So, Captain America: Civil War. The second movie about dueling superheroes this year. Or, as it's likely soon to be known, "the one that actually did it well."
"What? You thought you were going to have to wait before I started shitting on BvS? You don't know me very well, do you?"
Okay, now I've got that customary (and entirely deserved) jab at BvS out of the way, let's talk how I felt about this movie. I'll try and avoid raving about the stuff everyone else has already mentioned (the airport scene, Spider-Man, the airport scene, Black Panther, the good development for characters like SW and Vision, the fucking airport scene holy shit that was good) and talk about some of the less appreciated stuff I can analyse in more detail. Be warned that I'll be going pretty heavily into spoilers for this. So if you haven't seen the movie yet, go out and watch it. It's very good. Got it? Okay, let's get started.
Out of all the standalone Marvel movies released so far, my favourites have easily been the two Captain America movies. Despite admittedly slipping a little in their third acts, they did an utterly outstanding job developing a character who I'd probably call one of the most difficult superheroes to write for. They managed to craft a fantastic persona for Steve Rogers while still keeping to the spirit of the comics (and, in some cases, surpassing them). So I was interested to see whether they'd be able to go three for three in creating great CA movies and possibly topple Nolan's Batman as my favourite Superhero trilogy. And the result was... yes and no. Yes, in that it's a fantastic movie. No, in that, despite the title, I can't really call it a Captain America movie. It is Avengers 2.5. I can understand the confusion because it's a different type of Avengers movie than Whedon's entries, but it is an Avengers movie. Whedon tried to balance screentime and story evenly between all of the Avengers, which worked fantastically for the first film and... not so much for the second (which is why we got shoehorned-in subplots like Thor's cave, just to give him something to do). The Russos, on the other hand, seemed to have decided on the 'Fox X-Men' method for this movie. Specifically, they chose to focus on a couple of key characters as protagonists, while giving the rest of the ensemble their own smaller moments to make it feel like a team movie. In this case, Cap and Tony both feel more like joint protagonists with their own stories. If this was a Cap movie, Cap would be the protagonist and Tony the antagonist, like I originally assumed they were going to go with (and no, antagonist does not automatically mean 'villain'). But that's not the case. As such, we don't really get as much exploration into Cap and the themes and ideas surrounding him specifically as we would if he were the sole protagonist. There are bits here and there, but not as much I was expecting. So, as a Captain America movie, it's a little disappointing.
With that said, as an Avengers movie, it's fucking fantastic. Despite AOU's best efforts, this the real 'Empire Strikes Back' of Marvel Movies. Darker, bleaker, willing to develop its characters more and add new dimensions to their interactions but, unlike BvS, this movie actually knows how to pull said dark moments off and make them feel satisfying. Plus it has a very bittersweet, bordering full-on downer ending. It may not be as direct a cliffhanger as Han being frozen in carbonite, but ends with a lot of characters in a dark place, emotionally or literally. Speaking of, despite the added focus on Cap and Tony, none of the team feels massively neglected (although some added Hawkeye and Ant-Man earlier on would've been nice). Plus SW and Vision got some much needed development that AOU really should've provided. Honestly, it's the sort of movie where I came out liking pretty much every side character even more than I did before. And that's the sign of a really great team-up movie.
"Yes. Even Hawkeye.
I will say though, the first act did feel kinda sluggish for me. It took me a while to work out why, but I honestly think it was maybe a little too serious. The main players in Act 1 (Cap, Tony, Winter Soldier, Black Panther) are all largely serious and brooding thoughout, since Tony had his wisecracking cut down (which completely works for the guilt-ridden mood his character is in through most of the movie). And while there's nothing inherently wrong with being serious and brooding, and this movie avoids the trap BvS fell into by actually having the characters and debates be complex, well-written and interesting, it did start to wear thin on me after a while. The more consistent comic-reliefs (like Ant-Man, Hawkeye or Spider-Man) aren't introduced until around halfway through and I don't think it was a coincidence that the movie seriously picked up around then.
Speaking of serious and brooding, I also think another problem I had with Act 1 here is the heavy focus on Bucky/Winter Soldier, whose subplot was easily probably the weakest because the character himself isn't really all that compelling. He kinda worked as the silent, unstoppable muscle in TWS, but as a heroic character, he's fairly bland and uninteresting. That said, despite what I've heard others complain, Sebastian Stan is not a bad actor. If there's anything I got from rewatching CA1 before this movie, it's that Stan can be a very charming mofo if he's allowed to be. The problem is that the Winter Soldier's character is a literal emotionless assassin-turned brooding emo loner. And that's difficult for any actor to make charming. Hell, Stan gets to show some his charm towards the end of this movie when he and Cap are working together and banter some. I'd like to see much much more of that sort of Bucky going forward, personally.
"Either that or give him his own 'Odd Couples' sitcom with Falcon.
On the more positive side, despite many others understandably dismissing him as 'typical lousy Marvel villain', I actually really liked Zemo as an antagonist. Admittedly, I didn't like him until the final act where we a) get to learn the full scope/aim of his true plan and b ) he gets that fantastic scene explaining his motivations to Black Panther which both actors blew away (seriously, one of the best character scenes in the entire Marvel movie canon, imo). In the first two acts though, he really did seem like an extra generic Marvel villain. But the second he blindsided me by revealing that he killed the other Winter Soldiers (who were seemingly his entire goal up until then), he began to evolve into something new, interesting and more complex that I only wish we'd been able to see earlier and hope we see more of in later films. Also, while I've been trying to avoid too many BvS comparisons up until now, there's just one scene I really need to compare to show why Zemo really grew on me. It's after the main villain (Luthor for BvS, Zemo for CW) has been incarcerated and is being visited (by Batman for BvS and a severely underutilised Martin Freeman for CW). Luthor goes on this big silly rant that is supposed to seem intimidating but comes off as silly, especially when he ends it by going 'Ding ding ding'. Zemo on the other hand, only says two words in his scene. Martin Freeman taunts him from outside his cell and tells him that he lost. All Zemo says is "Did I?" And God damn did that line speak more than any of Luthor's ramblings. Especially when it's immediately followed by a montage of the remaining Avengers looking largely miserable. Because Zemo did win. He got exactly what he wanted. The Avengers crumbled from within and they it did by their own hands. He created a rift that cannot be fixed easily and the ending of the movie shows it. The bad guy won. How's that for the 'Marvel always plays it safe story-wise' crowd?
Speaking of, despite the airport battle being unambiguously the best action set piece of the movie, I was surprised by how much I liked the actual final Siberia battle. I'd heard people say it was a bit of letdown after the airport but, for me, it was the perfect companion piece and contrasted it perfectly. To elaborate, in my opinion, the airport battle embodied the 'fun' side of superhero vs superhero conflicts. All the characters got to let loose and bounce off each other, ability-wise, in interesting ways. There was a lot of joking and carnage and, while there certainly were stakes at hand, it definitely felt like there was an air of fun pervading the whole thing. The Siberia battle, on the other hand, embodied the 'serious' side of superhero conflicts. Anger and emotions run high. There are no witty one-liners. It is brutal and bloody for each side involved and comes from not just one movie, but an entire cinematic universe's worth of build-up of emotion on each side. There is no misunderstanding they can solve. There is no magic 'Martha' quick fix to make them drop their grudges. There isn't even a common enemy to force them together. It's just Cap, Bucky and Tony fighting until the other side simply can't get up any more. It's personal and dark in a way that the airport battle wasn't and in a way BvS wishes it could've been. And the contrast between the tones of the airport battle and the Siberia battle manage to emphasis and improve them both. I've always been on the opinion that darkness works best when you have light to balance it out and I think this movie showed that really very well with these two fights.
Okay, I think that's most of the more major stuff I wanted to talk about and probably a good time to start tapering off. I do have a list of the smaller little stuff wanted to mention.
- Peggy Carter's funeral hit me with all the feels. It says something about how great a character Peggy was that Sharon managed to become a more interesting character solely through her relation to her aunt. Speaking of, if God ever smiles down upon me enough to renew Agent Carter, I want an entire season of Peggy just being a badass Aunt to kid Sharon.
- Speaking of Sharon, she kinda disappeared halfway through the movie, didn't she? Sure there was enough going on elsewhere that I didn't miss her, but it felt a bit weird considering how much she was in the first half.
- Also the Sharon/Steve kiss didn't feel nearly as icky as I feared it would be, considering the... 'implications' of that relationship normally. I think a large part of it is that they developed their relationship before Steve found out she was related to Peggy and it really doesn't feel the two are only interested in each other because of Peggy. They're just two grown adults engaging in a romantic gesture, who happen to share an important figure in their lives.
- I liked the little character moments between T'Challa and Black Widow. The two only had a few scenes, but they had surprisingly good chemistry.
- I also liked that the Widow/Bruce relationship was barely brought up. And I would be perfectly happy if it never got brought up again.
- I wasn't actually all that fussed about Martin Freeman being underutilised, if only because it really feels like he's being saved for something in a later film. Also, I found his attempted American accent hilarious.
- I was kinda irritated that they killed off Crossbones though. He seemed like he'd make an interesting recurring villain. That said, did we ever find out who he was trying to sell that infectious disease thing to?
- Falcon's new bulletproof wingsuit is awesome.
- Despite my dig at him earlier, Hawkeye continues to be the most underrated Avenger, character-wise.
- Spider-Man was handled pretty much like Wonder Woman should've been in BvS. He didn't feel like a glorified cameo nor a shoe-horned trailer for his own movie. He helped add to the movie, both by helping Tony develop and, like Ant-Man, by bringing some much needed levity to the airport fight. Also actually having some kind of personality helped.
- If you're complaining about all the BvS comparisons I've made so far, believe me when I say that compared to all the comparisons I could've made, this is pigeon feed. There's a fairly high number of similarities between the two, if you really look. Not to say either is ripping off the other (despite my point below joking about it), just that there are a lot of points to compare. Of course, I avoided most of those because they would inevitably cause me to go on another rant about how incompetent BvS was and, considering I've already written a 5 part blog series on that, I don't need that distraction again.
- Really though, at this point, I can't help but feel Marvel is deliberately trying to show up DC by doing everything the latter does but actually doing it well. DC releases a movie attempting a darker taker on a commonly light, idealistic character and creates one of the most divisive SH movies ever. One year later, Marvel does the same with Winter Soldier and it's one of their most acclaimed films. DC attempts to build a reputation for telling 'dark, serious' stories. Marvel releases several dark-as-hell Netflix series to massive acclaim. DC attempts to have two of its biggest heroes in an epic fight and, well, you know the rest. I almost feel sorry for them. Then I remember that Snyder is still doing Justice League and all pity washes away like tears in the rain...
So yeah, to sum up, it was a very good movie. Maybe not the Captain America sequel I would've liked, but still a very strong movie in its own right. Admittedly, I'm not entirely certain whether the Russo's will be able to pull off Infinity Wars (since an epic space saga is a lot different from what we've seen in TWS and CW), but after this I feel confident they have a good chance. Unlike a certain other director helming a certain other superhero movie.
"What? Rupert Wyatt was a poor choice. Who did you think I was talking about?"