As someone who enjoyed the beautiful mess that was Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and is getting somewhat tired of the “Marvel formula” (I found Age of Ultron to be slightly boring), I went into Civil War thinking that I may not enjoy it, even though it did receive a lot of critical acclaim when it was released back in May. Well, that wasn’t the case. Captain America: Civil War was highly enjoyable and satisfying due to the character dynamics and serious tone, but also a little disappointing due to its unnecessary convoluted plot and underwhelming villain.
To start with the positives, Marvel knows how to portray its heroes as complicated characters with clear motivations and emotions. From Steve Rogers to Vision, each hero is acting for very specific reasons. From political reasons to emotional ones, the heroes fight and argue with each other using their words and fighting abilities to support their opinions. The Sokovia Accords, which have been written by the United Nations to keep the Avengers Initiative in check to prevent further civilian casualties, has effectively split the group of heroes into two. Tony Stark is in agreement that there needs to be more oversight after learning about devastating personal losses of strangers affected by the Avengers’ actions, while Captain Rogers is wary of government control due to his experience with SHIELD and HYDRA during the events of Captain America: Winter Soldier. These two protagonists then go head to head in some of the best comic book action sequences ever put to film.
The Russo directors have improved upon the solid hand-to-hand combat from the previous Capt. movie by adding more physical in camera stuntwork, including several impressive pieces of foot chase scenes. Characters sprint between cars, jump over obstacles, and have a variety of acrobatic fighting styles. Two scenes in particular stand out, one was an emotional fight between Iron Man, Captain America and Bucky Barnes in close quarters that has great choreography and cinematography. The other that has been much discussed is the airport fight scene.
When I first saw the trailer and saw the two sides run at each other on an empty tarmac, all I could think was how bland it would look seeing many heroes fight each other against a grey-colored background. Thankfully the abilities of the heroes on display (particularly those by Black Panther, Spider-Man and Ant-Man) were incredible and made this scene worth the price of admission alone. It is varied, exciting, funny, thrilling, and surprising (Ant-Man, dude, he was awesome). The film does diminish the stakes when characters aren’t in actual danger, as proven when Black Widow and Hawkeye are fighting and they quip about pulling punches and still remaining friends. If no long term consequences occur for the side characters in this fight, why fight? And why recruit Spider-Man and Ant-Man and no one else? Is 6 vs 6 really going to make more impact than 5 vs 5?
Speaking of Spider-Man, Tom Holland killed it as a poor, dumpster-diving teenage Peter Parker. To me, he was Peter the minute he started talking to Stark and Aunt May (Marissa Tomei (!!!)). This was the best incarnation of Peter Parker and his alter-ego since Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films. He was great. From his movement to his dialogue, he just felt perfect. I now have high hopes for Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Black Panther also left a positive impact on me. Chadwick Boseman has continuously impressed me each time I’ve seen him, so I am thrilled he has the opportunity to shine as this exciting new character. He was somber, emotional, charming, heroic, and royal in the role of T’Challa. He truly inhabited the role of a ruler of a small but powerful country. Plus seeing his fighting abilities was incredibly fun. With Boseman portraying the stoic king of Wakanda, Ryan Coogler directing, and the incredible cast, I can’t wait for Black Panther. So if these two new heroes are great and the action for the most part is exciting and physical and brutal and the characters have clear cut emotional and political motivations to go against each other, how could this film also disappoint? Because of the villain.
I still hope to write about how the MCU has terrible villains (minus Loki and those on the Netflix shows), so I will keep this rant short. Marvel needs better villains. They need people with enough screen time to fully develop their motivations and menace. Civil War unfortunately does not have that. Zemo, played by the great Daniel Bruhl (everyone should see Rush starring Bruhl and Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth; Bruhl is fantastic in it), has motivations that are reasonable and valid enough to pit Iron Man and Captain America against one another, but his “evil” plot is so convoluted, so extravagant, so much of a big silly red herring, that the emotional impact of his second to last scene is missed. Yes the reasons for his actions make perfect sense, but the actions don’t make sense. Like Lex Luthor in the surprisingly similar Batman V Superman (in terms of basic plot points and an almost Doomsday-type fight at the end), Zemo’s master plan is a mess that should never had been included.
Zemo could have been a politician from Sokovia who spearheaded the Accords. He could have released vital information as a politician or soldier with power and sway to force Iron Man to go after Bucky that would have led to the same final fight between Barnes, Rogers and Stark. Zemo could have had the same emotional backstory (which is good) but had a different plan. Instead his plan stems on coincidence and third party choice. There were too many variables in his plan. Stark and Rogers didn’t need an outside villain to force them to fight each other. Their own personal motivations would have caused them to do so anyway. Bruhl didn’t play the typical antagonist that was bad just to be bad or craved power to have power (like in Thor: The Dark World, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: The First Avenger, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, etc.), he had zero super powers and was just a man stricken with grief who wanted vengeance against the Avengers. Which is a great concept and one worth exploring. Unfortunately this film failed to fully realize that vision and idea. Zemo should have been one of the better villains of this ever growing and expanding franchise. He only has two good scenes, one with T’Challa as they discuss vengeance, and another where he listens to a voicemail, and that’s it. The rest causes confusion and annoyance and frustration.
And also, Rogers relationship with Sharon Carter, screw that noise. It is incredibly underdeveloped and doesn’t belong in this film. Sharon Carter is not a bad character, and I look forward to seeing more of her, but Rogers doesn’t need a love interest, he already had a great one with Peggy Carter and their relationship was already complex and beautiful. Let that relationship and that woman define him and his heart, not Peggy’s niece.
Overall Captain America: Civil War continues the greatness of the Captain America series of films. Each one is entertaining and improves on its predecessor in multiple ways. The main conflict is interesting and worth exploring. Steve Rogers, in all of his boy scout goodness, continues to be the standout hero in the MCU for me. With his heroism, Marvel has successfully explored what it means to be a soldier and to be an American, power, vengeance, and friendship. Friendship is the key theme in this film, as the bond between Stark and Rogers breaks as the friendship between Rogers and Barnes strengthens. These characters deserve to be the central conflict of this solid film, too bad a weaker villain lessens the impact of Captain America V Iron Man.