Captain America: Civil War Reflections
I had a fun time seeing Captain America: Civil War. The two and a half hours flew by, although when I left, I wasn’t as thrilled and excited as I have been after seeing other Marvel superhero movies.
I think we’ve all become jaded and spoiled. A film like this — one that is really an Avengers movie, with so many superheroes battling each other under questionable premises — would have been amazing if released a few years ago, but Marvel Studios keeps setting the bar higher with their superhero action, so we expect more and more to be amazed. There’s nothing wrong with just being entertained, though.
This was the first Marvel film where I felt that chapter storytelling had overtaken the idea of making a stand-alone movie, much as in the comics. The film finishes up a storyline from the previous Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and it feels like a prologue to the upcoming two-part Avengers movies, since so much of it is about how the team will operate.
Poor Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) has accidentally killed some people when part of a building blows up — while saving the entire planet from a biological terrorist disaster — so the government decides that they will determine where and when the Avengers get to help. Iron Man’s (Robert Downey Jr.) motivation boils down to “I fear I can’t control myself, so I’ll have the government do it for me” (which struck me as the groundwork for acknowledging his addictive personality). Captain America’s (Chris Evans) motivation is that he knows better than a UN committee where he can best help.
This was never a fair debate for me because I’ve read enough superhero comics to know that their entire premise is that we need vigilantes to help when the threat is too big for official channels. So Iron Man’s side was never particularly believable. As to who’s on which side, there were enough heroes that I sometimes lost track of who chose which. It didn’t really matter, though, because some of the fights weren’t quite as serious as the main face-off between Tony and Cap.
The “guest stars” were great. Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is truly a teen, with all that optimism and hero worship and unbridled enthusiasm, and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) shows how that role has gone from someone in their 70s to 60s to now 50s. Our idea of what an older person looks like sure has changed over the years, particularly since she and Tony Stark are about the same age.
The Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) introduction was well done, and it was nice to have a new rogue player, without any established friendships, since the philosophical differences get mixed up with loyalties. Cap just knows that the brainwashed Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is still his friend Bucky deep down, so he’s on his side no matter what the videotape shows. Iron Man is mad that Cap isn’t as good a friend to him. Falcon (Anthony Mackie) is Cap’s buddy, War Machine (Don Cheadle) is Tony’s. (And I really liked how Falcon was portrayed, both in terms of personality and powers. He was a pleasure to watch on screen whenever he showed up.)
I missed seeing or hearing any reference to Nick Fury. A friend pointed out that Thor and Hulk were missing, although referenced, because they’re going to be in the next Thor movie, Ragnarok, out November 2017. And “Agent 13” (a term I don’t remember hearing in the movie), aka Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), feels shoehorned in, just to give Cap some kind of romance moment so we know he likes girls. I am curious to see what kind of role Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) gets in the Black Panther movie out in 2018, after seeing him be officious here.
I thought a number of the scenes could have been tightened, because they ran a tad long for my taste, both the fights and the character interactions. I didn’t care for Scarlet Witch as a plot device. She gets some nice time with the Vision (Paul Bettany), but those scenes made the most sense when taken in the context of their comic history. He’s nearly unbeatable, given his power set, but she should be as strong and isn’t shown that way.
I haven’t mentioned the villain, Zemo (Daniel Brühl), because while he plays the role well, the motivation is yet another “revenge for my family” that we’ve already seen (imo) too often. What I most enjoyed about the movie were the number of true surprises, a benefit to seeing it early in the run. (No direct spoilers for those here, but I’m thinking specifically of a disturbingly effective use of video de-aging and the new power set for one of the heroes.) There was a lot attempted here, and bravo to the writers (Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely) and directors (Anthony Russo & Joe Russo) for both aiming so high and managing to juggle so many parts as well as they did. I did like the line in the New York Times review:
the Marvel Cinematic Universe [is] not so much a grand science-fiction saga, or even a series of action-adventure movies, as a very expensive, perpetually renewed workplace sitcom.
Yeah! That’s what I like about it! I asked my more Marvel-focused-friends if I should read the comic book version of the storyline, and they said nah, this version was much better. Shame, but likely true: the movies are more enjoyable than the comics these days.
My brother who watched it with me said it was interesting that Captain America, who was in the military, was against following (or even establishing) a chain of command, something that you’d think he’d be used to. Then Iron Man, a very independent minded wealthy inventor would be for it.
Then again, Tony Stark owning a very large company uses chain of command, in terms of boss/employee and company policies, etc.. to run his business. So he’s used to a top down like mgmt structure and is okay with it. He may think the best of the people at the top of the chain, because they are like him and thinks they’ll do the right thing. Captain America’s experience in the War might tell him something different.
The chain of command argument is an interesting one — I think it may be complicated by what serving meant then (everyone pitched in to win a world war against great evil) vs. now (the military is something those people over there do, with few decision makers having any experience or family involved). And as you say, it can be mitigated by personal experience. I would think Stark’s prior experience selling arms might also give him a poor impression of those who want to own and control such things.
A few days before I saw the movie, the Smithsonian held a question and answer session with the directors of the movie. Reading your review made me realize how much that event colored by perception of the movie.
The directors approached the film as a Winter Soldier sequel, and not as an Avengers movie. Civil War came about because they looked where Cap was at the end of Winter Soldier, and where they wanted to take him. And given where Tony was at the end of Age of Ultron, they found a perfect fit. They then had to convince Robert Downey Jr,, as he was not contracted to do the film. With the notable exception for the Vision/ Scarlet Witch scenes, the movie revolves around Cap and Tony. In that respect, its more of a “Tales of Suspense” film.
The other thing of note from that session is that the directors did not take sides in the conflict. They did their best to portray both sides as honestly as possible. I will cite Rhodey’s final comments as evidence of that.
I feel the ending of the film actually complicates Infinity War, because of where all the characters are at the end.