Moving Pictures
Apr 17, 2024, 06:28AM

American Tentpole

Civil War might be a box office success because it appeals to all political ideologies.

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If you use IMDB much (the International Move Data Base) you’ll be invited to create lists of which movies you want to keep track. Lists like classic indie Syfy, Jewish starlets, or films with little people.

A list one could create would be movies with dumb set ups. The Harry Potter franchise, for example, wouldn’t exist save for the wizarding world’s weird form of magical gun control—it’s forbidden to use the killing curse (“avada kavadra!”). The result is only villains use it. If the heroes used it too they could eliminate the villains in chapter one of every book. Or in the current Netflix hit, The Three Body Problem, a race of aliens on a 400-light year journey to settle on earth starts out friendly and then decides that humans are bugs when a human communicating with them explains that humans lie. But the aliens use their advanced technology to deceive humans, interfering with particle collider experiment results to make it seem to terrestrial physicists that their human science no longer explains physical laws of the universe.

The new Civil War, about an American civil war resulting from political polarization, has the same stupidity problem. The movie follows a press vehicle traveling from New York to DC, through war zones, to be the first to record the fall of the current American government, presided over by a POTUS played by Nick Offerman. (Fields, farms, and forests in Georgia, whose state government film promotion bureau worked heavily with the producers, “play” rural Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.) Kirsten Dunst plays a world-renowned war photographer, “Lee Smith,” who tells us she was taking photos of foreign wars for Americans so we’d never let conflicts get this bad back home. Traveling with her reporter partner (a hot but disturbingly unclean and sexually ambiguous Wagner Mauro), a rival New York Times reporter, and a baby photojournalist (Cailee Spaeny).

Dunst has had star turns as a child vampire, a head cheerleader, and Spiderman’s girlfriend. Now she’s a mother, or at least a maternal figure—though it’s unclear how much Spaeny’s character’s affection is daughterly, hero worship, or a baby dyke crush. Dunst loans Spaeny an orange reflective vest identifying her as press and lectures her about getting a Kevlar jacket and a helmet. The whole crew then wear, briefly, both Kevlar and helmets. But having your face and head covered isn’t cinematic, so the bullet-proof gear disappears quickly. By the end only a fraction of the characters have survived.

Before Civil War was in theaters, there was commentary about what it was going to be. The conservative culture critic Peachy Keenan warned that it’d be another anti-Trump screed, retweeting a trade journal headline about how the film showed “journalists saving America,” with Keenan observing that it was a female journalist. But in the movie the journalists are moronic and get themselves abducted and killed. Their “life work” of warning Americans by sending back photos from war zones has had no effect.

And the characters don’t fit what some assumed would be the movie’s narrative. When captured, Nick Offerman’s President has nothing Trumpian to say when he’s asked for a quote by one of the journos. He just asks for mercy in an unmemorable turn of phrase that sounded a lot like a mumbling Joe Biden. Despite winning at the box office, Civil War is now denounced by “progressive” reviewers, like leftist Andre Hereford at the gay Metroweekly: “cops out by remaining too vague in the details… Civil War opts instead for a both-sides, either-side, who-cares-which-side point of view that sidesteps ideology almost entire.” I wonder if its good box office is because it can please audience members of any ideology, or if its fans take it as the deposition of our current failed president.


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