It has been nearly a decade since Marvel Studios decided to stop leasing out their characters and, instead, create their own in-studio films which would build up a much larger narrative and cinematic world. It’s safe to say this slow but meticulously crafted cinematic universe has worked in their favor, with each new film seeping into a much larger narrative. What started off as little references in the Phase One films transformed into these beloved characters teaming up for the first time in 2012’s The Avengers. What was once an unprecedented super-hero fest has now become a normality in these movies.
We’re not shocked when Captain America and Iron Man are in the same room – in fact, it’s expected at this point. As audience members, we feel as if it’s an obligation for these heroes to work together to fight for the greater good as a unit and then hang out right after. Captain America: Civil War takes this idea and flips it on its head, making us realize that these heroes can fight for their own ideologies and have flaws – just like the movie they’re in.
At its core, Civil War is about two different men with two different ideologies facing the consequences of fighting a war with no governmental consent. Iron Man, who is clearly jarred from the events of Age of Ultron, is in love with the idea of registering and acting as a task-force as opposed to vigilantes, as the film puts it. On the other hand, Cap doesn’t agree with this, seeing this as shackles that bide him down. For Iron Man, this regulation is a necessity in his progression, as we see a man who once mocked the government, now siding by it. And this works for Tony; he feels responsible for the events that transpired in Age of Ultron and believes that without regulation and a set of codes, The Avengers can spiral out of control. It makes sense.
Cap, who started off as the poster child for patriotism is now a man with a strong amount of distrust towards his government. It’s necessary for him to go out and save people, regardless of the government’s consent or not. These are natural progressions for these character’s as we’ve seen now 13 movies that have built up this clash of ideologies. It feels precise and organic, but it just lacks any substance.
While these pivotal discussions are happening, the film’s biggest crutch comes into play: The Winter Soldier – once Steve Roger’s friend, Bucky Barnes. Captain America is very much the heart and soul of this film, but it just doesn’t work. Steve is so hell bent on protecting his friend who was once a brainwashed assassin, that he’s willing to fight The Avengers for it. And it’s hard to buy it, really. He comes off as a selfish, brutal warrior who won’t listen to any rhyme or reason. It is a genuine fact that Bucky has murdered people before, yet Cap is still inclined to lose it all for him. And sure, if this was an Avengers movie, I would’ve played along with it. But it isn’t. This is first and foremost a Captain America film and it suffers from it. The film bends over backwards to manipulate you into thinking Cap is right for what’s he’s doing, yet, at the same time, be totally okay with him putting innocent lives in danger by letting this once brainwashed assassin loose. It forces you to believe Iron Man is the villain, not letting an 80 year old friendship bloom once more.
There’s discussions of differences and opposing ideas but they’re really just there to service a giant action set piece between all these characters. Don’t get me wrong, that action set piece is pure brilliance, and we’ll get to that later, but really, what are these characters fighting for? The narrative, right from the get go sets into motion a slow and dull tale that revolves around revenge and supposed trauma that doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s just a series of scenes that are injected with these two main themes and then let loose, hoping it sticks to the wall. And this slows down the pacing quite a bit, as it’s just repeats of the same three previous things: ideologies, revenge, and trauma; discord that doesn’t go anywhere.
Even after that airport sequence, the film dwindles to a halt as the third act is bland to no degree. It simply falls right on its face, and the only mystery it had going for it (which I won’t spoil) is essentially turned into a “Oh, cool. Wait, that’s it…? What the f-” moment. The finale should’ve been much more inviting but just left me feeling cold, because at that point, it didn’t matter which team won because there was no point to this battle. By resting the film on Cap’s shoulders and not the regulation treaty, you just get a contrived story which doesn’t live up the name at all. It made me wonder where the actual Civil War was – where the politics would come into the forefront and an actual debate with substance would happen – because all I got was just a bunch of obnoxious and angst-riddled teenagers with bland ideas fighting to the death. That being said, this childish fight is some of the best action I have ever seen. Period.
The airport action sequence is about 17 minutes long and it’s pure perfection. You have your heroes in a large playground and they just let loose in the most glorious way possible. Characters run and swing across the screen, performing character-oriented moves that are just insane. They work together, like heroes are supposed to, even when they’re trying to kill the other side. Despite the chaos of it all, the writers still found time to make this sequence as hilarious as possible. It’s hard to discuss the minutiae of this scene without giving away spoilers, but in all honesty, this is one of the best action sequences ever. It’s purely unprecedented and is worth the price of admission alone. This is the peak of the film and the only reason it exists. A bunch of disjointed and convoluted scenes led up to this, but I had the biggest grin on my face.
Let’s talk about some of the positives here (aside from the airport sequence) because there are quite a few. The film does a great job introducing Black Panther who is played with prominence by Chadwick Boseman. His arc truly matters and is the one I found to be the most balanced and unique of the few. In action, he’s great and his suit adds a real levity and threat to his character. And yes, Spider-Man is great. He’s in it for much more than you think and he completely steals the show. It’s not wise for me to discuss how (or why) he plays into the narrative but he might just be the best Peter Parker and Spider-Man we’ve seen on screen.
Despite its disjointedness, the film offers a plethora of great character moments and feels almost like a “best-of” cut. These are moments that’ll be talked about for years and some of them come from some of the least suspected people. For one, Ant-Man is a joy to be around and his stuff is some of the best in the entire movie. The same goes for Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Vision as well. There’s tons of fun to be had with the secondary characters, even when our main duo are fighting a war that doesn’t need to be fought.
A few other flaws include wonky editing in the first two action sequences and tons of shaky cam. It detracted from the experience which is odd because the airport sequence is operatic and is traditionally shot. I’m sure the Russo brothers were trying to add some thematic levity to the jarring editing and shaky cam but it didn’t add much of anything. Also, the score by Henry Jackman is instantly forgettable and doesn’t offer many momentous cues as one would expect.
Overall, Captain America: Civil War is a substantial entry into the ever-growing Marvel universe. It’s a mish-mash of forced ideas that lead to a conflict that doesn’t necessarily need to happen under the circumstances its happening under, but it’s a welcomed effort. If anything, this film is the perfect bite-sized introduction to Black Panther and Spider-Man, two characters to get very excited for. Along with some fantastic character moments and a jaw-dropping action sequence, Civil War is definitely going to be the most memorable MCU for years to come, even if it’s thought of out of context.