because they are more profitable. Superhero movies and their insidiously corrupt corporate model are destroying the film industry and failing movie watchers around the globe. An art that has so much potential to entertain, inspire and challenge is now relegated to only challenging the status quo in ways that are ultimately unimportant and meaningless.