'Captain America: Civil War' and the Diminishing Returns of Mass Destruction

After 'Civil War,' can Marvel go back to pretending that everyone is OK after any large scale event ever again?
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Which side are you on?

The new trailer for Captain America: Civil War lays out the case for Team Iron Man — that superheroes can, accidentally, be as destructive as the threats they fight against and therefore need some level of oversight — and Team Captain America — essentially, "but we're trying really hard" — in an attempt to explain what brings the two top Avengers to blows. It's an argument that should, on the face of it, be compelling, if only it didn't run into the problem of Marvel's own back catalog.

(Before we go any further though, let's take a minute to state the obvious: Yes, that Spider-Man moment in the new Captain America: Civil War trailer feels like the comic book character come to life. That awkward, voice-cracking, "hey everyone" was as humble, playing-it-cool and cocky as he should be. That ending alone makes the trailer — an opinion I'm not alone in having, judging by the excitement that's currently visible on social media.)

"We need to be put in check," Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark says, and judging by what's previously been seen in the trailer, that's a difficult thing to argue against — we've not only revisited scenes of mass destruction in New York (Avengers), Washington (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Sokovia (Avengers: Age of Ultron), but we've also seen that the Avengers themselves can't stand to look at their aftermath. "Okay, that's enough," Captain America (Chris Evans) says, as if it's cruel to remind them of what they've done.

"Captain, people are afraid," General Thunderbolt Ross says, and why shouldn't they be? Well… because the earlier movies suggested that everything was okay and there weren't that many casualties — if any — perhaps? Avengers, after all, didn't end with the heroes mourning those that died during the alien invasion, it ended with the heroes eating shawarma.

Age of Ultron spent a large amount of time trying to suggest that civilian casualties were kept to a minimum when the Avengers took on Sokovia, and The Winter Soldier's helicarrier was (a) manned by bad HYDRA agents and (b) went down into the water, not into a populated area. The collateral damage in each of those events was deliberately kept to a minimum, making this fear feel curiously contradictory to what's come before.

Marvel is in an awkward place with Civil War, and it's a problem that's demonstrated explicitly in this new trailer. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you are on Team Iron Man and want to see oversight of superheroes — how does that actually prevent the kind of destruction that it's meant to stop? We see the pro-oversight heroes fight their opposite numbers at an airport, causing explosions and destruction that's just as likely to hurt civilians as anything in Iron Man 3 or Ant-Man. So… unless the bad guys all agree to play by the new rules, what makes this new status quo better again?

Worse still, it also makes the destruction caused by superhero fights foremost in viewers' heads again, so that by the time we get to Avengers 5: This Time They're Fighting Kang In The Old West, the audience won't be able to enjoy the sight of the Hulk smashing a random minion through a wall without thinking of the property damage and/or whoever was standing on the other side of that wall. After Civil War, can Marvel go back to pretending that everyone is okay after any large scale event ever again?

(See also: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which apparently suggests that any massive superhero fight will lead to congressional hearings in future; I look forward to someone trying to explain to the government who Darkseid is in years to come.)

It took decades for comic books to start grappling with the idea of "real world repercussions" of the outlandish, oversized conflicts that superheroes bring with them, ushering in an era of increasingly grim, joyless stories. Apparently, superhero movies have managed to get there far quicker. The question is whether movies will find a less depressing solution to the problem than their source material. Which side are you on: Team Fun, or Team Realism?


comments powered by Disqus