‘Captain America: Civil War.’ Adventure yarn or cosmic dilemma?

Watching each film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one begins to wonder: Are these individual superhero films, or simply an ongoing money machine. Part 1 of 3.

Cast of "Captain America: Civil War" at the London premiere. L-R: Nate Moore, Kevin Feige, the Russo brothers, Paul Bettany, Daniel Brühl, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Tom Holland, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, and Emily VanCamp. (Image via Wikipedia entry on the film)

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2016 – “Captain America: Civil War” is the 13th film chronicling the Marvel Cinematic Universe since 2008. It’s also ostensibly the third movie of the Captain America franchise, which started with “First Avengers” in 2011 and “Winter Soldier” in 2014.

But at this point, each individual movie like this one can easily be treated as a sub-franchise chapter. Each successive film seems to exist to weave a more complex tapestry of the Marvel Universe. “Civil War” not only continues that trend, but makes it all the more entrenched.

“Civil War” takes place at least a year after “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and, by sheer happenstance, “Ant-Man,” with the Avengers operating as a full-fledged paramilitary outfit of superheroes out of their upstate compound, which was introduced back in “Captain America: the Winter Soldier.”

The current film begins in earnest after a brief prologue, in which the Avengers hunt down one of the secondary villains from “Winter Soldier.” The upshot of this adventure is that the Avengers are inadvertently implicated in the death of several people in a bomb explosion due to the slow reaction of Captain America (Chris Evans) and the powers of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olson). That kicks the narrative into full gear, and the Avengers’ personal relationships spiral out of control from here.

Stepping back from “Civil War” for a moment, we should observe that, when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe these days, it’s hard to say if each successive film can be strictly regarded as stand-alone movies. Indeed, they certainly aren’t individual franchises now, if indeed they ever were.

Segments occur in most of these films designed less to advance the plot and characterizations than to loosely connect the larger MCU continuity to the current film. Unfortunately, these segments feel out of place and might be better off forgotten entirely.

Ever since Howard Stark (John Slattery) was formally introduced in Iron Man 2, the notion that Tony Stark’s and Steve Rogers’ lives have been connected has become a key element in most of the Marvel films. Tony has always tried to live up to what’s essentially a mythical super-character – one who eventually comes to life through Tony’s engineering genius. At the same time, Steve tries continuously to live up to the ideals of his own initially government-created myth. This parallel narrative has continued to run through each successive film involving these characters.

All this character dovetailing can be a sticking point for Marvel fans who just want to see their favorite characters battling evildoers on their own. As it’s evolving, however, the landscape Marvel Studios has laid out since 2008 can easily become unwieldy, much as it was in “Age of Ultron” for the most part.

Trying balance all of the characters, relationships and focus can easily cause a film to collapse under its own weight. In “Captain America: Civil War,” we start out with a pretty simple conflict between the two strongest voices in the room. But then this film sends the audience and the Avengers down the rabbit hole.

The major conflict facing the Avengers in the current film arrives with the so-called “Sokovia Accords,” the all-knowing U.N.’s “executive order” to put more safeguards and control on the most physically powerful individuals on the planet.

Vaguely similar to the implications underlying the recent “Batman v Superman” film, the motivating argument here stems from the vast urban and human destruction left in the wake of the Avengers’ most recent cinematic outings. It’s clear that in the context of the genre, our heroes do unintentionally cause a lot of collateral damage trying to solve the deadly, oversized problems they are forced to face.

Admittedly, this poses a strong dilemma for our superheroes, and it’s not an altogether easy one for them to answer. That’s why the Avengers begin take sides, causing the very personal “Civil War” that gives this film its title. The U.N. “Accords” are largely responsible for igniting the central controversy that splits Tony and Steve apart. But they also pose a more cosmic question: Who ultimately gets control over the Avengers?

Next: Tony, Steve… and T’Challa?

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