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Civil War is not the movie the trailer made you think it is

When the trailer for Civil War first dropped a few months ago I was thinking more or less what you were all thinking: “Holy smokes there’s a MAGA rebellion movie coming out soon and it’s going to be SO controversial and shit!” and “Why are California and Texas on the same side?!?!?”

And I expected it to be all over politics Twitter and news websites – left, right, and center – when it hit theaters starting Friday, that it would be “SO DIVISIVE” and the MAGA media would be losing their shit over this grave insult by Hollywood elites mocking them. It’s easier to notice the presence of such “buzz” than its absence, so in retrospect maybe I already knew subconsciously that Civil War is not a better crafted, higher budget version of The Purge: Election Year or The Forever Purge.

Civil War does not depict a MAGA rebellion against the federal government. The unnamed president, played by Hollywood’s #1 “libertarian” character, Nick Offerman is bluntly alluded to being ULTRA MAGA himself: a third-term dictator who bombs American cities and has journalists shot on sight.

The national economy is in shambles. Most people ride bikes everywhere in Manhattan. A suicide bomber blows herself up in line at a water relief truck in Brooklyn. A gas station in Pennsylvania charges $300 Canadian for a ham or cheese sandwich. One of the armed guards at the gas station isn’t sure when he should execute the bloodied looters he has strung up in the abandoned car wash out back. He asks one of the protagonists her opinion on whether he should do it now or if he should beat the guys – one of them a high school classmate – another day or two and then shoot them.

The flag of the “Western Forces” in Civil War.

The point is that there’s not a whole lot of exposition. What little there is works well enough. You will not be questioning why Texas and California and Florida and the “Portland Maoists” are on the same side against DC. An off-hand line by a veteran reporter with “what’s left of” the New York Times explains that it’s a loose and temporary alliance early on in the film. The Reuters reporter played by Wagner seems awfully comfortable with a racially-diverse squad of guys wearing Hawaiian shirts (no, the film doesn’t call them Boogaloos), laughing with and hugging them in a slow-mo montage after they summarily execute a crying US Army soldier – and then three more of them.

And that leaves us with a war journalism/road movie that really could’ve been made just as well in 1994 or 2004 or 2014. The truth is that Civil War is not very timely. It is not a reflection of our modern politics, a polemic against “divisiveness,” a mockery of “Red State values.” The movie in its entirety really does not get any more political than the trailer (which it’s hard to see it as other than an 100 percent intentional to cut it that way by studio A24’s marketing team).

The movie’s an A-minus if only for a litany of mild-to-moderate issues, starting with some not-terribly original stops along the road. If you’ve watched any more than half of the way too many seasons of The Walking Dead (or The Last of Us, which is more similar than fans will ever want to admit) and its spinoffs you might just feel a little overly familiar with the ruined landscape of the eastern US depicted in Civil War. Kirsten Dunst’s world-weary veteran war photographer Lee Smith is about as complex and interesting a character as the Millennium Falcon. That’s not to say Dunst’s performance is bad – in fact she makes the character better – but her “You’ve got a lot to learn kid, so start learning” reluctant mentorship of a young fangirl/wannabe who tags along is a noticeable weak spot in the writing. Dunst’s real-life husband Jesse “Meth Damon” Plemons’s bit as a genocidal MAGA militia man was both electrifying and more than slightly dissonant from the rest of the film.

None of that “sum of its parts” cop-out outweighs the entire experience. If you’ve seen and liked Children of Men – a spectacularly dystopian classic that doesn’t get nearly as much reverence as it deserves – you will absolutely and rightfully appreciate Civil War for a lot of the same reasons.

Especially the last 20 minutes. Holy fucking shit. Not going to spoil anything, even if you might have already guessed what happens and where it happens based on the trailer. But it is absolutely on par with the refugee camp battle in Children of Men. Just superb filmmaking in every respect.

Hard recommend for Civil War for folks who love great films about journalism and war. Non-recommend for those looking for some biting satire of the twisted current state of politics.

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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