Captain America finally returns to the big screen in his third solo outing, and I mean solo very loosely, as nearly all the Avengers team returns, and then some. But this is very much a Captain America film, and easily the best yet. Yep, Marvel’s hit it out of the park again. Hope you guys are ready for another long-winded Geekritique review!
(Spoilers to follow, although it’s to be said there were very few actual revelations or surprises, considering most of it was featured in the trailers, and/or is fallout introduced in previous films.)
The film serves as a direct sequel to three of Marvel’s previous films, and fits like a glove within the impeccably crafted history of the MCU to date. It serves to reintroduce audiences to Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, following the events wherein he had a brief kerfuffle with Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, but his reappearance in this film serves mostly as an extended cameo. We also have the fallout from Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the incredible death toll brought upon the people of Sokovia. But perhaps most poignantly, this is a product of the revelations in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where Cap learns that it was actually his old friend Bucky who killed Tony Stark’s parents. All of these plots, the latter two in particular, coalesce into a mælstrom of action, tension, and intrigue.
In the wake of the damage caused by the Avengers since they’ve been operating as a team, the world’s governments considers them to be dangerous vigilantes, often taking the law into their own hands, regardless of the country they’re in or the cost. Although we know for certain that there is a cost to the team, and that they have to live with the casualties of warfare, the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily see it that way. So the Avengers are forced into signing a new contract, the Sokovia Accords, which restricts the actions of all super-powered beings and their allies to only act upon crises when given governmental consent.
This is easier to sign for some Avengers, particularly those more prone to be plagued by the casualties of the past, such as Iron Man. He is a character who feels directly responsible for the events in Age of Ultron, as it was his idea to create Ultron in the first place. He’s the first to commit to the idea that they need to be put on a leash, and as he’s a character with a ton of say and sway, it’s easy for him to rally his teammates to his cause.
But Captain America isn’t so easily swayed. Always sticking to his guts, he sees this as a direct affront to his freedom to operate and to save the world when the time calls for it. He sees the red flags fly up when the Accord is struck into motion, and he quickly pulls himself away from signing the Accord. He also has gravitas within the team, and his morals extend to other members of the Avengers, though their reasons for not signing are their own and unique.
One of the greatest points to be made for the film is its attention to nearly every character. For a cast this large, it rarely ever feels unbalanced in that sense, even amongst the big fight scenes. The only character that gets too little screen time or love is again Hawkeye. Though he doesn’t get the shaft, so to speak, he certainly doesn’t get much love either. He arrives halfway through the film, and serves mostly to be the butt-end of a few jokes about retirement not really working for him, and to balance out Cap’s team. But even then, his presence is enjoyable, albeit brief. Within his story arc as a character, his inclusion in this film feels appropriate. His entrance is probably his best moment, as it’s a scene that moves the plot forward ever so slightly.
Even Black Widow was handled well. For a character with no super powers to her name, Civil War actually felt very fitting for her. She was able to pair off with Hawkeye for the majority of the fight, thanks to everyone seemingly taking someone on who’s their own size. The cameramen had an interesting vantage of her action scenes, often pushing and shoving the camera with her swings and kicks, giving her fights an up-close, kinetic feel. And she too is given an important role within the plot, being the only Avenger who switches sides when she realizes her loyalties lean more towards Cap and not Iron Man.
Scarlet Witch and Vision are an interesting dynamic. We know they’ll likely get together, as per the comics, but seeing it slowly bloom on film is fascinating. Vision is this all powerful, good to a fault, sentient android, and she’s a young Russian girl with undeniably crazy powers. Both are extremely powerful, but both seem very vulnerable to each other, especially when they’re simply talking. Very well handled.
But handled arguably better was Black Panther, an entirely new character within the MCU. From Wakanda, his powers are passed down through generations of individuals, thanks to the blessing of the Black Panther God. Wakanda is a very tribal civilization that has extremely advanced technology and an abundance of the rare metal Vibranium. Chadwick Boseman did a superb job with the character, in and out of the mask. His performance, besides being awesome, was believable and emotional. Whenever he talks you gravitate toward him, as each word feels deliberately translated. Boseman’s pain, which is what brings him into the film in the first place, is apparent on his frame and face at all times. Although he is a character who rashly reacts in revenge, he’s not a character who’s beyond reason, making him highly likable.
Falcon has a few truly great scenes, but does little to steal anyone’s thunder in this film. He is the ultimate sidekick, with a new sidekick all his own in Redwing. Interestingly, they chose to make it a robotic bird, as opposed to an actual one, like in the comics. I guess this makes a little more sense.
Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man is a fantastic addition to the Avengers lineup. He’s hilarious, but he’s also perfectly suited for a big budget summer film like Civil War. While his ability to minimize himself is fun and all, it’s the opposite that takes Hollywood campiness to its roots. Giant monsters, humans, and robots have awed moviegoers for almost a century. But what about giant heroes? One of the most surprising reveals in this film is the inclusion of Ant-Man’s Giant-Man. I can’t wait to see how this gets expanded on in 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp.
As mentioned above, the Winter Soldier, or Bucky’s inclusion, was highly essential to Civil War‘s plot. We learn in this film there are a series of Russian words that when spoken together unlock a submissive assassin within him. He loses sight of who he is, and is forced to do whatever deeds are asked of him. And since he’s so closely tied with Steve Rogers, it is Cap who constantly has to be there for his friend, though the entire world seems to hate him, including many of the Avengers. Sebastian Stan plays up the bipolar character with serious heart. It’s hard not to feel bad for Bucky near the end.
Don Cheadle’s Rhodey serves a fitting sacrifice of the casualties of war, even a pulled-punch war like we had in Civil War. You feel for his character, as he drops out of the sky, prey to Vision’s misplaced blast, but it was for the best. War Machine was a stagnant character, and being in the military prior to his time in the armor, Rhodey is used to the notion that each battle could be his last. By the end we see him partially paralyzed, perhaps at the end of his run as the War Machine. This takes an extra emotional toll on Iron Man, who is plagued throughout the film for any number of mistakes he’s made.
Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is one of the film’s most interestingly complex characters. We undertand why he’s so ready to call it quits on his own freedom as a hero, because of the ghosts of his past. He’s a character who has essentially lost all joy in life. In Civil War, Iron Man is a very humbled character, a side of him we really haven’t seen all that much of. This can be chalked up to the fact that it seems RDJ realizes this isn’t his movie, and that it’s truly Chris Evan’s at heart. But on a character level, this fits incredibly well with the last few outings we’ve seen of the character. Partnered with the eventual discovery of the culprit of his parents’ murders being none other than Bucky Barnes himself, it’s an incredibly personal journey for Iron Man.
Captain America never has a dull moment, and though there are many POV characters throughout the story, it’s his that gets the most attention. We finally get to see the passing of Peggy Carter, his old love, and it’s her philosophy in freedom and doing the right thing that pushes him over full-tilt in the camp that he needs to side against the Sokovia Accords. His unwavering trust in his friend, Bucky, moves the film to its eventual climax in which he sides with him against Tony Stark. His story is an emotional one from start to finish. Except for that really weird moment where he kisses Peggy Carter’s neice. Like, what? Seriously?
But without question, the star of this film was Spider-Man. In earnest, it must be stated that this is easily the greatest film adaption of the quirky, lovable Peter Parker character we know from the comics. He’s the life of the party and steals all attention in anything he’s part of. I thought I’d never see the day when Sony sided with Marvel to bring their Spider-Man into the MCU. And now I have full faith that the character will be handled beautifully.
Tony Stark seeks him out at his home, which is hilarious and endearing. Considering so few films actually write teenagers like they actually are, the character hits you right in the heart, as he’s just a kid who wants to do the right thing. He fumbles his words trying to get his points across, like a teen, he stresses about other priorities, like a teen, and so on. Very quickly Peter Parker makes it clear he doesn’t want his identity released, reaffirming quite quickly something very crucial about Spider-Man’s modus operandi – with great power comes great responsibility, without actually saying it. His presence in the airport fight scene is purely meant to be defensive, as Tony doesn’t want him to get hurt. His ability to hold people down, tie them up, or incapacitate them with his webslinging is invaluable to Team Iron Man.
And I’ll just quickly state right here that the airport fight scene is perhaps the most spectacular fight scene in any Marvel film, if not the entire superhero genre, ever.
I liked Colonel Helmut Zemo, but I won’t sugarcoat the fact that I didn’t altogether understand his plan. As a Sokovian citizen and former military operative who lost his entire family in the wake of the events of Age of Ultron, I understand his motivation. And I get his goal: instead of trying to defeat the Avengers himself, he believes he can get them to kill each other by causing incredible dissension. And the way he brought everyone together made a lot of sense. What didn’t make sense to me was how he got the idea to somehow find footage of Howard Stark’s death, how he discovered how to control the Winter Soldier, and how he knew that would work in the first place. One would need to know all those secrets first before attempting the elaborate plot. But sometimes you have to realize you can’t explain everything in a 2 and a half hour film, especially one as jam-packed as this.
The film does drag between fight scenes, and would have been tidier if another 10 minutes were shaved off. Regardless. Balancing a cast of about 25 crucial individuals in any movie is difficult. Civil War pulls it off with incredible finesse. Joe and Anthony Russo are the right choices for directors moving forward into Avengers: Infinity War in a few years. I really cannot wait.
I was a little let down at the lack of any character deaths. Not disappointed, per say, but I wished there was some greater action taken than paralyzingly a character and splintering the Avengers team. The Civil War comic storyline ended with the shock death of the one and only Captain America. Had we seen something like that, for a character we actually cared about, as opposed to the lame death of Quicksilver in Age of Ultron and the half-hearted death in Batman V. Superman, this film would have packed a far greater emotional punch. But it’s still a stellar film, and one of my favorites.