-Although it may be too ambitious, Captain America: Civil War is a solid hero spectacle.
I must start all potential analysis of this film by first stating that I enjoyed it. The action is good, the movie is slick, shot well, and operates in both a realistic and just fantastical enough world to make the ideas and situations work. However, this is not a perfect film, it’s not a perfect world; not all character arcs are solid, not all character relationships make a ton of sense. Part of Civil War is an interesting political concept embedded in less than desirable execution of those concepts, and part of Civil War is a great action film that maybe takes itself too seriously, but is a fun enough ride to recommend.
We all get caught up in the hype of this expanded universe, often without really thinking about the themes and what the creators are actually trying to say. Captain America: The Winter Soldier has often been compared to Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon’s ‘Bourne’ trilogy, to which I respectfully disagree because Bourne executed the political ideas much better. This same subtext is thrown into Civil War, where we get half of the Avengers accepting limitations and regulations, and half of them wanting to go rogue, believing in their own decision-making. If the Avengers are similar to a powerful weapon, who controls that weapon, or do we allow the weapon to control itself? When other nations begin questioning the judgement of SHIELD, allowing these actors to handle situations unilaterally, they begin to distrust the institution that is the Avengers.
This situation happens after continuing the Hydra/Shield conflict that the films have really begun thrusting upon us. Frank Grillo’s Agent Rumlow/Crossbones opens the film by trying to get his hands on a biological weapon with a team of soldiers from Hydra. There to stop him are Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). This scene is, in my eyes, the peak of the film, where each of the teammates communicate with each other, and the frantic camera works hand-in-hand with excellently filmed action sets. The coolest thing about the Avengers is their teamwork, each of them having different abilities and responsibilities, so when they face a threat, they operate like a well-oiled combat machine.
Tragedy strikes when Scarlet Witch is not able to control the blast of the weapon, and despite telekinetically moving it away from massive amounts of collateral damage, it does hit a building, killing several people. The way the film uses this as fuel for a possible government overseeing of the Avengers is well-done, and it’s plotted properly. The issues begin to arise when we see countries thinking about launching the “Sokovia” accords, which are meant to allow a worldwide dampening of the Avengers influence. These accords, along with the villainous way that William Hurt’s secretary of state is portrayed is frustrating, and it’s worth noting that the Russo’s could have done more to research international actors and the way that they operate. If you’re going to direct a politically charged film, then it shouldn’t feel some ham-fisted in the political moments, something The Winter Soldier suffered with also. This however, is not the film’s biggest problem; that lies in the third act.
This idea of oversight vs. non-oversight is brought to a forefront when Tony Stark/Iron-Man (Robert Downey Jr.) has a conversation with a woman who chastises him for her son’s death in Age of Ultron. Stark’s world has changed without Pepper, without Jarvis, and now, with a guilty conscience over all that has happened to him since his beginnings as Iron-Man. Stark is for an oversight, but Captain America is not, believing the safest hands are his own after seeing how The Winter Soldier broke apart Shield’s trustworthiness.
Originally just a school-boy argument, the issues are compounded by another tragedy, this time a bombing in the signing of the Accords, where the leader of “Wakanda” is killed after testifying in support of the accords and Avenger oversight. His son, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) inherits the responsibility of the “Black Panther,” a powerful vigilante who defends justice for his country and for his heritage. The Black Panther suit is made of the same metal (vibranium) that the strong Captain America shield is made from. The killing is originally pinned on Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Shaw), a super-soldier with a metallic arm that has an erased memory and distrust of nearly everyone after he was brain-washed into becoming a villainous assassin in the previous film. When Black Panther suspects it is Barnes, he goes after him. Despite being good at heart, Barnes’s confusion makes him dangerous, and although we find out immediately that he is not behind the attack, proof does not spread to Stark. When Captain America begins defending Barnes, Stark assembles a team to go after them, making the chasm of regulation/non-regulation grow even deeper.
Stark/Iron-Man already had the support of Vision (Paul Bettany), Agent Romanoff/Black Widow, James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), and now T’Challa/Black Panther on his side to go after the rogue Captain America and his Winter Solider friend, but when Cap begins recruiting a team of his own, Stark also recruits Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), a teenage kid from Queens who we all are very familiar with.
Cap’s team, in addition to him and Winter Soldier, is comprised in the recruitment of Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) who he convinces to come out of retirement, the deeply guilty Scarlet Witch, Falcon, and Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) to their cause to try to force Stark’s hand and let them escape.
The real truth is that a widowed Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) blames the Avengers for his loss and wants them gone, in one way or another. He seeks to free the other super soldiers against the Avengers, and tear them apart by emotional means. It’s his character arc that doesn’t make a ton of sense.
For a non-spoiler end to this review, I will say that the action is great, the hero interactions are great, but the politics and third act often feel ham-fisted and even immature at times. The entire idea of the “Sokovia” accords and the resentful Zemo is bad enough, but the way he goes about revealing his tale is even worse and the film loses a lot of steam for me when it tries to become too serious. As just a fun action film, it’s incredible, as a large-scale movie with political themes, it staggers just a bit. More spoilers below:
SPOILER: My issue with Zemo comes more from how he is actually able to achieve his goal. He learns that Winter Solider assassinated Howard Stark, Tony’s father, and this secret enrages Tony, making him even more against the Winter Soldier/Cap coalition. This fact is fine, but how Zemo engineered the conflict with the Avengers, where he disguises himself as Winter Solider, pretends to be a doctor to meet him, is able to access both the phrases that allow him to control Winter Soldier (this whole idea is fucking stupid) and the original place where the other super soldiers are kept is really over-the-top. Then, he shows the video of Bucky killing Stark’s father, and the fight begins, but what would’ve happened if Stark realized that he wasn’t his normal self and was being controlled? I’m sure he’d then wish he didn’t do away with the other super soldiers and trust his entire evil plot on such a small detail. It just seemed so silly, from the actual political context to the villain at the conflict’s core. Walking out of the film, I felt disappointed, cheated, and frustrated by the story-telling, how Marvel can excite us with such great action sets and characters, but then never properly engineer a conflict with both societal and political implications. All of the villains, and all of the conflicts seem so unnecessary and so anti-climatic, and this film changes none of that. Hydra is stupid, Loki is stupid, and that’s not even getting into the smaller villains that bombed in films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man.
That being said, the introduction of Black Panther and Spider-Man were both excellent. I wouldn’t say that Holland is the best Spider-Man just because he’s the most like the comic, or whatever, I think that Maguire and Garfield both did solid jobs before him. Instead, I would focus on how this Spider-Man fits perfectly into this specific universe, and we’ll see how he fares in his own film in a few years. The best introduction was Black Panther, and it’s really his movie that I’m stoked for; he stole the show.
So, all in all, I’ve been up and down about Civil War, so I’ll settle for my 3.5/5, because it was worth seeing despite the frustrations involved, and maybe the Marvel Universe isn’t for me because I demand either pure fun or sophisticated story-telling and don’t really care for a fractured tone in between. Plenty of people say “it’s fun and it’s just smart enough to keep you engaged,” and maybe I’m an outsider on this issue, but for the most part, those tones don’t blend very well. I originally contemplated a completely negative review, then changed to more positive because of the action sets, and then settled somewhere in-between, not forgiving the film entirely for its faults, but rather brushing them aside somewhat in the interest of telling the truth: it’s still a fun film.