This movie made me feel things.
I never got to see Captain America: Civil War in theaters, a fact I now regret. Being poor, I had to wait until it became available by some other means. When it showed up on Netfllix, I marked my calendar and eagerly awaited the release. Over the course of two days, I watched the whole thing, and felt all the things.
I know, I know. I’m super late to this party, everyone has already had their say about the movie and then some. Still, I have some thoughts I can’t help but share.
I want to get the bad out of the way first. I don’t think the movie is perfect, but still, there isn’t a lot to say. For once, this is one of the movies based on a comic that I actually read. I enjoyed the comic, but I knew there was no way they would copy the book verbatim. There’s a whole thing about Spider-Man revealing his identity, Thor is some kind of weird robot since he might be dead. It’s a big thing with lots of threads from lots of different books, they were working up to that story line for a while. So the movie has to do what it can from the Cinematic Universe, and for the most part, they do a passable job. Spoilers, but here’s the short version.
An Avengers mission ends with innocent casualties, and the world governments have had enough with them acting without supervision. SHIELD has collapsed and can’t hold off the governments from enacting the Sokovia Accords that make the Avengers entities of the state that have to be approved by committee. There hadn’t been a lot of world-saving lately, and without Pepper Potts in the picture, Tony Stark can’t ignore his guilt in killing innocent people by accident (That things I talked about WAY back in my Man of Steel review, how no one cared about them killing a bunch of people finally came back. Who would have known?). At the same time, Steve Rogers finally locates Bucky Barnes when he allegedly blows up a meeting with various governments to sign the accords, killing the King of the secretive nation of Wakanda, where his son swears vengeance and dawns the Black Panther suit. Peter Parker shows up, Ant Man shows up, they have a nice brawl and things turn out worse than expected. It’s a great time.
The plot is good, but it might be the weakest part of the film, along with the antagonist. Out of a cast of homeruns, Zemo ends more like a foul ball. Part of the Sokovia special ops, he loses family when Ultron drops the city back to Earth, despite the fact he figured they would be far enough away. He blames the Avengers, but he’s no Loki. He doesn’t have superpowers, he take them down on his own, or even with help. However, with some cunning, he turns them on one another with intelligence gathered with his “particular set of skills”. They tear each other apart with secrets and frustrations built up over the span of a few films and it hurts my heart.
Now that’s not a half bad plan, and I like that part of it. A guy with no superpowers taking down a team of superheroes with determination and some “enhanced interrogation” is a devious plan. But note, none of this is known to the audience until the last part of the last act. The rest of the film, Zemo is operating with relative secrecy. We seem him, we know he’s up to no good, but it’s never quite clear what it is he’s up to and why until the plot is done with him. Thus, we never build a relationship with him like we do Loki or some other villains. We want to love to hate this guy, and we know he’s a bad guy with his foreign accent and clean cut hair (cause America), but I had to keep asking myself what he was doing. He listens to a message from his family on his phone, so you can kind of guess what he’s doing, but you don’t get the full picture until after he’s already done the work. Zemo then enters into a gallery of weak marvel villains, since it’s pretty tough to follow Loki from Avengers. Remember the Mandarin? What about Mickey Rourke and his lightning whips? How about Malekith? Exactly. It’s a problem that persists throughout the films, and is no different here.
And on that note, the movie makes some big leaps in the logic for the sake of Zemo’s cunning. He might be an intelligence agent and part of a death squad, but it seems crazy that he could manipulate all of these people to be exactly where he wants them at exactly the right time. There’s a lot of superheroes involved, and each time they show and meet somewhere or fight, it looks like it’s all part of his plan, even though he’s miles away. That might have just been his “wicked cunning” or whatever, but to me, it just felt convenient.
I wanted to mention one other small detail – I wasn’t the only one weirded out by Cap’s relationship with Peggy’s niece. It’s pulled right out from the comic book, and I get what they’re going for. It’s assumed Steve lets Peggy go, and then here comes this other person in that circle, who’s also tangentially connected to the world he knows from the past. Steve’s a sucker for people that talk about The Greatest Generation, he can’t help himself.
But we can, and whether or not you think it’s creepy (I kind of did), the relationship might be the weakest in the film. Characters bouncing off one another is what Marvel movies do, so it’s noticeable when two characters have no chemistry. Everyone knows what happens when you take two characters and put them in a room together, what the dialogue will be like, and that’s what Marvel movies live on. But Sharon is new, its true she may not have the same amount of time to develop character, but look at what they managed for T’Challa in just a few minutes? There’s no excuse, and it all comes to a head with their kiss under the bridge. Forgettable. Doesn’t add anything to either character. The movie is definitely all right with making us feel bad, so I think it’s fine that Steve would be bent up over Peggy, unable to let her go. That would be a normal response for his type, that makes a lot of sense. It might even make sense that he makes friends with her niece, shit I would have been all about that. But kissing her? So soon after Peggy’s death? No thanks. Gonna take a hard pass on that.
Homework, Are You Kidding?
Almost all of the Marvel films up to this point have done a great job of letting new viewers in. Even if you were watching a sequel, most of the time it wasn’t required to have seen the previous films to know what was going on and who people were. They added to the experience, sure, but it wasn’t required.
So it’s strange, in this one case, to say that Civil War is vastly improved by watching all of the films leading to it. There’s a lot of characters coming and going and references made – without having seen Ultron, you really don’t know what the big deal with Zemo even is. You could probably get through it, but nothing would land as hard, and you would be constantly asking, “And who the heck is this guy? What’s his problem?” I was already saying that, and I’ve seen all the movies up to this point, minus the ones in theaters.
Take some time and catch up on the other movies, most of them are pretty damn good. Required viewing would include: Captain America, Winter Soldier, Avengers, Age of Ultron, Iron Man. That’s a lot to ask, but that would get you through it pretty well. Ant-Man for extra credit.
Strength in Numbers
But those alone are not enough to sink the film. Like or not, Civil War floats. Hell, it flies. It’s not perfect, but it’s still a Hell of a ride.
By now, people are playing the game of odds. Marvel can’t keep releasing hits, surely one of these things must fail. Not watching one for a few months, you forget what was so great about them. Maybe you get annoyed and think enough is enough. Then you go see it with some friends and remember all over again why these things work. They’re tight, sometimes silly movies with good plots, and have memorable characters.
It all comes down to them, and that’s the whole damn reason. We’ve spent so much time with these people, we’ve grown invested not only in their motivations, but their relationships to one another. Ultron was supposed to be a big test of that, and it might have been, but this is the real kicker. This is the sequel to Avengers Age of Ultron wishes it was.
It’s a different kind of story than the Avengers, or Winter Soldier. The stakes are much smaller and more personal, and doesn’t that just make all the difference? No one is afraid the world is going to end, but everyone has so much riding on the outcome of this conflict, you’re sewn to the edge of your seat with each new thread. Perhaps most impressive about Civil War is how much it becomes an Avenger’s movie, as well as a new chapter for Captain America.
All said and done, the movie is still about Steve. He’s the one that makes the decisions that change the course for other characters. If he would have just signed the agreement, let Bucky go, there would be no film. But with Cap’s seeming rebellion, in that good ol’ American spirit, other people are drawn to his line of thinking, even though his goals are ultimately selfish. The accords are one thing, but it’s a different story for Bucky. Losing Peggy means he only has this one last person from his past – that’s powerful for a character that’s searching to belong in a world that’s moved on. But even with the focus set mostly on Steve, your other favorite Avengers all get time to banter and argue with some of the new players.
And talk about emotional pay off. Avengers was entirely based around that swooping shot of the whole team in the middle of the city, ready to fight off the aliens. That sold the film, and the rest is just a firework show celebrating that they pulled off a shared universe on screen. Civil War has two of those, I would argue, or scenes that hard sell the movie. One would be them charging at each other on the airfield. The other is the classic shot from the comic cover when they’re fighting in Siberia. And those two scenes aren’t just fan service, you really feel the weight of those sequences. You know all of their motivations, for the most part, so even when two characters are fighting, it’s like a dialogue.
I really enjoy the movie’s “why not?” attitude. If they can bring in Ant Man, why wouldn’t they? If they can show off Spider-Man before he breaks out into the MCU, why wouldn’t they? Maybe it’s a little fan service, but they fit right in with the rest of the cast and you still get a feel for what they’re getting out of this conflict. Even with just a few minutes of introduction, you get solid character motivations and they slip right in with all the other players (maybe not Ant-Man, they just kidnapped him in a van and told him to fight).
And speaking of the fights, Civil War is shot like a sick Kung Fu flick. There’s some excellent fight choreography, and it’s visceral. Anyone who wanted to do their own stunts in this movie had their work cut out for them. You feel the force of each hit, and it just moved me closer and closer to the edge of my seat. The sequence on the airfield is one of the best in superhero movie history, hands down. It’s a firework show, and an emotional roller coaster, all in one.
New Kid on the Block
We mentioned T’Challa before, but I must voice my curiosity. What the Hell is the Black Panther movie going to be about now? They already filled in what it should have been about with ten minutes of screen time, so now we’re left to wonder. I’m not mad, I kind of like it. He’s a great character in the movie and fits in great with the narrative. I’m just curious what they can make his movie about since they got the origin out of the way already. It gives them a lot of creative room to make something we haven’t seen before. I’m hype.
They Still Got It
If you thought this might be the movie that takes it over the top with Marvel, you’d be wrong. Turns out, they still got the magic right now. I still haven’t seen Doctor Strange, so maybe it’s diminished some, but even if it’s not as good, I assume it’s still passable as a Marvel movie. Theirs a few missteps, but nothing that wouldn’t make me recommend the movie to someone. The characters are wonderful, the writing is spot-on, the cast is diverse and tells a great story. This sets the stage for movies to follow, and reminds you why you wanted them in the first place. I’d give it eight Russian-American cyborg assassin best friends out of ten. It’s that good.