Before we get into the nitty gritty here’s a spoiler free and heavily biased short review of Captain America: Civil War for those of you that just want to know if it’s worth seeing. To start with this is an Avengers film despite the title - they do a decent job of tying up the Captain America trilogy but that is not the focus of the film. Good news is it’s a MUCH better Avengers film than Age of Ultron. Action sequences still a little clunky but tied reasonably well to the emotion and plot so it doesn’t really matter. There are so many characters but somehow you come out at the end without feeling shortchanged. Character motivations are mostly clear and some are even interesting. There are too many white dudes but we already knew that. Overall a good fun exciting ensemble superhero movie. Totally worth the price of admission.
THIS IS YOUR SPOILER WARNING! SO MANY SPOILERS! FOR ALL THE MARVEL MOVIES! AND SOME COMICS! SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS!
First up I loved this movie. I loved it so much I have seen it three times already but that’s not really a judge because I saw Age of Ultron three times and that movies was a mess. Anyway I saw this movie three times and I enjoyed it every time. I didn’t spend the whole time picking through the problems not because there weren’t any, this movie is not perfect, but because I was having too much fun to care. This movie is not perfect and it definitely didn’t give me everything I wanted - I will forever be bitter that this was not an Avengers movie because we deserved proper conclusion to Steve Rogers story. But overall it was fun enough for me to forgive most of the problems.
The most obvious problem with this film, as with the Avengers movies before it is that there are way to many straight white dudes super heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When you have them all lined up like that it’s kind of hard not to notice that MOST of the characters involved in Civil War are straight white men: there’s Steve Rogers obviously, and Tony Stark, and Clint Barton, and Bucky Barnes, and Scott Lang, and Peter Parker and I guess Vision counts as a white guy even though he’s not technically human. So that’s seven white guys. That’s a lot. Especially when the alternatives they have are three black men James Rhodes, Sam Wilson and T’Challa, and two white women, Wanda Maximoff and Natasha Romanov. It’s also important to remember that only the white men have stand alone movies so far.
To be fair this issue has more to do with the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe than it does with this film in particular but it’s impossible not to notice the discrepancy when it literally punches you in the face. I mean they’re constantly joking about why Ant-Man is there because literally no one can believe they made an Ant-Man movie before they made a Black Widow movie. ANT-MAN! Seriously? Sure Paul Rudd is charming and it’s nice to have him along for the group adventures he adds some much needed levity to the situation but that does not mean I am ever going to stop being bitter about the fact that Ant-Man is a thing. To be fair Scott Lang is quite delightful in Captain America: Civil War but still ANT-MAN?!?!?!?!?!?!???
That aside, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do a good job with the characters they have available to them. For starters they don’t not relegate their most interesting female character to a beauty and the beast romance subplot because that would be awful. There is an obligatory heterosexual kiss because they have a quota or something but the movie is self aware enough that it kind of acknowledges that it’s a bit uncomfortable and unnecessary. They break the awkwardness of the moment by cutting to Bucky and Sam who are watching the kiss between Sharon and Steve, just to remind everyone that it isn’t really romantic. It’s almost a fourth wall break and it’s a moment that got a laugh every time I’ve seen it.
The girls in this film are great, but they are definitely sidelined in a way that’s a little disappointing. I mean there’s not enough Black Widow, which is particularly noticeable because she had such a significant role in The Winter Soldier. But the small amount of screen time she does have is wonderful. She’s the only one that’s thinking rationally, Steve and Tony and so righteous that they refused to compromise but she’s just like why not sign it and then do whatever we want anyway, which is probably a more cynical viewpoint but one that would have worked probably. She’s obviously the most adult adult in this movie. But we already knew that the Captain America team could do great things with Black Widow and I’m sad we didn’t get to see what they would have done with a proper Captain America film rather than this quasi-Avengers flick. Of course Natasha is not the only women in the film, but she’s the one that gets the short end of the stick because there are so many characters to deal with.
Wanda’s role in this movie is going to be hotly contested. I’ve had MANY heated arguments about the way she was treated by her male counterparts, particularly Tony and Vision but I take that as a good thing. The movie doesn’t condone Tony’s decision to lock Wanda up without telling her, although they do still push the romance between her and Vision after he helps keep her prisoner, which is a little uncomfy - especially with the romance aspect - but it kind of raises all these super interesting ideas about the patriarchy’s FEAR of powerful women.
It’s interesting that Scarlett Witch and Vision are a the heart of the issues of control, power, and consequences that undercut the drama of this film. They’re the most powerful beings in this movie. Thor’s not there, Hulk’s gone on vacation. Everyone else is just a slightly enhanced human. Wanda and Vision are on a whole other level. During Civil War, it’s Wanda and Vision that are genuinely shocked by the damage their power can cause. They are the ones that cause accidental damage. Wanda is confident early in the opening action sequence but her attempt to protect backfires and causes casualties. Vision causes Rhodey to free fall from the sky when he’s distracted, something he didn’t think was possible. These are two genuinely powerful creatures, that don’t know where they fit in society. It doesn’t help that everyone is terrified of them.
There’s a lot to be said that neither of them have much control over the Accords, and looking at it neither of them is particularly interested. Vision cares about Wanda and he logical admits that oversight might be in order but he’s not invested. Wanda wants a family, she wants to belong and not be feared. They’re both so powerful that any rules are arbitrary. But that’s kind of a theme throughout the film. The only people that actually care about who signs and who doesn’t sign the Accords are Tony and Steve. Everyone else is just following their loyalties.
That’s not to say that they don’t have clear motivations, despite the fact that there are so many characters Markus and McFeely do a decent job of giving every character clear motivation… except maybe Ant-Man but he’s just happy to be invited. He’s as surprised as everyone else that he’s Ant-Man is a thing (sorry Paul Rudd but I mean come on). The conflict in this film is great, it runs from international politics to personal disputes. They follow the Marvel formula of touching on but not really engaging with contemporary political issues but the issues they touch on are pretty interesting because all powerful men going around imposing their morals on the entire world is a little twee.
Really though, Civil War is a personal story. It’s funny thing is that they use a similar device to the other big superhero fight this year. The movie begins with the death of a beloved heroes parents and that images pops up throughout the film and plays an integral role in the climax. The reason it works in Civil War and not in that other movie is because the event is tied to more than just one character. It’s not just backstory, it is the catalyst for their fight a connection between two characters who might not otherwise have any personal relationship. It’s also a red herring. Sure it’s pretty obvious who is in that car but as the audience is given more information the motivation for the scene shifts and changes.
There is an issue with Tony’s motivations Civil War is that it goes to pained lengths to make the audience understand Tony Stark’s perspective and it shouldn’t be that hard. The image of Tony’s parents throughout the movie actually works as a device but there’s a rather long scene where Tony start re-enacts the last moments he had with his parents with technology he created. It’s a nice scene, as a fan I loved seeing into Tony’s past but this scene doesn’t add anything to the story. More than that it wastes a hell of a lot of time on a piece of technology that should have been Checkov’s Gun but ends up being pointless.
At the heart of this film, as it at the heart of all the Captain America films, is the relationship between Steve and Bucky. That is what these movies are about. Markus and McFeely do their best to bring Steve and Bucky’s story into Civil War but there’s only so much they can do. This movie is an Avengers movie, it should have been an Avengers movie but for some reason we got Age of Ultron instead and we missed out a proper conclusion to Steve and Bucky’s story. As a result of this there is a bit of a disconnect between the stories. Tony Stark is having this great philosophical battle and Steve’s just trying to save his friend. It works at the end because it turns out that it was a personal battle all along but then all the political stuff basically gets forgotten and that’s not great.
The Winter Soldier melded the personal with the political so well. There were two battles being fought but they were equally important. Civil War doesn’t do that. The accords make sense, and they present an interesting moral dilemma but after the first half of the movie no one actually cares about the accords. Not even Tony. That’s not good. There was no conclusion to that story and it doesn’t matter because they did not connect the personal to the political. The accords don’t mean anything and they aren’t very important to this story, they’re just an excuse to get Iron Man and Captain America to fight and I’ll admit the airport fight is super fun but there’s not really any tension. It’s more fun than anything, until Rhodey gets hurt, which is a super powerful moment.
There are A LOT of characters in this movie, and most of them a pretty good. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is the most Peter Parker Spider-Man that ever did Spider-Man. I’m still not interested in ANOTHER DAMN SPIDER-MAN MOVIE but he was good. Obviously T’Challa was the stand out because Chadwick Boseman is amaze and I will literally give them all my money for about 400 Black Panther movies. T’Challa had the clearest motivation, the clearest character arc, and some of the best moments of the movie. Which is great but also why the hell is he being introduced in this quasi-Avengers mess when he could have had his own stand along movie instead of Ant-Man. I am never ever not going to be bitter about Ant-Man okay.
Look here’s the deal, Civil War is fun and it has some fantastic moments. The pieces of Steve and Bucky’s story that we do get are good. There’s some SUPER FUN FIGHTS, but really the plot is pretty silly. Like they are superheroes, the government is always trying to get them to do stuff they don’t want to do and they don’t because they have superpowers so like what is anyone going to do about it. Fun but silly and while I will watch this movie a million times in the future it’s sad that it was not a fitting conclusion to the masterpiece they began with The Winter Soldier.