Team America: Civil Partnership (2016) Sounds like a sarcastic renaming of Captain America: Civil War, right? Well at first I thought it was funny; sparking up a long-awaited and well-earned post cinema cigarette, trundling back to my car… and then suddenly, I realised – hey, I’m right. There’s A LOT of Team America about the various Avenger characters and as for the civil partnership gag – well, we’ll come to that.
Anyone who knows me reasonably well knows that I care little for these types of movies. Anyone who knows me a bit better knows I’d never score a Marvel movie more than about a 6 out of 10. And sure enough, if I were to assign a score to the movie, that score would be about right.
If there were any doubt that the earnestness of films dutifully open themselves up to parody, then this film is a shining example. I do gratefully acknowledge that what Marvel needs to do these days – now that it has established its cookie cutter, comedy and 4th wall breaking phases – is to inject some existentialism and deep-rooted philosophy; a commentary on the world we live in.
So to Civil War, which opens in much the same away Team America: World Police does; the Avengers all descend upon a bad guy to prevent him from stealing a nuclear device from a building. In trying to prevent the theft, they utterly – and accidentally – decimate – a building, sending it toppling over and crushing many civilians to death. Later on in this film we’ll discover with the Avengers that one of those killed is the son of someone who you shouldn’t mess with.
Another narrative strand shines a spotlight on a more contemporary issue: namely, the somewhat governmental reverse-privatisation of The Avengers model. Team America now finds itself on the receiving end of bad publicity and must be kept in check. Quite how the stern and bearded William Hurt plans to compel a bunch of superheroes succumb to signing a modest treaty with enough clauses to effectively render their services useless is beyond me. But of of course, we soon realise that he’s playing to their solipsistic and moral compasses: all them want to sign, that is, except for Mr. America himself.
How Marvel are differentiating their superheroes to their own films is a bit of a muddle. This is really no more Captain America’s movie than it is Iron Man’s… or Black Widow, or Don Cheadle’s robot thing, or Anthony Mackie’s Icarus-inspired outfit. Spiderman gets his reboot in this film – it’s more The Avengers III than Captain America. Ant-Man is here, as well as Jeremy Renner’s contemporary Robin Hood dude, and thing off of Martha Marcy May Marlene is that super-chick with plasma powers who seems to be able to do anything – always – at will. I swear she even turned back time at one point, which sort of negates the entire thing.
And of course, there’s the sidelined bad guy – some Eastern European psychologist nutcase who is pitting the Team America against itself.
There are a good number of extremely wonderful action set pieces among the dreary humdrum. The opening sequence is a colossal eyeful, as is the remarkable “better than that stupid freeway scene in the second Matrix movie” underground bike chase. The meld of CGI into the action is efficient under the direction of duo Anthony and Joe Russo. This is more ‘blockbustery’ than probably any film this year.
Then there are the attempts to wean out the humanity. Some of it is well done: Robert Downey Jnr is less his self-efficacious clown and far sterner than in his own movies. There’s quite obviously a reason for this which I shan’t go in to, here. Then there’s something called Vision, played by what looks like Paul Bettany, who eerily reminds me of Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen. Could it be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth?
I’ll leave that up to you to decide, because I’m seriously unqualified to make that assessment. The major set piece takes place in an airfield, where the Civil War really heats up. It’s basically next to impossible for a non-fan to keep up with who’s on which side – thankfully, though, the directors know enough to have them march toward one another in a line-up and open fire. There’s a sense of genuine desperation with the characters; each have their own emotional turmoil to overcome. And they don’t have batter the shit out of each other. For superheroes who possess quite extraordinary abilities, surely wouldn’t one of them – Stark, I’m looking at you – hang fire for a moment and say ‘Hey, why are we fighting? This doesn’t seem right!’.
But then, that wouldn’t service the script, would it?
The whole endeavor treads into a mildly autistic homoerotic frisson between Captain America and Iron Man, which now totally vilifies my “Civil Partnership” gag. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nowhere near strong enough to trouble the franchise (and now I’m writing this, I remember Pepper Potts is missing from the film, so…) – hey, we can only dream one of these characters may be at least bisexual, can’t we? After all, they’re doing a good job of ticking the token race boxes. Maybe the next character can push a different boundary.
Civil War is, without question, the usual expensive jiggery-pokery all-told. Though while it’s on, it’s pretty good fun. I’d recommend thinking twice about taking any child under, say, the age of 8. It’s pretty fierce and violent; each punch resonates and there are some pretty nasty falls all over the place. Some of the thematic moments could either be too much to bear for some, or – like me – will pass you by due to non-committal interference – and it’ll make the 147 minute run time feel that much longer.
Marvel needs to be winding this up, now. I guess for them there is no end to the variations it has so expertly stockpiled and nurtured since 2008’s Iron Man. We can expect more of this type of thing every single year for a long, long time to come…
Author: Andrew Mackay
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