Captain America: Civil War and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
The Marvel money machine has deigned to appease the masses with the next chapter in their long running story about people in tights (or robo-tights) that STILL manages to be more character driven and exquisitely crafted than any number of big blockbusters that have tried to challenge Marvel to their title as king of the cinematic landscape (*cough* Batman v Superman *cough*). Now we have another entry in the Captain America series which actually looks like an Avengers movie more than anything else. Does Marvel once again show us what makes the Captain America movies so unique within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or has the whole enterprise gotten too massive to tell a simple story about one man throwing his mighty shield? Let’s find out!!
The main thrust of the narrative in this movie is the Avengers having the whole “collateral damage” thing come back to bite them in the ass. It’s been building up for a while, but when an operation in Nigeria goes south after the bad guy blows himself up and the blast is redirected by Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) into a nearby building and killing eleven people in the process, it seems that the world powers have no choice but to step in. Of course, the guy had stolen a biological weapon that could have killed THOUSANDS but no one wants to bring that up apparently. Anyway, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) seems to be in a bad place right now and the guilt over his actions in the last ten or so movies are starting to eat away at him, so when the US government and the UN come to the Avengers with some international regulations, he jumps at the opportunity to get them all on board. The biggest opponent to this new form of oversight though is Captain America (Chris Evans) who sees the writing on the wall and the possibility of those checking their power using that for nefarious ends. Things only get worse when a UN meeting in Vienna about the new Avenger regulations (known as the Sokovia Accords) gets bombed as part of a terrorist attack and the only suspect is Bucky Barnes The Winter Solider (Sebastian Stan) who if you recall from the second Captain America movie escaped his captors and has been laying low ever since. Not only is everyone and their grandma after this guy, but Captain America is the only one convinced that he could not have done it which makes it that much harder to keep the government, the other Avengers, and a new super hero Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) off of his back. Can he clear Bucky’s name before the world leaders put a bullet in both their heads? Who really DID bomb the UN meeting? Will he be able to convince his fellow Avengers as well as Tony that the Sokovia Accords will lead to more harm than good? Most importantly, how many cameos are they gonna squeeze into this!?
I’ll probably like this more once I see where phase three ends up going, but at the moment this is an INCREDIBLY frustrating movie for me. I should have made the connection before now, but it’s interesting that both Batman v Superman and this movie are coming out so close together while approaching the same material in completely different (almost diametrically opposed) ways. There is no doubt that this is the superior film in EVERY way and there’s no denying that there’s plenty of fun to be had here if you’ve been following all the movies up until now. The problem is that the material they’re covering (heroes vs heroes) is VERY hard to pull off in any format and just did not work for me at all here. Super heroes fighting one another is a risky proposition as a balance has to be struck between the two sides so that one of them doesn’t become overly vilified or (even worse) so that both sides don’t come off like massive idiots. This movie failed me on that front for, and while the rest of the film is up to Marvel’s incredibly high standards, this insufferable flaw drags the movie down enough to make it the weakest of the three Captain America films.
At no point did I believe the government side had a point. Not one. In real life or as a thought exercise? Sure. Checks and balances are absolutely necessary in the real world. In THIS universe though? Nope. It’s a fantasy world with super powers, guys frozen in ice who DON’T die of hypothermia, and intergalactic gemstones with the power to turn Paul Bettany into a sentient crash test dummy. When people start blaming the Avengers for as much as they are being blamed for, it falls flat because we KNOW the context, we KNOW the consequences of what would happen if they DIDN’T act, and we KNOW that Captain America has never been on the wrong side of issues like this. You’d think that after he was disavowed and criminalized in the LAST movie before revealing a decades long government conspiracy run by super Nazis (Hydra by the way isn’t mentioned at all whenever government busybodies start to bring up the Avengers collateral damage) that he would have just the TINIEST bit of clout and that someone would actually listen to him. See, that’s where it gets so damn frustrating. There is an argument to be had here. Some sort of compromise or a way that both sides can work this out. That’s not what happens though. Captain America HAS to be right and the other side HAS to be dumb enough to not even listen to him or show him the slightest bit of respect for what he has to say. The UN just drops an ultimatum on his lap before him and the other Avengers are even consulted by any government officials or the UN, and it comes off as a shady government takeover (which it is) rather than trying to reach an ACTUAL solution.
It doesn’t end with just that either! Every move that any of the world powers make in this is easily the stupidest move they could have made. The evidence they have against Bucky is about as shaky as the evidence that Rafael Cruz was bros with Lee Harvey Oswald, and yet they have no problem ordering his death without a trial or even an arrest. For a side that claims that Super Heroes are outside the bounds of the law, they’re perfectly willing to approve extrajudicial executions on super shaky evidence. If there was just ONE PERSON on the government’s side who wasn’t shady as fuck or a raging asshole, then some of this could have been balanced out. As it stands, it’s obnoxiously tilted towards Captain America’s side which only ends up causing those on Tony Stark’s side to look like total morons. Well… okay. Not ALL of them are idiots. I will give them credit for at least giving excuses for some of the Avengers to be on the obviously wrong side, but then all those excuses do is show how absolutely wrong the Tony Stark side is in all this (they shouldn’t NEED excuses if he has an actual point) and it still seriously hurts the movie when they all start punching each other for really dumb and pointless reasons.
I’ll end the criticism there because I don’t want to stay that negative for too long. This is STILL an awesome movie even if it could have used at least one more pass in the writer’s room. The two new guys here, Spider-Man and Black Panther, are easily the highlights of the movie with the former having an amazing introduction into the universe and the latter having the most complete and interesting character arc in the entire film. Spider-Man isn’t in this for two long as he shows up mainly as a backup fighter for the second act, but they make the most out of it and it has me that much more excited to see him in his own movies as well as in future crossover films. His costume is pretty solid, though I do wish the webbing design on it was a bit more pronounced as it’s hard to make it out and it really does look like red underoos. Still, his movement is spot on, his personality and quips are ALMOST there (for a first outing, this is DEFINITELY more than good enough), and he brings out some heart in Tony which is sorely needed in this movie where he comes off as an idiotic prick most of the time. Chadwick Boseman as Prince T’Challa and Black Panther isn’t as immediately engaging and likable as Spider-Man who comes in, steals the spotlight, and leaves us wanting more, but it ALL comes together beautifully in the end with his character being one of the few sensible ones in this movie. I would have liked if his arc had a BIT more going on in the middle instead of saving most of it for the end because he’s kind of unlikable for most of the movie (and also has one of the stupidest lines spoken by someone on Team Stark), but where it ends up is immensely satisfying and what this whole movie should have been about.
Everyone else does great here even if I wasn’t a big fan of their characters. Tony, Rhodes, and The Vision are the biggest jerks in this, but even they are still fun to watch. Some of the newer Avengers like Scarlet Witch and Ant-Man also do well here with the former having a lot of emotional baggage to process as she’s kind of the impetus for the fallout that lands on the Avengers this movie. The villain as well is pretty solid in here even if he doesn’t have super powers or is a giant computer. He doesn’t have much of a presence as this is mostly about the two sides arguing with each other, but it’s interesting to see him manipulate events that lead to the Avengers fighting, and he has an arc similar to Black Panther’s which makes him one of the more strongly developed villains that Marvel has given us so far. It’s an interesting take on a super villain and is exactly the kind of bad guy you’d want for a movie like this. Oh, and it goes without saying that the action is amazing. You can’t argue that Marvel and Disney know how to make a damn movie and the direction for the action scenes (especially the big one towards the end of the second act) prove that these giant film studios can’t be dismissed out of hand as artless or manufactured. There is creativity, excitement, and true craftsmanship in all the action beats, and aside from the first action scene which had a BIT too much shaky cam, it’s all shot clearly and spectacularly.
There’s a reference to The Empire Strikes Back in this, and I feel that might be a decent comparison. I was not around when that movie shook the world and ended on such a dark note. My entire life, the trilogy was there and the second one was merely the middle piece to a larger story. Maybe the darker tone in this movie and the way I’m starting to turn away from some of the characters is merely due to the fact that this story is part of something bigger and that we’re merely in the middle of that arc. Sure enough, one of the best parts about this movie is that Black Panther’s story feels complete and satisfying, so all the elements in here that feel like they were toned too much towards darkness and cynicism could just be there to set us up for Infinity Wars when the big picture finally takes form. Still, that doesn’t excuse just how lousy the logic is on the Tony Stark side of the argument, or how incompetent everyone on that side appears to be. It really needed to balance that out better and give us a reason to at least see their side of instead of just going completely on Captain America’s side. I would still highly recommend this to anyone who’s been sticking with the Marvel movies so far, but for now it’s far from my favorite in the MCU.
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7 thoughts on “Cinema Dispatch: Captain America: Civil War”
Short Version: All movies in the MCU Phase 1 we’re leading up to the first Avengers. This is what The Avengers was leading up to.
-As much as I would like to compare and contrast this movie with a certain other recent superhero film about heroes turning on each other, and whether one movie does it better than the other, I feel that this movie needs to be judged on its own terms and what it’s trying to accomplish.
-The strongest element of the film by far is the sense of history between it’s two leads. We’ve seen both Tony Stark and Steve Rogers evolve over the last couple years before our eyes, and they’ve both ended up in a far different place from where they started. Tony is no longer the snarky playboy billionaire who plays by his own rules. In his place, there’s a world-weary, broken man, driven by nearly a decade’s worth of guilt and grief, trying to save as much as he can, both of the world and himself. Steve has gone from a wide-eyed optimist driven by a sense of duty to a man disillusioned with the morally grey reality he’s woken up in, and finds his personal feelings challenging his drive to do what he thinks it’s right. Despite having damning evidence stacked up against him, he still believes in Bucky, not just because there’s a good reason to give him the benefit of the doubt, but also because he’s the last remnant of his old life.
-It’s this sense of history that makes the conflict at the heart of the movie work like gangbusters. Each side has their own reasons for taking it, and they’re all pretty much very valid. No character is right, but they aren’t wrong either. It’s easy to empathize with both causes, which makes the ensuing fighting all the more intense. While always exciting and fun to watch, there’s also a sense of dread regarding how far the heroes will be pushed into fighting each other, and whether they’ll be able to take it back or if it’ll be too much to go back to the way things were before. A reveal late in the third act that pushes Tony to the edge is one hell of a gut-punch.
-Of all the new faces to be introduced this movie, it’s T’Challa/Black Panther who gets a more complete story. Despite being both a Captain America movie, and also an Avengers movie, he gets an arc with a clear beginning, middle and end, which makes for a very solid introduction to the character and motivations. It doesn’t give too much away, so as to not take away the mystique of his world, and where he comes from once he gets his own standalone movie. He also walks away with one of the funniest exchanges in the entire film.
-The scenes with Peter Parker/Spider-Man make for an excellent preview of what to expect from him now that he’s in shared custody between Sony and Marvel Studios. In true MS fashion, it heavily borrows core elements of the character from his earliest years (i.e. his tendency to quip, the design of his suit, being a straight-up teenager, etc.) and puts them onscreen. Tom Holland captures a similar (though younger) boyishness as Tobey Maguire, but (so far) makes him a more humorous version of that. There’s an exchange between him and Tony Stark that’s able to capture his “great power, great responsibility” angle without using those exact words. I wasn’t sure about having him split between two studios, but if this is what we can expect from this version of Spidey, I’m already onboard (I certainly like him better than Andrew Garfield).
-All other characters get smaller parts, but none of them feel underused. While characters who should be more involved do pretty much all the heavy lifting, the characters with smaller stakes still get a moment to shine (especially Ant-Man). Without giving too much away, the movie ends in a similar fashion to Winter Soldier, where the world these superheroes lived in has pretty much changed overnight and their future path is pretty much uncertain. It’ll be a hell of a ride to see how they pick up the pieces of what’s gone down here in the future.
-As far as the Marvel films have gone so far, this one rightfully deserves to be held up as a strong contender for the best one so far. A lot of these films feel like a victory in their own unique way, and this one is no different. It’ll be hard to find a blockbuster this summer that succeeds in as many ways as this one.
It’s a really good movie, I just can’t get over how poor the pro-regulation side is portrayed and therefore how stupid the heroes on that side come out looking. I had the same problem with Superman/Batman: Public Enemies where the heroes turn on Superman and Batman without a second thought because PRESIDENT LEX LUTHOR told them to. It’s not as bad as THAT movie was because they DO give reasons for everyone on Tony’s side to be against Captain America (Iron Man feels guilt, Rhodes is still a military man, Spider Man was approached by Tony so why WOULDN’T he believe him, ect) but none of those reasons are really for the regulations (that are barely explored anyway). Tony’s side just comes off looking bad which is something you really want to avoid if you HAVE to tell a story about heroes fighting heroes.