Marvel and DC have always had a hell of a rivalry over the decades. But lately that war has been fought more on the big screen rather than the comic book pages, and no year is that more apparent than 2016. In just a matter of weeks both companies released huge event films that deal with shockingly similar subject matter. Both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War feature superheroes fighting each other over the idea of responsibility. And listen, I don’t want to badmouth Batman v Superman any more. We get it. It was a colossal failure, financially, critically, and in quality. It was a bad film. And yes, I could say that Civil War succeeds everywhere that Batman v Superman fails, but at this point it’s like beating a dead horse. So that’s the last time I want to bring up that movie, who knows, I may fail at that, but it’ll be a goal. What we’re here to talk about is Civil War, a movie that has been slowly coming together for the entire run of the MCU. I’ve been excited about this one for a while. I love what the MCU has been doing, and I really enjoy the two Captain America movies, hell I would consider Winter Soldier my favorite of the whole franchise, so of course I was going to be into this one. But I’ll be honest, I was a little hesitant when they announced it, because I’m really not a fan of the comic series that it’s loosely based on. The Civil War comic is just so of it’s time, particularly the time right after September 11th, and it’s just an extremely heavy-handed allegory that just kept finding new ways to suck the fun out of superheroes. But I have faith in these movies to turn in good work, so I eagerly sat down in the theater last night to finally check out this enormous movie. And it did not disappoint.
The plot follows the comic in a loose sort of sense. We start off with an Avengers field team consisting of Captain America, Black Widow, Falcon, and Scarlet Witch as they try to stop the evil Crossbones from stealing a biological weapon in Nigeria. And after a big fight in the city of Lagos, Crossbones activates a suicide-bomb vest, and it’s explosive force is contained by the Scarlet Witch, only to exceed her abilities, taking out a building full of innocent people. And that act is the straw the breaks the camel’s back, because when they get back to their base they learn that Tony Stark and the new Secretary of State, General Thunderbolt Ross, are dropping by to discuss something that the UN has been cooking up. After the events of Age of Ultron, the governments of the world have gotten together and created something called the Sokovia Accords, which are basically some laws restricting the powers of enhanced crime-fighting humans, putting the Avengers under the jurisdiction of the UN. The team is pretty much immediately fractured at the point, with some members becoming on board to sign the Accords, while the rest are a little more hesitant. And things really start to escalate when the king of the secretive African nation of Wakanda is killed at the UN before the Accords are ratified. And the person implicated in that attack is none other than Cap’s old buddy Bucky Barnes, the Winter Solider.
So Cap and Falcon go off the reservation and go try to save Bucky from the police and Iron Man, because Cap is sure Bucky is innocent. And after a great chase scene where we’re also introduced to the Black Panther, son of the assassinated king, everyone is arrested. Unfortunately it becomes clear at this point that most of the movie thus far has been orchestrated by a man named Zemo who did everything to get Bucky in his possession, because after posing as a psychiatrist he’s able to say some code-words that revert Bucky to his assassin persona, using him as a weapon against the Avengers. And after some more fighting they all get away, and Bucky reveals that there’s a secret base in Siberia that’s full of enhanced Winter Soldiers, and that that’s what Zemo is after. So Cap gets a team together comprising of himself, Falcon, Bucky, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and Scarlet Witch and head to an airport in Germany to get to Siberia. But Iron Man has been busy too, and he shows up with his own team comprising of himself, Black Widow, Black Panther, War Machine, Vision, and the newly introduced Spider-Man. And this scene is great. The characters fight and we’re treated to all sorts of great action scenes and banter, because they people are friends after-all, and funny people at that, so it’s just loaded with amazing moments. But just when you think the movie has completely become an Avengers movie, the battle ends, and things get scaled down considerably for the end. Because Cap and Bucky are able to escape, and head off to Siberia, with Iron Man and Black Panther not far behind them. And along the way Iron Man learns that Bucky is actually innocent, and that Zemo has been behind it all, so when they get there, the three team up to fight the villain. And what comes next is some incredibly powerful stuff for a superhero movie. Zemo reveals his true motives, to shatter the Avengers for all the chaos they’ve caused, and does so by revealing that the Winter Soldier was responsible for Tony’s parent’s death. And when Cap sides with Bucky, the two men’s friendship is severed, and they begin a very tense and emotional fight that leaves the Avengers destroyed. Zemo is carted off alive, presumably so he can start dressing in purple and putting together the Masters of Evil, Tony goes off to keep what’s left of the team together, and Cap heads off with his team to presumably start the Secret Avengers.
So yeah, I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. It wasn’t perfect, and I certainly still prefer Winter Soldier to it, but this movie clicked for me. Now, before I get into more thematic things I liked about it, and the small list of complaints I had, I want to get some of the geekery out of the way. One of the things that I’ve loved most about the MCU is that it certainly seems to be made for, and by, people who love these characters, so there’s a lot of fan service in the movies that just rubs me the right way. There’s great moments in this movie, especially in the tremendously fun airport fight. Seeing things like Paul Rudd become Giant-Man, much to the shock of everyone on the battlefield was great. So was seeing him ride Hawkeye’s arrow in order to break Iron Man’s armor. And holy crap did I love the new Spider-Man. Almost from his first introduction I was completely sold by the new direction they’re going with the character, reverting him back to his socially awkward roots. Tom Holland did a great job at making that jabbery, nervous character that I love so much. And I could talk forever about how much I love the fact that we finally have a Spider-Man costume that can make the eyes move. I was also completely enamored with the portrayal of Black Panther. He’s a character that I’ve really come to love over the years, and Chadwick Boseman did an amazing job at playing King T’Challa in both his real identity and his superhero form, giving him a sense of regality and quiet rage that really worked wonders for the character. And really every other character was great. I was worried going into this movie that it wasn’t really going to be a Captain America movie, and basically just become Marvel’s Civil War, but most of the other characters other than Bucky and Iron Man are relegated to that big fight scene, keeping the focus on those three characters. But we still get time to see fun little moments between them, reminding us that they’re all a big family. Seeing Vision and Scarlet Witch cook, seeing Ant-Man freak out about meeting other superheroes, stuff like that gave us little glimpses into the other characters and gave them moments to shine, without overpowering the central message and themes. Honestly it felt like tie-in issues to a big storyline, like we briefly peaked in on the Scarlet Witch and Vision comic that’s taking place during the Civil War storyline.
But there were some issues with the movie too, it wasn’t all fun quips and great reveals. The characters were all pretty much on point, even though it definitely felt like they were trying to shoe-horn in as many as they could for that big airport fight. Honestly Hawkeye, War Machine, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man didn’t need to be in this movie. It was nice to see them, but they were pretty extraneous to the plot. There were also some technical things that bugged me in the movie. I felt like the first half of the movie was edited kind of strangely, and had some pacing issues. We jumped around too much, setting all the little pieces in motion instead of just focusing on the core story. And I personally don’t really like that frenetic camerawork that a lot of the action scenes had. It’s a little too choppy and quick for my tastes, and was kind of hard to keep track of. But when things slowed down and focused on what the movie was actually about, it got a lot better.
And that brings me to the thing that I really loved about this movie. Now, I’m going to dip back into the whole Batman v Superman thing for a moment, even though I said I wasn’t going to, to talk about maturity. It’s something that really plagues superhero stories, be they comics or movies, because for some reason people seem to think that their stories about people in brightly colored costumes punching people need to be “mature” in order for them to read them. Which is fine, superheroes are a pretty interesting type of story that can be easily molded to discuss all sorts of topics and themes, so why not try and deal with mature things? The only problem is that a lot of people seem to be living under the idea that “maturity” means a fixation on violence, death, and anger. Which I disagree with. Those are things that are interesting to adolescents. Which is not a knock against those types of stories. When I was a teenager I loved comics like Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, and even Civil War, because they were about real issues. Because when you’re an adolescent things like death and anger are fascinating to you. It’s around the time you may find your first brushes with death, through the loss of a grandparent, and your hormones are beginning to kick in and you may be grappling with a lot of heightened anger and emotionality. You’re also starting to think for yourself for probably the first time in your life, so of course superheroes grappling with real-life political things are going to speak to you, because that’s the kind of thing that you’re becoming interested in. Which is all fine. We need stories that appeal to all ages, because how else are you going to get through the distinct periods in your life if you have nothing that resonated with you?
But that’s not the only type of subjects that are really mature. Because as I’ve gotten older I tend to gravitate towards superhero stories that deal with different topics, ones that teenage me would have considered “Childish.” Friendship. Loyalty. Compassion. Duty. The difference between right and wrong. These are hokey lessons that you learn when you’re a kid, and then ignore for the more serious stuff. But I feel like in the long run, they’re just as important. Friendships falling apart, the beginning of a romantic partnership, and the struggle to maintain that. These are real things that you begin to deal with once you’re at the age I am. And a movie like this really resonates for me. The central theme to this movie to me is loyalty. Almost every character is grappling with issues of loyalty and responsibility in this movie, and it shows how damaging that can be. Captain America is forever loyal to his best friend Bucky, even at the expense of his friendship with Iron Man. When Captain America says that Bucky is “his friend,” and Iron Man responds with “So was I,” it’s like a knife through the heart. And neither of them is right. The movie doesn’t really take any sides. Because it’s not about who is right or wrong at this point, that’s irrelevant, just like it is in any emotional fight in your life.These are two men who have been butting heads almost their entire friendship, but they’re still friends. They’re teammates, partners, colleagues, and friends. And here Captain America is, choosing one sense of loyalty over another. That’s enough to break any person, especially after the reveal that Cap is siding with the man who killed Tony’s parents. But we also see Falcon’s loyalty to Cap, the pain Black Widow goes with when she doesn’t side with Cap even after everything they went through together in Winter Solider, Hawkeye’s loyalty to Scarlet Witch since her brother lost his life protecting Hawkeye, and especially Black Panther’s loyalty to the memory of his father. All of these characters are being driven to do horrible things to one another, all because of their sense of loyalty and friendship, and the bitter sting that comes from someone breaking that loyalty. I will be eternally disappointed that Baron Zemo wasn’t wearing his awesome purple costume, but even as just a man in a sweater he became one of the most damaging villains the Avengers have ever dealt with. Loki and Ultron caused a lot of physical damage to the world and the team, but Zemo was able to break the team into factions, and potentially destroy it for all time without throwing a single punch. He played on vanity, loyalty, and the fragility of friendship to cause this once happy family to fall apart. That scene from Age of Ultron where they’re goofing off after having a party, trying to life Thor’s hammer is now so incredibly bittersweet, because this team is now completely foreign to that one. They’ve seen and done things that can never be taken back. They held fast, they didn’t compromise, and now they have to deal with the consequences. And if a movie that shows the horrible aftermath of being stubborn and not compromising isn’t “mature,” then I don’t know what is.
Captain America: Civil War was written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, and released by Walt Disney Motion Pictures, 2016.
Categories: Reel Talk