The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building up to “Captain America: Civil War” for some time, a film that fans were yearning for years ago before they even knew how it could be set up. While the movie was not as encompassing as the comic event was (since the cinematic universe is much smaller in scale), “Civil War” had a huge amount of hype behind it, and the early reviews were not wrong – for the most part.
Heralded by many as a “game-changer” for the film series, I could not disagree more and simply see it as a chapter closing in the tale of Cap and The Avengers, one that will likely be glossed over by the time the next film rolls around.
Don’t mistake my snarkiness for dislike of the film. “Captain America: Civil War” is the ideal Summer blockbuster, loaded with action, astounding special effects, great acting from an ensemble cast of superstars, and one of the best plots that Marvel Studios has given to us so far. It was an easy two and a half hours to sit through and I was very excited by the end of it and enjoyed it, but once the initial shock and awe of the surprises wear off, I came back to revisit what I saw to figure out how I really felt about it all.
WARNING: HERE COME THE SPOILERS
I still liked it a ton and rank it high up there with my favorite Marvel movies, but there were some big problems that left me unhappy – a pattern very common with this series. They build me up with hype, and while they usually deliver, there is always some lingering downside that makes one wonder what could have been.
Tony Stark and Steve Rogers have some very complex storylines going on in this film, especially Tony who has arguably the strongest emotional and character arc of the entire series. Robert Downey Jr. goes through a ton of ups and downs in this movie, something that has been growing ever since the first Iron Man film and finally gets dealt with in Civil War. This is a character wracked with guilt – guilt over not being able to have a healthy relationship with noticeably absent Pepper Potts, guilt over the innocents deaths that he inadvertently has caused, and guilt over not being able to do something to prevent them. Top that off with trying to come to terms with his parents demise, and you have a character in serious turmoil. This is almost Tony’s movie more than it is Captain America’s.
Meanwhile, Captain America is working through his issues with Bucky, who can not seem to keep himself in control and was caught at the scene of a massive crime later in the film that leads to the death of the King of Wakanda. Enter Black Panther, but we will get to that later. After the events of “Age of Ultron”, the evil US government has decided to create a checks and balances system with The Avengers, giving control of the team to the UN and allowing them to dictate where the heroes will go and who they fight. Cap disapproves, Iron Man is all for it. Strife ensues, punches fly, and things get broken.
The story of Civil War is as complex as the characters, and in terms of balancing all of the characters, this team movie got it right. Directed by the Russo brothers, who also did “Captain America: Winter Soldier” (another favorite of mine), and written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, this movie beats all of the Avengers film in terms of keeping all of the characters in as equal of a spotlight as possible. They never feel shoehorned or doing things that are out of place, and considering how many of these characters do not show up until act three, the amount of what they do and how they do it was spot on. Frankly, this was the perfect balancing act between A-plot characters, and the B-plot characters who both intertwine into the main story and have their own things going on.
The Black Panther is the stand-out here, played by Chadwick Boseman, and makes a big impact in his on-screen debut. He looks awesome, he fights awesome, and goes toe-to-toe with the best of the Marvel movies. I look forward to seeing much more from him in the upcoming movies, and he will add a lot to the team once they get his stories moving along.
Likewise, Tom Holland as Spider-Man was quite enjoyable and much less annoying that I anticipated. I was against the idea of such a young Peter Parker, but Holland was funny, exuberant, and a good casting choice – plus, how he is brought into the film was excellent. No time wasted on origin stories, we just jump right into using him as part of the main story, and it works. I was a fan of James Garfield’s version of Parker (even if those movies should never be discussed), but Holland brings the character into modernity and offers a younger version of the character that should be interesting to see how he grows up.
Scarlet Witch and Vision get a little time to develop their potential romance, which was nice to see and while it was quick, felt like the perfect amount of time because of how well-written it was. Ultimately, everybody had something to contribute to the story, and that is the keyword. “Contribute.” No one is just there to drop a one-liner, every character moves the story along and also has time to develop who they are. It was very refreshing to see this, especially after how disappointed I was with “Age of Ultron” when it came to ineffectively trying to accomplish that.
There is so much action in this movie, I thought I would feel over saturated with it by the end of the movie. That proved to be far from the truth, as every scene was unique in appearance and also in tone. Every action sequence had a reason behind it and a deeper emotional investment from the characters. There were stakes on the line with each fight, and you could feel those stakes more than just battling an army of robots.
As you can see, I have plenty of good things to say about “Civil War”, but here is where the bubble bursts.
Let’s talk about the villain, if you can really call him that. Daniel Bruhl had the dubious task of playing Baron Zemo, a classic Cap baddie that ends up being a sympathetic heel more than a maniacal madman. It is a very subtle role and a welcome change to the usual bad guys we have seen in past movies (ie., crazy guy from “Ant-Man”). Bruhl was excellent at creating a character that is devoured by guilt (much like Stark) and hungry for revenge, but gets pushed into the background a bit to make more room for Cap VS Iron Man.
Zemo is the puppet master behind the entire conflict, and I wanted more of him. To me, it felt like there were scenes missing when it came to his story, although I stand by what I said about everyone having just the right amount of time overall. Still, I wanted more of Zemo and felt he could have been like The Joker in Nolan’s “Dark Knight” movie. A cerebral bad guy that is pulling the strings and always one step ahead of the good guys. Unfortunately, things had to be squeezed around to fit so many characters and especially to push the Tony VS Steve feud, so it was surprisingly the main villain that has to take a back seat in the plot.
Speaking of that, Zemo’s plans were to defrost a bunch of other Winter Soldiers that were put on ice by Russia in 1991 to kickstart a new world order, which was a tantalizing tease at what could have been a whole bevy of villains from the Marvel comic universe that would have been immediately tossed into the mix. Instead, they end up dead and that story goes nowhere. It was a disappointing wrap-up to something that could have panned out to be huge, but the focus once again goes back to Tony VS Steve and less about shaping up the future of their bad guys. This reinforces how little importance the villains really had in this movie, despite being the driving force behind the entire struggle.
Also, can we talk about how lame Crossbones’ appearance was? Another bad guy brought in to the series, and he gets killed at the start of the movie. Add him to the ranks of Batroc the Leaper, Arnim Zola, and other villains who could have been recurring, but instead are one and done.
I also had some problems with the tone of the movie, especially with how jokey it was. Whedon’s film always had his sense of humor smothered all over it (whether you liked it or not), and I prefer the comedy in the Cap movies, but I felt perhaps the mandate from Disney meant adding more laughs where it was not needed. In particular, I am taking about the epic fight scene between all of the heroes at the airport that was mostly spent with everyone having more fun than fighting seriously. This is where the stakes of the movie fall apart and basically reset themselves. The result of the battle changes the direction of the protagonists, but it felt like a sparring session more than a civil war.
This is the scene where Spidey makes his debut, and I have to add that I really enjoyed the big battle. I just believed that it should not have been as soft. Everyone is making cracks at each other and other than Cap, Bucky, Iron Man and War Machine, no one is taking the fight too seriously. This is bothersome since it leads to a hugely important and serious moment – when War Machine gets shot down.
Was the scene epic? Yes. Could it have felt heavier instead of everyone playing around and once the battle is over, probably sharing a plane to get home? Yes, and that is what I wanted to see. The effects of having to fight your friends over something that you have a strong belief in, but when you look at things, some of these characters did not even have a feeling about the stakes and therein lies the problem. Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and Spider-man all have no relation to the Sokovia Accords, and Black Panther is still just in it to fight Bucky at this point. 1/3 of your combatants do not even matter to the overall plot and were just brought in as ringers and have no idea what they are fighting for. Literally. Spidey says Tony told him that Cap was wrong and that was it.
The biggest letdown for me is the “game-changing” element of the film. As I said before, this was hyped up as “OMG EVERYTHING WILL CHANGE AFTER THIS MOVIE”, but I disagree. Things will change, but by the next time we see these characters, very little of the results of this movie will matter. The proof is in the past movies. “Age of Ultron” in particular neglected to explain a lot of what happened in between movies, and I am hoping that this will not be an issue by the next film but I have a bad feeling it will be. War Machine is already walking around and should be recovered more or less by the next movie, the only major difference will be that most of the band is broken up, and unlike “Age of Ultron” where everyone is mysteriously back together, they will need to address the inevitable reunion on-screen to make me feel better.
In the grand scheme of things, these complaints are not a big detriment to me and I still walked out enjoying “Captain America: Civil War” and thinking it was one of the best Marvel movies to date. The struggle between Iron Man and Cap went the distance and was a real roller coaster ride, and fleshed out these characters to depths I did not expect the series to go. I liked the debut of Spidey and can not wait to see how they handle him in his own movie, much like Black Panther who has given me a lot of interest in a character that I liked in the past but was not super-fascinated by. I want to see where all of this goes next and how it will lead up to the inevitable interstellar battle with Thanos, and don’t know where things will go from here – and that is one mystery that I like having and can not wait to be resolved.
Also, next time just let Bucky buy his damn plums.