After a dozen movies now available in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the latest, Captian America: Civil War, has now solidified for me something I've believed for a long time - Marvel has a lot of heart, but no guts.
Consider for a moment the title of the last big movie in the franchise, Age of Ultron. The name suggests a long storied ordeal featuring the titular nemesis. It suggests that history will be divided between an era before and after Ultron - a new age of mankind so to speak. However, creating such a pivotal and consequential story would require committing to a series of events so devastating as to undermine our heroes and forever alter the "present" world in which the franchise exists. The movie clearly shows love for its characters and even spotlights a few of the members of the B team (sorry Hawkeye, that's what you are), but having the cajones to tell an earth shattering story it has not. Indeed, the "Age" of Ulton lasts the better part of a week, seemingly wrapped up with few long term consequences (sorry Fast Kick-Ass, I can't even be bothered to remember your name).
Captain America: Civil War truly was the demarcation line as to whether or not Marvel ever intends on making a movie of serious inquiry. All of the peices are there - betrayal, friends divided, revenge, anger, authority and freedom. That is to say, the script is smart enough to surround itself and its characters with situations that cannot be defeated with Iron suits or vibranium shields. It pits our heroes against age-old condundrums that have been around since the age of man - Who has authority, who keeps them in check, and what is to be done with those with whom you disagree? Addressing these issues is not only the source of history's great tragedies, but also its greatest triumphs as the difference between civilization and ruin hangs in the balance.
Evidence for the clear dividing line as to how Marvel intends on moving forward with such dramatic depths is found in the film's biggest set peice, in which Iron Man and Captain America square off against one another, each with a team of heroes committed to their line of thinking. There is wonder and spectacle galore here. While cheap in it's setting as an open airport leaves little of anything interesting in the environment for this action to occur, it does make it easier for a sense of space to exist as well over a dozen heroes of various size and skill battle among themselves. However, where the tone of the sequence should have been one of soberness and regret, it is light hearted and comical. The shoehorned addition of Spiderman (though arguably the best portrayal of the hero ever) goes a long way to undermine whatever seriousness could be at stake. By the time Antman makes his noticeable contribution, all sense of danger and consequence is lost forever.
Civil Wars themselves are often uniquely horrifying. During the American Civil War, for example, there are many stories of divided families that resulted in brothers killing brothers on the battlefield. These are not wars in which people clash with conflicting cultures, histories and languages. They are often the clash between those who are much more difficult to dehumanize, as they share so many similarities as one's self. In other words, a Civil War pits friends against friends, and each death is a loss for the victors.
The airport set piece was Marvel's opportunity to present this tragedy to the screen. It was their chance to have each hero reluctantly, but thoroughly defeat their friends and colleagues and experience the paradoxical loss that comes with such a victory. It was their chance to not just show superheros punching each other in the gut, but the audience as well. It didn't take that chance, and likely never will.