Captain America: Civil War

Civil War PosterCaptain America: Civil War is the thirteenth film from MARVEL studios, and I’d be shocked if it doesn’t prove to be at least the second most successful film yet. It’s certainly one of Marvel’s best films yet – I’d personally rank it third (behind Avengers and Winter Soldier – let the debates begin!).

While Civil War features the largest roster of heroes yet, it is start-to-finish a Captain America film. The film feels much more like the follow-up to Winter Soldier than Age of Ultron, though both film inform the conflict of Civil War.

The Russo brothers – who previously directed Winter Soldier – continue to prove themselves supremely capable of managing a film sprawling in both plot and cast. So if you’re on the fence about seeing it, go. It’s great.

I’m on record right now: though it wasn’t perfect, Civil War was light-years better than Batman v Superman.

——————————— Spoilers for Civil War starting now ———————————

Team CapThe majority of the film turns on the conflict between Captain America and Iron Man. The nations of the world are uncomfortable with the Avengers acting as a sovereign police force. The Sokovia Accords – named after the nation Ultron destroyed in Avengers II – are endorsed by 117 nations and require UN oversight for the Avengers. Tony sees this as inevitable. Steve sees it as unacceptable. The signing is attacked by Bucky Barnes – except it’s not. It’s (not-quite) Baron Zemo, seeking revenge for his family dying in – you guessed it, Sokovia. In the attack, the king of Wakanda dies, and his son, T’Challa, dons the mantle of the Black Panther to get revenge.

The gulf deepens. Steve is convinced Bucky is innocent. Tony believes he needs to be brought in regardless. The heroes choose sides and call in reinforcements. Easily the best scene in the film is the showdown at the airport. We see Marvel’s take on Spider-man for the first time and it. is. glorious. He’s funny and looks fantastic. The other bright spot is the giant surprise Scott Lang a.k.a. Giant Man gives us.

The fight is pitch-perfect. Every hero plays a part. Every hero is highlighted. The stakes are clear and powerful.

Team Iron ManUnfortunately, it’s not long after this the film falls apart. All the heroes are either locked up or sent home (or hospitalized). Steve and Bucky head to Siberia to stop Zemo. Tony figures out – surprise, surprise! – Steve was right, and follows them, while T’Challa follows him. Steve, Tony and Bucky make up and play nice until Zemo reveals his master plan: to lure the three of them to Siberia so he could show Tony video evidence that the Winter Soldier killed his parents.

This is the moment several pieces of the film that had been sticking out like sore thumbs. It’s also the precise moment when Tony goes off the rails. Why did we see the Winter Soldier kill those people twice? Why did Tony open with a monologue about regretting his parents died? None of it made sense until now. And how does Tony react? Not with reason. Even when Zemo tells Tony his plan was to make them fight, Tony doesn’t out-monologue the villain like he did in Avengers. Even though he knows Bucky was brain-washed.

At this point, Civil War devolves into a plot nearly as dumb as Batman v Superman.

Black PantherRemember all that thematic work that went into two carefully constructed, believable ideologically-opposed sides? They’re gone. After tacitly agreeing with Steve that the Sokovia Accords aren’t a good solution, Tony refuses to see reason. He is blinded by rage – I guess he never let go of his parents’ deaths? Compared to the carefully established stakes of the first two-thirds of the film, this final showdown just feels poorly considered. It feels as though we needed to figure out a reason to have everyone fight one more time.

Black WidowThis third act is supposed to be a commentary on vengeance, but the film hasn’t earned it. T’Challa has been motivated by revenge the whole time, and it’s never considered bad (because everyone else was trying to kill Bucky too). And when he not only refuses to kill Zemo, but keeps him from killing himself, the audience shrugs and says, “Okay, I guess.” Tony’s quest for vengeance destroys the Avengers. Except he’s been on that quest for… 5 minutes? And it’s not what drove the Avengers apart – and they’re already back together when he goes crazy. The “Tony’s sad about his parents” stuff was the only part of a very complex film that felt out of place, and the emotional notes simply didn’t land well at all.

The biggest problem with Civil War is that it did not change the MCU status quo.

Spider-ManZemo gloats that his plan succeeded. But in the end, Steve apologizes. Tony forgives him. And we’re assured everyone’s still on the same side. We met several new characters, but that’s it. No one died. Before the film opened, the heroes were united and tensions ran high with the government. At the film’s close, the heroes are united and tensions are high with the government. We have a while to wait before we know how this plays out – Infinity Wars doesn’t come out for a while yet. We can only hope that once a few contracts expire, the MCU can actually begin to evolve.

We need the movie Civil War starts out as much more than the film it becomes.

A warning that as we fight each other our enemies laugh with glee could not be more timely heading into this elections season. Of course the answer Civil War gives us – that no one should hold us accountable, that body counts are inevitable so just feel bad and it’s OK – are not exactly what we need either. But at least the themes mattered to us.

By the end, we just had a movie about another superhero feeling sad that his mom died. And Tony Stark has always been better as the Batman’s reflection than his shadow. And did we really need that on Mother’s Day weekend?

Random Observations:

  • How did Zemo know Winter Soldier killed Tony’s parents? S.H.I.E.L.D./HYDRA knew they had been killed but not that Winter Soldier did it. Or they knew it all, in which case why did he need the video tape?
  • Who was filming the Winter Soldier’s attack on Tony’s parents? It was apparently a multi-camera set0up, compete with cuts.
  • Nice to see the Vision/Scarlet Witch relationship developing. Appropriately weird.
  • Still really wish Scarlet Witch had the actual Scarlet Witch power set and was not Marvel’s Jean Grey Wanna-Be.
  • Tony Stank
  • Crossbones joins the ranks of awesome Marvel villains killed way too soon. RIP
  • Ant-Man is even more fun as an Avenger than solo. How will Civil War affect the Ant-Man and Wasp movie?
  • I never once rooted for Team Iron Man. The film was decided pro-Cap the whole time.
  • Falcon > War Machine
  • Team Cap, all the way!

Bottom Line: Civil War is a generally great film who’s final act trades great story-telling for action. A great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Your Turn: What did you think of Civil War?

Author: JR. Forasteros

JR. lives in Dallas, TX with his wife Amanda. In addition to exploring the wonders that are the Lone Star state, JR. is the teaching pastor at Catalyst Community Church, a writer and blogger. He's haunted by the Batman, who is in turn haunted by the myth of redemptive violence.

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  • John Otte

    You’re not wrong about the third act, but I attributed Tony “going off the rails” to two things: the fact that Cap knew that the Winter Soldier killed his parents (although how he learned that, I’m not sure. Bucky told him? But if that’s the case, they didn’t set that up well), and the fact that he killed his mom (since it’s kind of been established that Tony didn’t have the best relationship with his dad).

    As for Black Panther giving up his quest, I’d chalk that up to him learning that Zemo had manipulated him.

    Personally, I’d rank this just a little bit above Winter Soldier, and that’s for the airport fight. Best superhero action sequence ever!

    • I get Tony being mad. I don’t get “murderous rage” after settling everything. And I got Panther giving up his quest for vengeance. I just thought we didn’t need Tony’s vengeance stuff. T’Challa’s arc was way more complete and coherent than Tony’s.

      • James Harleman

        Or one might say overall… T’Challa is way more complete and coherent than Tony:) – sometimes someone’s arc reflects their personality?

        Hey, I get it now… his narrative arc involves an overemotional reaction: Tony’s an arc-reactor! (ba-dum-bum)

    • James Harleman

      For the record, the Computer-Arnim Zola told Steve that Stark’s parents were no accident but Hydra-orchestrated in CA: The Winter Soldier.

      • John Otte

        … You’re right. I had completely forgotten about that. Awesome that they were able to pay that off in this movie. Wow.

  • Ryan Glenn

    I’m Team Iron Man, myself. Pithy speed and technology is more fun – but then, maybe that’s because I’m personally a lot like Cap and want to cheer for the other side for my own self.

    But that airport fight was the bomb! Comedy and incredible action abound. And the stakes, as you wrote, were appropriately high.

    I thought the Iron Man breakdown in Act III made perfect sense! It did seem a lot of trouble to make them meet in Siberia but the fight between he and Cap was vicious and personal, doing the most violence to the characters that we’ve seen in any movie. They both nearly kill each other because of their ideological differences and watching it was pretty rough. Perhaps cap has been broken when he leaves his shield behind, realizing he, perhaps, isn’t worthy of it anymore? Or should Tony just have let go of his parent’s murder at the hands of Bucky and been like, “Zemo, I see what you’re up to so imma let it go”. I thought the rage blindness was accurate and thats what made the fight so painful to watch, which was at the heart of the film for my money. The directors led you on this false story line to bring you to the real difficult fight where Cap actually bleeds and operates with vengeance in a way we haven’t seen before (ramming the shield into Iron Man’s plasma heart, for instance). It was satisfying and grisly.

    But then I’m not a super hero fan and whenever I see one I like to glean a satisfaction from the film in the interpersonal relationships in conflict with eachother.

    And what was in that vial, anyway?

    And best spider man ever!

    Anyway, good review! It was a good film

    • I assumed the vial at the beginning was some generic super-flu. Didn’t matter, was just a MacGuffin for Crossbones. I assumed what Winter Soldier took from Howard Stark was more Super Soldier serum – still trying to recreate Cap.

      I disagree that the final fight was over ideology, which was my problem. They resolved their ideological differences when Tony said, “Don’t tell Ross I’m here… I’d hate to arrest myself.” He tacitly admitted that Steve was right – sometimes the UN doesn’t get to make the call.

      I absolutely think Tony should have “let it go”. He’s more than smart enough to recognize 1) Zemo was manipulating him and 2) Bucky wasn’t in control of himself. It felt wildly out of character for him to act so irrationally. Especially since in 12 previous films we never saw he had a mom-complex.

      I 100% agree the fight was brutal. I just wish I’d felt the stakes as clearly as you did.

      • Ryan Glenn

        Yeah – for me, i think that was the point the directors were pushing – that the visceral sense of revenge Tony was feeling seeing the man strangle his poor mother blinded him to his logical self. But to your point, i was scratching my head a bit: should we, as an audience, agree with Tony’s side and cheer on his quest to kill the winter soldier (or as I like to think, a brunette kurt cobain)? Or should we fall back on the scruples represented by Cap, to save Bucky’s life because he was just a hapless creature caught in the middle of evil plans? Part of me wanted vengeance to play out and take life for life but then the other part of me knew that mercy ought to be shown to Bucky – thus, the civil war raged within.

        • But did you even for a second think Bucky should be punished? He was literally brain-washed. How can we hold him accountable for his actions? (Even when he himself does in the films?)

          • James Harleman

            Yeah, people are trying to say Steve is just trying to protect Bucky out of personal issues and friendship… but it seems clear he’s trying to hold off everyone at various points from killing him or locking him up without fair judiciary process, which at every juncture everyone seems to want to do. His culpability and proper handling could have been figured out once everyone else agreed to actually think reasonably.

      • John Otte

        Okay, I’m going to play devil’s advocate here, just a little. But is it possible that Tony’s weird dependent relationship on Pepper Potts is something of a mom complex? In the first movie, he’s essentially a man-child who needs Pepper to basically do everything for him (I’m thinking of the whole “What’s your social security number?” line and “To be fair, this isn’t the worst thing you’ve caught me doing.”)

        We could also argue that Tony may have temporarily given himself a mom-complex due to those holographic therapy visor things that he was sporting at MIT. He was complaining about a headache when he first went to the compound with Ross. It could be that reliving that painful memory in front of a live audience (because that’s always a smart decision!) stirred up some old issues that he thought he had left buried.

        I know, I know, I’m probably overthinking it. But just two more cents into the pool.

        • Of course it’s POSSIBLE. But the film does nothing to give us that. For such a dramatic 180, I needed way more justification. Way more.

    • James Harleman

      Uh, Cap didn’t operate with vengeance… Tony did, trying to sanction Bucky. Cap could have decapitated Tony – who looked like he thought Steve was going to do it – but instead he just took out his power source so they could escape. He showed the mercy that Tony was not going to.

      • Ryan Glenn

        I think Cap did operate with vengeance! I think that he had to fight that within himself, evidenced by 1) his viciousness in attacking Iron Man and 2) his agreement when he leaves the shield behind at the end at the accusation of Tony that “he wasn’t worthy of it”. I think he overcame it which is why he didn’t cut Tony’s head off. The internal struggle was, for me, comforting in that it made Cap more human, similar to the green in his pupils pointed out by ZIMA (those were good, right?). We finally saw Cap struggle with an internal demon – and triumph.

        • James Harleman

          I can roll with that. Now Tony needs a triumph at some point…

        • James Harleman

          Also, I didn’t see leaving the shield as an issue of worthiness: Tony says “you don’t deserve that shield” and “my father made it”… I took that he was laying down the symbol of Stark, and even the symbol of America (what America is becoming). I felt that was in keeping with his character BOTH in the MCU and the comics. He’s been questioning whether he’s truly aligned with modern America since WS. It also fits the comic where he lays down the flag colors and becomes (at various times) Nomad or simply “The Captain”. He’s leaving behind the tangible aspects of the kingdom for the spirit of what he feels it should be. Yes, he apologized for not telling Tony about knowing that assertion from Zola that his parents were a staged accident… but I’ve said I’m sorry for a lot of things that didn’t hinge on being “wrong”. I’m not sure telling him an evil computer made that claim is a wrongdoing by any stretch, just unfortunate because the revelation alongside the video was ill-timed.

    • John Otte

      I was half-convinced that Cap was going to behead Tony with his shield at the end of that fight. I actually let out a palpable sigh of relief when he didn’t.

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