There’s some intangible dynamic to watching two well-known characters battle it out. It’s the sort of fan fiction nerds have gathered around to debate since character was first introduced. Who would win in a fight – Godzilla or King Kong, Batman or Superman, James Bond or Jason Bourne? For myself – it harkens back to when I was younger, collecting action figures from different properties, my brother and I creating stories with them. These action figure ‘stories’ would inevitably always turn into some ‘rock’em sock’em’ fight, each figurine beating the shit out of the other (I more often than not losing these skirmishes). I can’t quite articulate why this is though. What’s the root of this (admittedly violent) fascination with watching your heroes tear each other apart?
Captain America: Civil War trades on this dynamic. The footage screened maintained the same sort of gritty hand-held aesthetic of Winter Soldier; but the action seemed crisper and clearer here than that previous film. The footage opens with Captain and his team Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) as they work an operation to take down Crossbones (Frank Grillo). Cars flip and explode. Widow shows off her athletic prowess, chasing down bad guys and punching them hard. Falcon uses a drone to scan a car with a battering ram and then flies down to overturn the vehicle. The showcase of the scene though is Cap vs. Crossbones, the villain not putting up much of a fight and getting beat up silly. But Crossbones knows how to get at Captain – revealing he’s been in contact with Bucky Barnes. And from there the footage cuts to various images, Captain finding Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Bucky revealing he recognizes Captain, a quick glimpse of the Blank Panther (in all black, with mask, pointy ears – pretty much exactly as those set pics), cars crashing into buildings, quick glimpses at the rest of the Avengers team…
The gist of a plot here seems to be based on how much power should The Avengers have. Should there be someone/something policing them? ‘Who watches the Watchmen’? This all leads to the titular Civil War, dividing The Avengers in half.
The key here though isn’t necessarily the action-beats but the comedic and emotional story beats: Tony Stark gently chiding Steve Rogers “that sometimes he wants to punch him in his perfect teeth”; Hawkeye and Black Widow fighting each other – but stopping mid-fight to ask if they’re still friends. “Depends how hard you hit me,” Renner deadpans. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) meeting Captain America for the first time and reacting as any super-fan would, tripping over every word. “Thanks for thanking of me,” he mistakenly offers. It’s these moments that stole the show, not the big explosions as one would perhaps think.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the appeal of Civil War goes far beyond watching your favorites punch each other in the face. Maybe it’s these smaller moments – these humane interactions between the heroes (think the shawarma scene at the end of The Avengers) that is the real crux and hallmark of these films. To be fair though – I’ll reserve judgment until I see Captain America punch Iron Man in the face.