There are some tremendous moments in this film. Some that I would go as far as to say are the best that Marvel has ever accomplished. While it’s still too soon and fresh to determine where it falls in the MCU ranking, those individual scenes allow the film to soar. My impulse reaction places it very high on my personal ranking if still not as great as Captain America: The Winter Soldier due to the former having a script that had a tighter clarity opposed to the often messy, more operatic Civil War. Even the most enthusiastic fan in me wouldn’t go as far to say this is a perfect film, not at all, but the sheer ambition the film displays, along with the emotionally fraught relationship entanglements and those superb individual moments, make it possibly the most memorable as we try to deal with what was just unloaded on us.
Needless to say, there’s going to be a heck ton of spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie, go do so promptly then return and read… if you have, let us know in the comments what you thought of the film.
Last warning, super spoiler-y things to happen below.
Robert Downey Jr. circa Less Than Zero
Listen, let’s not beat around the bush: Robert Downey Jr. is a very handsome man, so don’t take this next comment as an insult but can we all agree that the most gasp-inducing CGI moment was when we saw the de-aging work done on the actor for the flashback scene with his parents? Seeing a baby faced Downey was a bizarre moment in a film where the actor is currently 51 years-old and there was a part of me having flashbacks to 2014’s The Congress. However, it wasn’t the utilization of the tool that slightly flabbergasted me but rather the why.
In theory I understand perfectly the why’s of the scene. It gives us further proof of the tumultuous relationship between Tony and his father, Howard, and it sets up the emotional payoff of the third act when he learns that his parents were actually murdered.
What got me was the revelation that this was all playing out in real time in front of MIT students as part of a demonstration of his new tech. Wouldn’t this have worked better if he had been dreaming? Or even just a flashback? Either would have accomplished the necessary setup for the reveal without making it seem awkwardly tacked on but perhaps this was a way for the Russo’s to both explore Tony’s long standing abandonment issues while also showing him trying to be eagerly altruistic due to his guilt following the actions in Age of Ultron? Who knows what led to this scene, but it seems like one of the few that needed more development in the drawing board stages.
The Problem with Bucky
I remain convinced that the people who love the character Bucky only do so because they’ve also read the comics where apparently he’s a certified bad ass. I, however, did not read the comics, so I’m basing everything I know about him from the films alone. My general outlook on the character is a half-hearted shrug. In Captain America: The First Avenger, I was more invested in his relationship with Marvel all-star Peggy Carter. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I fell in love with the Falcon, Black Widow and Captain dream team and now, in Civil War, it was his and Tony’s parallels and the way their paths have been juxtaposed that truly gripped me.
So, needless to say, there’s a blatant problem to me when the emotional crux of the film is supposed to lie at the feet of Cap and Bucky and their friendship, and the cataclysmic moment where he chooses to help Bucky loses impact because their dynamic has never been a key proponent. Or at the very least, not the most engaging one. Nothing against Sebastian Stanm who clearly put a lot of work into the physicality of the Winter Soldier role. But having the divide in the film and the main drama be on his shoulders is a heavy burden for one character, and Bucky as one doesn’t deliver.
Onto some positive notes…
Captain America is still the heart of his own story
With the amount of characters being jam-packed into this film, there was reason to worry that rather than be the third installment in the Captain America series, it was going to instead become another Avengers film and sure, if you strictly look at the character count, it is. However, the film’s essence is so clearly that of a Steve Rogers story. The idealism that he shows in the face of trying to protect one friend and the belief of the majority of the team that he’s the man to follow while painting Tony in a far more antagonistic role clearly places him in the protagonist position -this is still his story. He is still the center of the film; it just so happens that his world and his story have broadened.
Due to the nature of the character, Chris Evans’s doesn’t get a lot of showy moments, but it would be disingenuous if he did. Steve Rogers is an internal character and his inner battle is clear in the small gestures he makes ,but it’s his stoicism and his physicality that is where he is allowed to shine. He is a beacon of strength no matter the circumstance and someone to look to even when the rest of his team is falling to pieces.
If Captain America is the heart, Iron Man is the grief stricken soul
One of my very favorite parts of the film is that it’s a nice reminder that before Iron Man made him a movie star, Robert Downey Jr. was a pretty terrific actor. Civil War is his best outing to date because he’s playing a version of the character we’ve never seen before: subdued. His ego is still in place, sure, but he’s retreated into himself at the start of the film. He and Pepper are having issues, his guilt over the lives lost from the Ultron catastrophe is immense, and he’s dealing with it poorly. From the second he steps on screen, he’s a loose cannon ready to go off and even if we are likely all on Steve’s side in terms of signing the papers or not, it’s difficult not to really feel for Tony by the end.
There’s a line in particular where Steve mentions knowing Howard as a young man and Tony, bitterly, says “I hated you,” giving a glimpse into a childhood that built Tony to be who is today. I’m ready to see Tony happy and healthy after a few films that have seemed to want to throw him through the emotional ringer. It’s fascinating to see just how steadfast Steve remains in his beliefs by the end of the film, so sure of his pride and trust in his friends, while Tony is at the end of the spectrum with constant doubt over what he and his team have done under the guise of playing hero.
The bad guy wins
There was never going to be an easy answer to the battle waged in this film, especially with all comic book fans expecting Steve to die. While I am very pleased he didn’t, the film managed to create enough emotional strife with how tethered the group we’ve come to love are by the end of the film. These wounds they’ve inflicted upon each other are lasting. The third act of this film is so strong because while it could have taken the expected, shock value approach of killing Steve, they instead generate pain in Tony’s belief that Steve is going to kill him, in Black Panther finding it in him to let his need for vengeance go, and with Tony’s stricken “he killed my mom.” Death and destruction doesn’t always guarantee emotional payoff or even investment but well developed characters losing faith in each other, especially in this situations, lands a harsh blow.
Zemo’s plan all along was to break the Avengers from the inside, and he did. He was acting purely on revenge, just as Tony was when he attacked Bucky, and in the end he got what he wanted. The Russo’s leave us in a place of melancholy with the team as they go their separate ways.
(UNTIL THE INFINITY WARS)
*Which, I might add, is another reason I’m glad Steve didn’t die because what were the odds of him not returning for the final two installments?
The action was better
The action beyond the immediate spectacle in these films is typically hit or miss. Like most superhero films, they don’t always know when to go smaller opposed to toppling a downtown skyscraper and calling it a day. Such has been the case with the Cap feature films, the action feels more personal and heavy hitting. What’s better is how the direction of the action differs between each character. Spider-Man doesn’t fight the same way that Black Widow does, and the film goes to lengths to actually show that.
The new members
Spider-Man and Black Panther could have very easily stolen the film away from the rest of the team had they been given more time – the latter nearly did. Tom Holland is already promising to be the best possible version of Peter Parker with an agile physicality and quippy, awkward humor that marks him fully as the teen that he is.
Chadwick Boseman enters the film as if it is his, and his fighting style as Black Panther is unlike anything else we’ve seen before in a Marvel feature. I don’t know about you but I am feeling mighty bitter at the notion that the Black Panther film was pushed back for the controversy-ladled Doctor Strange. Aside from Tony, he was given the most complete arc from start to finish, and if this is simply a taste of what he and his character is capable of, I can’t wait for a feature length film.
The two characters help balance the film’s bleaker tone, although the latter experiences his own trauma. Spider-Man delivers the humor and lighthearted nature of what it meant to be apart of the team like The Avengers, while Black Panther is the embodiment of what it means to be a bystander, a victim, of their potential wreckage.
There’s a part of me that believes that upon a second viewing my opinion of the film will dip, but there’s the other part that can’t wait to get my butt in the seat for my second time around. This film made me laugh a lot surprisingly, and made me emotional, also surprising. Fans of the Marvel universe (myself very included) have spent quite a deal of time with these characters, and it shouldn’t be shocking on the 13th outing to realize how much we care for them and want to see them be well. And yet it is.
We have a bit of time before we’ll see all of these characters in the same space again, and I have a feeling once they do it will be nothing short of epic. The circumstances that get them there, even more so dire than the ones that lead to Tony and Steve brutally fighting in the closing moments. However, I doubt they’ll touch the emotional significance of seeing these two men driven to such extremes in the first place.
The film is flawed, but it’s also evocative and powerful in its imagery and performances. It leaves us all feeling a little breathless as we anticipate (or try to) the team’s next step, whatever it may be and whether or not it will be together.
The hope, clearly, is that nothing will ever be the same.
Captain America: Civil War is out in theaters now.