Alright I admit it, that post/tweet title is a little clickbaity even if I do completely agree with it. I like Captain America: Civil War as a movie just fine but I cannot in any good faith call it one of the best comic book movies ever made even in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, despite how many critics, bloggers and fanboys have effused that praise for it.
Now look, I don’t begrudge people for revering it or holding it in high regard for themselves. It’s all a matter of subjective opinion and we are all allowed our opinions on whatever it is we hold in high regard. I just don’t get how so many people can blatantly ignore a lot of the illogical things in this movie and call it a masterpiece of cinema. I take it back, I get exactly how. I just disagree with it. A LOT.
I know it seems like I don’t care for this movie much and even though I’ve seen it several times, it’s definitely not one that I actively seek out when I feel like watching a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, but I DO think that it is a solid movie and works as such for the most part. Let’s dive into exactly what it does, though.
The basic premise of Civil War starts with The Avengers on a mission to capture Brock Rumlow, a ruined HYDRA agent that was scarred on the day that SHIELD fell in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They manage to capture him and stop him from stealing a biological weapon, but an accident concerning a bomb and Scarlet Witch’s telekinesis results in the deaths of Wakandan workers in an office building. The incident prompts the Secretary of State, Thaddeus Ross our good buddy from The Incredible Hulk that we hadn’t seen since Edward Norton was still Bruce Banner, to present The Avengers with the Sokovia Accords, a massive document placing the group into administrative oversight by a United Nations panel that would restrict what they do and where they can go from now on.
Before this presentation though, Tony Stark was at an MIT scholarship event where he was approached by a woman that worked for the state department who blamed him for her son Charlie’s death. Charlie was an early-stage engineer that had decided to travel to Sokovia to help build sustainable housing for the poor and was killed in the Ultron incident that destroyed the entire city. Needless to say, this revelation of a consequence of Tony’s direct actions from Avengers: Age of Ultron puts him into a guilt-driven mood, and thus begins the major problem of this movie.
First things first, though. At what point did Charlie Spencer die in the Sokovia attack? In Age of Ultron before the battle even started, the Avengers were helping usher people to safety and while there was certainly collateral damage in the attack, one wonders exactly how and when Charlie died, especially given that the entire city was also evacuated to helicarrier before it was destroyed to save the rest of the planet.
Alright, let’s just put that aside and focus on the Stark problem at hand. As I mentioned in the Age of Ultron review, Tony’s MO is pretty clear. He does whatever he feels is right without warning and extremely impulsively, gets his hand slapped when he screws up and then shifts responsibility for his actions to someone else to feel better, which is EXACTLY what he does here with his “we need to be put in check” hypocrisy during the group’s discussion about the accords. Captain America even calls him out on it by pointing out that all the accords do is shift the blame by taking away their right to choose. Stark’s not hearing it though, because all he can hear is his rampant guilt from Charlie Spencer’s mother, who might actually be the true villain in this particular movie. I’m kidding, it’s really Stark but since we’re on the subject of villains, let’s talk about the alleged villain of Civil War, Daniel Bruhl’s Helmut Zemo.
Zemo is a one-man wrecking crew of 5’9” and maybe 180 pounds soaking wet. Maybe. We learn at the end of the movie that he lost his family in the Sokovia attack and set out on a plot to destroy the Avengers from within, first by framing Bucky Barnes for a terrorist attack that kills T’Chaka, the king of Wakanda, then by intercepting and killing a United Nations doctor that was sent to evaluate Barnes in lockup, impersonating him, infiltrating a heavily fortified government facility, activating Barnes to gain information about other Winter Soldiers in existence, escaping the facility while Barnes attacks everyone else and draws their attention, travels to Siberia to kill the other Winter Soldiers that were still on ice, and somehow lures Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes and Tony Stark to the facility so that he can play them the tape of Bucky murdering Tony’s parents in 1991, just so Stark can fly into a rage and try to kill both Bucky and Cap at the same time. Still with me after all that? Alright, someone tell me how one man has the resources and ability to do all of that by himself without one shred of assistance.
Actually, I have the answer for that. It’s because of general incompetence and the already fractured nature of the Avengers in the first place. People that defend Zemo’s effectiveness in this movie claim that his actions split apart the Avengers and my response to that has always been “until Thanos shows up and it’s all hands on-deck no matter what.” Now while that still very much stands, the fact that the Avengers are already on self-cracked ice in the first place is really why Zemo shouldn’t get that much credit for his incredibly fortuitous actions. Stark has been a liability to the group almost the entire time he’s been a part of it, Cap, who is struggling with the whole Bucky situation has also never fully trusted Tony in the first place and hasn’t had a real reason to given that the accords are COMPLETELY Stark’s fault, and the rest of the group draws lines with whoever they have a closer agreement with. This divide among the Avengers is what truly lowers everyone’s guard when it comes to Zemo because they were already too busy fighting themselves over what the government was threatening to do. It was nothing that Zemo concocted on his own, he just took advantage of the group in an already vulnerable situation. He gets SOME credit for the break-up, again until Thanos arrives in Infinity War and then it doesn’t matter at all.
So, in the middle of this we are introduced to Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, who watched his father die at the hands of the bombing pinned on Bucky and vows to kill Barnes himself as the Black Panther, his Vibranium weave costumed alter ego that protects the sovereign nation of Wakanda. He’s awesome. His presence is powerful, his introduction is organic and well-integrated, and he is the most measured and reasonable character in the entire film, even with his intent to kill Bucky for most of it. His rationality allows him to see the truth in the end and he avoids making the rash decision on Bucky that Tony is constantly hellbent on making just to make himself feel better. It’s a “Stark” contrast, pun intended.
Compare that with the other major new character we are introduced to in this movie and it’s a much more cluttered and forced situation. After Bucky escapes the government facility and Cap and Falcon go after him, both sides talk about how they are either on their own or severely understaffed. The question is, for what exactly? A telegraphed Avengers battle that we have already been told outside of the movie is going to happen? Yes, pretty much. There’s really no logical reason for reinforcements to be brought in here at this point. You could make a case for Cap, Falcon and Bucky to call Hawkeye to help get Scarlet Witch out of house arrest by Vision, but in Tony’s case he’s got Vision, War Machine(Rhodes), Black Widow and Black Panther, who by the way didn’t need to be recruited to help because he wants Bucky extradited back to Wakanda in the first place. So, you’re looking at five-on-five here. I ask you: what is the logical reason for Falcon calling Ant-Man and more so, Tony seeking out Spider-Man, whom we have never seen any indication before that he was even on Tony’s radar?
Now look, we all know the out of movie reasons that this happened. The Sony-Marvel Spider-Man deal had occurred, and they not only put him in Civil War to introduce him into the MCU, but they gave him a solo movie that they moved Black Panther back to accommodate for 2017. In every aspect, this was a shoe-horned situation and you have to wonder if they couldn’t have found a more organic means for Tom Holland’s Spider-Man to be brought in, even if it meant an extra scene early on where Tony is monitoring Spider-Man in the first place, so we are aware of it, or somehow have Peter Parker in Germany in the first place on a school trip or something and Tony lucking out in being able to contact him. Either of those would have been better than him leaving Germany and going back to the United States to get Peter Parker and then bringing him back to Germany for ONE sequence in the movie, after Ross has given him a 36-hour deadline to find Cap, Bucky and Falcon. Sorry webhead fans, it’s clunky as hell and it’s clear fan service. They don’t even do a good job of concealing it.
I’m not going into the airport scene in depth because everyone already knows what it is. Ultimate fan service and nothing more. It’s 20 minutes of running and fighting in an empty airport with quips, jokes and banter that doesn’t resemble a civil war at all and completely derails the tone and story of the overall film, but no one cares because they finally saw Spider-Man fighting with the Avengers and Ant-Man turning into Giant-Man. Wonderful.
One of the most maddening things about Captain America: Civil War is how much it feels like the Russo Brothers were forced to add things into a movie it feels like they already had a solid plan for, as though they were victims of "director meddling". The tone and story for the majority of this movie is very consistent, serious and evokes shades of Captain America: The Winter Soldier in the best ways. The fight sequences are just as good, the action and pacing are just as good and the story itself is really strong overall even with Zemo’s incredibly lucky plot device villainy. It just feels like for a half-hour, between the airport scene, Spider-Man’s introduction scene and Ant-Man’s introduction scene, that the Russos took some time off from the production and let a bunch of Marvel fanboys run the show for a bit. That alone is what truly stops this movie from being as epic as so many people think it is, the lack of in-story logic to explain why certain characters were brought in and to justify the airport sequence happening the way it did. Those scenes were not made to benefit the franchise’s storytelling as a whole, they were made to satisfy the fans that simply wanted to see it without any logical explanation or reasoning, which flies in the face of the entire rest of the movie that actually operates on a soundly logical level at every turn, or at least on a level that doesn’t betray the characters we’ve come to appreciate in the franchise to this point. I'm merely speculating that the Russos were interfered with and I'll never have proof of it because no one would ever admit it even if it happened, but that's really what this feels like to me.
I know I’ve been very critical of Stark here, but his actions are completely in line with his character, right down to the idea of wanting to kill Bucky and Cap over grief for a mother that we’ve never once heard him mention like that or seen on screen before this movie. It’s more rash and impulsive behavior on his part and while a lot of people defend him because it’s his parents, it’s still not a rational position for him to take given everything else that he knows to that point, including the fact that Bucky was controlled by HYDRA to do those killings.
In many ways, Captain America: Civil War suffers from the same problems that Avengers: Age of Ultron does in terms of bringing things out of left field without any prior setup to it, but in this case it’s really a situation of being overstuffed in general. At 148 minutes, there’s so much that happens across the board and it’s really a situation where what is supposed to be Cap’s third movie isn’t just hijacked by Tony Stark, it’s hijacked by the Avengers in general. There are threads here that connect this movie back to the first two Captain America films, like Steve’s relationship with Bucky and the death and funeral for Peggy Carter for example, but it’s buried by everything else that occurs within it on a huge scale. It’s a shame because Captain America will never have a full trilogy of his own, unlike Iron Man and Thor who have both had one.
This movie could have been shortened in so many ways and likely should have been to help its content. There are some great moments and scenes in here between characters and action sequences that are on par with the rest of the MCU standard to date. The VFX was more than solid this time out, nobody is a weak link in terms of performance and we get some huge franchise movement with the introduction of Black Panther and Spider-Man, both of whom have movies coming up here soon in this re-watch. Outside of the airport scene and the other shoe-horned stuff that I mentioned, the humor really isn’t that bad here either, so while it’s not nearly as serious in tone as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there is still an attempt here to tell a serious story overall with these characters.
One other thing: As much as I love Henry Jackman’s score for The Winter Soldier, I hate the one he did here for Civil War. Well, hate is a strong word and it’s really not the entire score, just the theme he made for Civil War. It’s hokey and feels like a cheap knockoff of something else to me, which is not evocative of what he did for The Winter Soldier at all. I wish he had done a better job with this one, personally.
I seriously do not hate Captain America: Civil War despite all that I have been critical of with it here in this overlong re-watch review. For a movie that stumbles with logic as much as it does, it still gets the job done and the vast multitude of MCU fans are happy with it, still proclaiming it the greatest comic book movie they have ever seen. I just have to keep telling myself it’s all subjective every time I hear or see anyone say that.
I’m ready to move on to Doctor Strange now. Quickly.