Review of Civil War



Full disclosure: I loved the Red Dawn films, both the original 1983 film starring Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, and C. Thomas Howell, and the 2012 reboot with Chris Hemsworth, despite their glaring weaknesses.  (North Korea invades Spokane, Washington, in the reboot? I know that United Artists didn't want to alienate the Chinese market but, come on – North Korea invades?).

An Australian film, Tomorrow, When the War Began (2010), clearly drew inspiration from - and is just as good as - the Red Dawn films. 

So, I looked forward to Alex Garland's Civil War – another geopolitical dystopian film about America under military assault, but this time from within.

The cinematography is good.  There are searing images of conflict – the main characters are photojournalists, after all, and there is one particularly surreal scene where the journalists are driving through a forest fire – that are interspliced throughout the film.  The acting is decent.  The main protagonist, a salty photojournalist veteran full of regrets, is played by Kirsten Dunst.  She is great in a subdued way. (I wracked my brain to figure out where I had seen her before: it was the Spider-Man franchise of the early 2000s!).

The plot, however, leaves something to be desired.  The president is presented as somehow tyrannical.  He is in the beginning (I think) of his third term which, of course, is prohibited by the 22nd Amendment.  I don't remember anything else that would spark such a conflict.  The Western Forces of California and Texas, along with the Florida Alliance, lead a war to oust the president.  The Western Forces and Florida Alliance seem to enjoy popular support, but even that isn't really spelled out.

Without giving away the ending, that's pretty much it.

One thing I particularly liked - but again, it was only alluded to - was that most people seemed to just go about their lives even as civil war raged around them.  Or on TV.  That struck me as realistic.

The movie was entertaining, but it didn't come close to Tomorrow, When the War Began and the Red Dawn films.  At least they were more or less hammy.  A couple of other 1980s films that Civil War seems to invoke are The Day After (1983) and Threads (1984), two films that scarily and realistically depicted a possible nuclear war with the Soviet Union.  I get a similar vibe from Civil War but, unfortunately, it doesn't come close to the punch of those two films either.

I give Civil War two stars out of five.