Captain America: Civil War, despite my few complaints with it, is definitely a fun film, worth the ticket and the sticky floor to see. Ultimately, these are my opinions (as usual) and just an overall feeling I have, but it doesn’t really detract as much from my enjoyment as this post would maybe make it seem. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and it’s leagues ahead of the snowball of trouble that is Batman v Superman, despite me being able to enjoy that too. For now, though, I just wanted to articulate some thoughts/concerns I had about Civil War and the overarching Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The point beyond this jump is full of unmarked spoilers for Captain America: Civil War, so only read on if you’ve seen the movie or don’t mind! If you do mind, maybe pass the time by catching up on the short stories I have instead…
While the movie is a helluva lot of fun to watch, there were still a few things that I had a problem with, first while watching it, and then later talking about it with Friday in greater detail.
Firstly, I’ll gab about what I loved, because why not? I loved how they balanced the serious tone with levity we’ve come to expect from Marvel’s movies. It was great to see Ant-Man again, and I have no idea why I like him so much. Maybe it’s because it’s Paul Rudd (whom I also love) and Ant-Man’s powers are just unique enough to make his fights fun in a different way. It was especially great getting to see Spider-Man, despite me still having loved Andrew Garfield’s outings, but Tom Holland did a fantastic job, and it’s nice to see a Spider-Man that really did seem like he was just a highschooler. The fight scenes were a lot of fun, all the suits looked great. It was great that Falcon actually looked useful in this, since in Winter Soldier he was essentially up against helicarrier artillery, I was worried that all he could do was fly; it was really cool seeing him use his wings as a shields while he shot baddies and stuff.
So much to love, except the story, really. It felt like it was being pulled in too many directions.
It starts out with an accident during a terrorist clean-up mission, which sparks the Sokovia Accords and the initial idea that maybe the Avengers and those like them need some sort of regulation. It puts Cap and Iron Man at odds, but then things suddenly shift to Bucky being involved in a terrorist attack, which puts Cap and Iron Man even more at odds, and then it all comes to an end with Bucky being responsible for the deaths of Mama and Papa Stark, which puts Cap and Iron Man at each other’s throats. It felt like the initial concept of the Civil War wasn’t enough to carry things, despite an entire serial of the story running in the comics.
Don’t get me wrong, I really did enjoy Civil War, but I felt that certain things dragged it down a little. It’s great that Spider-Man is back home with Marvel, but it really feels like since they got the license back halfway through production of the movie, they tried to slap him in there. It was really fun seeing Spidey interact with all the heroes we know and love, but his, as well as Ant-Man’s, appearance seemed so short-lived to the point where it was almost too obvious that it was fan-service. I appreciate it, but a part of me is also just sort of over that kind of thing, because I’m tired of those little tastes. Seeing Cap’s shield in the ice, or Mjolnir in the desert, all those little nods to something more were enough, but these cameos sort of detracted from the story being told. It was like “Hey, everyone is at each other’s throats but SPIDER-MAAAAAN!”
It might be because I have cursory knowledge of how the Civil War in the comics went down, and seeing that big, superhero throwdown with a bunch of fan favorites felt more superfluous than anything. It sounds funny to call it fanservice, because undoubtedly that’s what the original comic was at its core, but it was wholly built around that aspect, it was all these superheroes choosing a side for something that affected all of them. Ultimately, the Civil War film felt like a story about Bucky’s past and possible redemption, with a bunch of extra Avengers-level stuff tacked onto it, as if neither plot could have survived on their own. In effect, the story to me felt a little too focused on one or two characters (Bucky and Cap) and the event that spawns from them, instead of a large-scale event going on where we see it from a few characters perspectives. Ironically, that’s sorta how the Avengers films go. In the end, it really came down to Captain America and Iron Man have a lover’s spat they dragged all their friends into, rather than an actual civil war. A civil war would usually entail a long and arduous conflict, and really, the “war” only lasts for like fifteen minutes, and then Spider-Man is told to go home, others are put in jail, and War Machine is out of commission.
It was also a little weird that when War Machine craters into a field suddenly things got a little too real, as if all that beating-the-crap-out-of-each-other-in-a-German-airport was all in good fun. Like, you’re a bunch of superpowered warriors! What did you think was gonna happen?! Hell, four of the combatants were straight-up humans with no special defenses who could have gotten grievously injured during the fight, had they not been fighting each other. There’s a bittersweet irony in that in a real battle you would immediately go for the squishiest opponents first. It’s an odd moment when you realize that everyone needs to use the right amount of force to stop each other, but not kill them. Except for Rhodes, because fuck Rhodes, apparently.
Seeing the superheroes duke it out was immense fun, but the final battle between Cap, Bucky, and Iron Man also felt so incredibly forced. Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown tired of characters/events in stories being far too connected, but Bucky having been the one to kill Stark’s parents is a bit much. I’m supposed to believe that Iron Man is so overcome with grief and rage to know that his mother was murdered by Bucky that he’s willing to damn-near kill both him and Captain America. Yet, I had never really had an inkling that Tony ever cared about his parents enough for him to get that upset at a guy who he knows has had his mind messed with, this far in the future from the incident. They give us this quaint little scene of a young Tony home for the holidays, to show us how he interacted with his parents, and for him to say “I regret not telling them I love them,” but it sounds less like an implication of “I loved my mother enough to kill” and more of a very relatable feeling we would have in hindsight of a loved one’s death. It just felt a bit too tenuous of a connection. The love wasn’t established enough beforehand for it to become a major part of why he continues to fight.
It’s interesting, because up until that point, we’re led to believe that Cap, Bucky, Iron Man, and Black Panther are all on a collision course in Siberia with a bunch of ruthless Winter Soldier facsimiles. They throw us for a loop by playing with our expectations, where the soldiers are dead, and Zemo’s ultimate goal is to reveal the fate of the Starks, in order to incite a battle that tears them apart. While easy enough to expect, given that we are fed this information as the intrigue continues, we are given the unexpected, but…honestly…the latter was hard to swallow, and I would have really rather have seen Cap, Bucky, Iron Man, and Black Panther go toe-to-toe against the Winter Soldiers.
Now, that isn’t to say at all that going in directions opposite of what the audience expects is a bad thing, it’s just that if that unexpected direction isn’t good…maybe go with what they are expecting, and try your damnedest to make it just as enjoyable. I just feel that Bucky suddenly being responsible for the Stark parents’ deaths was a bit too overdramatic, some last ditch effort to reinject controversy to get the guys fighting again. It feels that they didn’t commit hard enough to the division brought upon by the Sokovia Accords, where they then let it hinge on Bucky’s framing, where ultimately all signs pointed to a confrontation with Zemo and some Winter Soldiers which would have cleared Bucky of any wrongdoing, and wouldn’t have really resolved the Accords problem.
Alternatively, it certainly feels like Zemo’s plan worked pretty damn well without the info on the Starks’ murders. All he had to do was take advantage of Scarlet Witch’s mistake, fan the flames of controversy surrounding the Accords by framing Bucky, and then sit back and watch “the empire” tear itself apart. Had Zemo not left behind clues that he used prosthetics to frame Bucky, or even the psychologist’s body(!), Cap’s intentions to fight for Bucky would have gone on pretty much without any differences. The interesting aspect to that is obviously he left behind those clues so Cap, Bucky, and Iron Man would converge on the lab in Siberia. Disregarding how Zemo could have no way of knowing who would survive or be free in order to arrive at the lab, it was all just really unnecessary, because they were already in the middle of tearing each other apart. It was almost like a fail-safe for an outcome that had such a low possibility of occurring, like getting insurance specifically for a flounder setting fire to your car.
Then, of course, everything ends on such an odd note. Captain America busts the other Avengers out of the hoosegow, and…what…? Now they’re all fugitives? They can’t really continue their heroic feats without getting caught, nor go back to the Avenger’s headquaters. The Sokovia Accords are still in place, too. How long are we even going to have to wait for a conclusion to those problems.
It’s strange, because Civil War is definitely better than Batman v Superman, but both have their share of problems. The latter is a bloated mess that moves too fast, where nearly every character’s motivations but Batman’s are unknown, while the former’s story jumps from inciting incidents in order to continue conflict, ultimately getting so far away from the original incident that goes completely unresolved. It’s funny that Batman v Superman has a tighter conflict in that it’s only between the two titular characters, but ends up being about more characters than those two and fails on the title bout, while Civil War was about a conflict between a bunch of characters, and ends up flopping around trying to give them a reason to fight, where a majority of the conflict is between three (or four) characters total.
Oh yeah, and now I feel terrible for Scott Lang, because he just wanted to stay out of trouble with the law so he could be a good father, and now he’s baaaasically in trouble with the government…
This also brings up another problem that I have overall with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU as it’s called. I certainly enjoy the movies, because it’s hard not to. Performed by all-star casts, with lots of heart and great action, it’s a lot of great fun. However, I’ve consistently had this niggling feeling in the back of my mind regarding movies in the MCU because they just end up sometimes feeling like a means to an end. Ironically, the intent was never so blatantly obvious than in Warner Brothers’ attempts to haphazardly build up a DC Cinematic Universe and begin pumping out Justice League movies to contend with the MCU’s hugely successful Avengers films. I felt that one of Batman v Superman‘s biggest failings was how bloated it was, trying to shove Justice League foundations into a movie that already had a lot happening in it. Marvel, to their credit, certainly does a better job of hiding it, or at least allowing us to enjoy the ride.
I loved Guardians of the Galaxy, but at its core it was still just setting up yet another piece of the Infinity War puzzle by showing us another Infinity Stone. They could have done away with all reference to Thanos and the Infinity Stones and used any other McGuffin, and it still would have held up. Everything is supposed to come together somehow, culminating in some gigantic interstellar war that honestly…I’m not entirely sure how well that’ll go down within even two movies. It’s just too much.
This also raises the question that if this universe is so interconnected, where are the other heroes when their friends are in trouble? My gal Friday lamented the lack of Thor in Civil War simply because she loves seeing his interactions with the rest of the characters. Fortunately, Thor is easy enough to wave away because a skype call to Asgard would be a bitch, and the likes of the Hulk don’t want any part of anything, really. However, back in Ant-Man when Hank Pim was telling Scott Lang about the dangers that were to come if they didn’t intervene, Lang says they should call the Avengers. We all laughed, because hahaha Ant-Man’s troubles were small beans compared to what the Avengers assemble for, and Tic-Tac totally had things under control in the end anyway. Yet…what about other times when big trouble was brewing? Thor: Dark World‘s final, climactic battle took place in the middle of London, where an evil race of magical superbeings were planning to take over the world and yet that wasn’t something for the Avengers to assemble for? That’s the exact kind of stuff they are supposed to be heading off!
Ironically, the beginning of Civil War shows a small team of the Avengers going after a terrorist threat, so…what’s the metric here? It’s cool that they are willing to go after some piddly terrorist cell, but still, what about stopping the Dark Elves? Why wasn’t that a priority? As an aside, why didn’t we get a reference to what happened in Greenwich when that suit was talking about the Sokovia Accords? It feels like they just don’t acknowledge it.
I suppose we’re to believe that superheroes are sometimes busy with their own stuff, which could be understandable, but it’s beginning to feel a bit unbelievable when so many of the MCU’s movies end with these climactic, near-catastrophic battles they could have used way more help with. It also certainly doesn’t help my suspension of disbelief when I have to accept “we couldn’t afford to have [actor/actress portraying hero] in this movie” as another reason as to why the Avengers can’t help each other out. There’s a reason why that joke went over so well in Deadpool.
Plus, with all these plans about what movies are getting sequels and when, it really sorta takes the suspense out of certain characters’ fates. I no longer fear for the lives of a super hero, because I know every damn movie they’re going to be in for the next, like, ten years.
There’s just so much that my suspension of disbelief has to account for when it comes to the MCU these days, and it’s getting a little stressed. We’re getting another Spider-Man though, so I guess that’s cool.
See you all in the next post. Until then, Keep Yourself Alive!