Break It Up!
After twelve MCU installments, dozens of other superhero films, and hundreds of smashed buildings, Captain America needed to change things up in his third outing if he wanted to keep it from getting stale. Thankfully, we got a complex and fresh take on the team, even if the film isn’t the best one released by Marvel.
Captain America: Civil War features the return of Chris Evans as Captain America and Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man. Also on the roster is Anthony Mackie, Scarlet Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Chadwick Boseman, Elizabeth Olsen, Don Cheadle, Sebastian Stan, Daniel Brühl, Martin Freeman, Frank Grillo, Paul Bettany, Paul McCartney, Jesse McCartney, Jesse Eisenberg, Aaron Eisenberg, Aaron Paul, Paul Thomas Anderson, Tom Cruise, Tom Holland, Hollandaise Sauce, Spaghetti Sauce, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Meatball Subs, Subscriptions to Men’s Health, Health and Beauty Products, and Emily VanCamp. The film is also way better than Batman v Superman, so let’s get that out of the way up front.
Civil War’s biggest selling point is the jump in scale, going from Winter Soldier to a de facto Avengers movie. While the more tightly-focused Winter Soldier is still my personal favorite film in the MCU pantheon, Civil War’s sprawling story certainly works for the film. Whether its drawing team lines or creating government agendas, Civil War never loses sight of the heart behind the action.
In case you are somehow watching this video and DON’T know what’s going on in the film, the destructive events of the prior Marvel films have led to Iron Man siding with a UN Accord that would require superheroes to work under UN supervision. Captain America opposes this, primarily on the grounds that the UN could send the Avengers where they aren’t needed, or even worse, keep them from going where they are needed.
What’s excellent about the setup is how balanced the conflict is. In the comics, Iron Man is essentially a villain. He makes many unethical decisions throughout the course of the story and Captain America is the moral compass. Things are a lot muddier in the film and I’d be willing to bet that there are viewers who will side with Tony from beginning to end in the story. Though Iron Man is written incredibly well in the story; Captain America, on the other, hand doesn’t fully take advantage of the bullets in his belt to explain his firm stance on the issue. Armed with arguments of “Remember when Hydra infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Remember when the World Security Council tried to bomb New York,” Cap ultimately deals in vague platitudes the majority of the time, making Iron Man’s stance all the more reasonable.
This, however, isn’t the emotional drive of the story. Cap’s motivations are more driven by his friendship with Bucky and a case of mistaken identities. The events of the film are set into motion (and kept in motion) by Baron Zemo, who is a subtle and incredibly competent villain. No, he doesn’t have the presence of Loki or Red Skull, but the guy knows how to put a plan into action.
Speaking of action, let’s discuss the action in the film. Even though it appears the Russo Brothers (no relation) have doubled down on the headache-inducing shaky cam, the choreography of the action has skyrocketed in quality. If you’ve read or watched at least one other review, I’m sure the airport fight scene was mentioned. I had high hopes going into that fight and even those were exceeded. It’s great not because it’s bombastic, but because it’s clever and fun. The clash of powers, from force fields to shrinking vehicles, makes for a fight that’s really, really inventive. It’s not a joyless fight…you’ll be sitting with a smile on your face the whole time, even though your favorite heroes are duking it out on screen.
On the topic of favorite heroes…let’s talk about Spider-Man. This is the most Spider-Man that Spider-Man has ever Spider-Manned on screen. The strength of Marvel in years past has been that they really understand their characters, and that is no clearer than in this film. Sam Raimi captured a sense of wonder in his 66% good trilogy, but Peter Park was very quiet and very dull. Mark Webb captured a sense of annoyance in his 100% terrible duology. His Spider-Man made lots of quips, but they were very angry quips and he came across more like an internet comment section troll than an actual hero. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man does make his signature quips, but he does so far more innocently. I had always read the classic Spider-Man as a kid who was in over his head, and the quips were there for his to almost cope with the stress of what’s going on around him. That’s exactly what this Spider-Man captures because, when stacked up against the other heroes, he really is in over his head.
Speaking of being in over your head, Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman was a film that tried to do a lot, but it didn’t pull anything off because it wasn’t smart enough to do any of it well. It’s really astounding how much better this film is than Batman v. Superman…and I mean this with the utmost sincerity (I’m not trying to be a jerk). The ending of the film does not talk down to the audience at all, and we are thus rewarded with the most thoughtful ending in the MCU to date. BvS used one of the most clichéd storytelling devices in this type of story…Civil War does not. I won’t spoil anything for you, but have faith in the film.
Civil War was an excellent conclusion to Steve Roger’s solo trilogy. Though it’s not perfect, it’s an excellent entry that earns its stars and stripes.
Okay, so let’s get into some spoilers here. The ending of this film was almost a bait and switch, in the best possible way. When Bucky, Cap, and Iron Man all walked into the main room of the Siberian bunker, I did actually have a minor worry. Were they going to put aside their differences and fight the super soldiers together? If this was a Zack Snyder movie, that’s what would have happened. Were they going to fight a mechanized supped-up Baron Zemo? If this was a Wolverine movie, that’s what would have happened. But instead we had a beautiful fight that relied on the emotional state of the characters, rather than a CGI overload. There were no doomsday weapons in the air or giant monsters…it was just three guys in a room. It was wonderfully restrained and proved that Marvel’s characters really are characters, not cardboard cutouts. Hearing Baron Zemo say, at the end of the film, that he really did not lose was really powerful, and when Rhodes reminds Stark that their position is just, it hits home. The Avengers really are fractured and the team has a lot of ground to cover before Thanos collects his gems.
The film isn’t perfect, like I said before. Shall we do some nit-picking?
- Spider-Man, if he really is such a nerd, would know that the planet is called “Hoth” and the walkers are called “AT-ATs” which is short for “All Terrain Armored Transport”
- Why was “Homecoming” one of the words that triggered Bucky? This is weird because the upcoming Spider-Man movie is called Homecoming. Marvel is known for setting up future films, so at first it seemed like that would tie into the new movie. But there’s no real reason that that word, out of the many in the sequence, would hold more significance. If it was just a random word, then pick a different one.
- Don’t call the other Winter Soldiers “Winter Soldiers.” The moniker of “Winter Soldier” is so closely tied to Bucky Barnes, I wish they had just called those remaining five people “Super Soldiers.”
- The lady at the elevator was a bit on the nose when she said “My son is dead and I blame you!” A little more nuance would have gone a long way.
- The score in this film was really generic. The first two films raised the bar in regards to MCU scores. Cap had a clearly identifiable fanfare that would keep the film moving…the amorphous music here seemed like an afterthought, which was surprising given that it’s the same composer.
Those are five nit-picks, and boy are they nit-picks. If these are the weak points of your movie, then you’ve made one heck of a movie. This is the first time in a while where I’ve been interested in what the future holds for the team without actually knowing. Sure, we know that Thanos waits down the line, but how things play out between now and then…I’m genuinely curious. I’m curious if Steve is going to form the “Secret Avengers” with his remaining anti-Accord heroes. I’m curious how quickly Stark going to change his mind a switch sides? I don’t know what’s going to happen. And in this day and age…that’s a rarity.
Alex Russo is not a DC hater, this film is just very good. You can tell him otherwise on Twitter.