I really want to talk about Captain America: Civil War. I’m really tempted to offer a rebuttal to the “whose side are you on?” theme of all the advertising and most of the reviews, which I don’t think was actually the point of the film. I really want to do a compare-and-contrast with the comics, but I’ve only read the main series and not the copious related titles, which of course will only draw the fire of those who are bigger comic geeks than I. I really want to be a little fangirl and also avoid coming across as a little fangirl.
So I’m going to talk about writing, and what you might learn about writing from watching a quite well-written film. Spoilers abound, so you’ve been warned.
Let me get the compare-and-contrast thing out of the way. There’s a scene in the comic where Tony Stark attends the funeral of a schoolchild killed when the filming of a superhero reality show goes wrong, which is the incident that leads to the Registration Act that our characters are fighting over. The grieving mother spits in Tony’s face and accuses him of killing her child, as if he had done it personally. At first he gets defensive, since this incident, while tragic, had nothing to do with him. But we soon see him making public appearances with this woman, both of them pushing for the Registration Act to become law. Very little motivation is given for his change of heart or the fervor with which he’s willing to fight Cap over it. (I had a problem understanding how quickly the whole thing escalated at all, although I admit that I haven’t read the comics that surrounded this series extensively, and so I might have missed something.)
There’s an analogous scene in the movie, where Tony meets the mother of a young man who was killed in Sokovia. He’s just stepped off stage from a demo of new technology that allows people to revise memories, such as his memory of the last time he saw his parents alive – an appearance Pepper Potts should have been at. He’s upset over their failing relationship, he’s reliving the grief of losing his parents, he’s been feeling uneasy over a lifetime of building weapons, and he’s in a position to be vulnerable to the mother’s accusation, which is much better founded because he actually was involved in the incident where the woman’s son was killed. Even if you haven’t watched his relationship with Pepper get rocky, even if you didn’t see his last big invention throw cities into the sky, you get a good sense of why he’s feeling guilty enough to push for legislation that will constrain everyone’s freedoms but creates a sense of safety.
That’s an example of how to pack a lot of motivation into a small space, even if you do get a fuller sense of it by knowing the material that preceded it. This movie has a lot of things packed into a fairly small space, but it doesn’t feel quite as overstuffed as Age of Ultron, because so many of the scenes were done like this, making every word and action meaningful.
The other example I want to look at is similar. The comics spend a lot of time on Bucky, how he regains his memories, struggles to comes to terms with them, and tries to achieve some kind of redemption for everything he did as the Winter Soldier. We don’t get to see much of this in the movie, and since it ends with him back on ice, it doesn’t look like we’re going to anytime soon. But he gets two important lines that condense it all into the limited space he’s given. On their way to Siberia, Bucky asks Steve if he’s worth all this trouble. Steve tries to assuage Bucky’s guilt, telling him it wasn’t really him who did all those things. “But I did them,” Bucky says. In a later scene (the biggest reveal of the film, so I’ll be vague in case anyone ignored the spoiler warning) he’s asked whether he remembers a specific assassination he committed. He says, “I remember them all.” It’s a powerful piece of dialogue that might be buried in a fight scene if you’re not paying attention. It’s the kind of thing that made the film so enjoyable to me, and I think it’s a great example to learn from.