Spoiler alert: Cap never once takes his shirt off in this movie.
by Thom Yee
A man, any man, may appear without aggression, at least may seem without aggression at first. Whether a man loses his sense of aggression without proper outlet, whether a man learns that society would sooner reward reasoned thought than barbaric action, whether a man’s natural aggression is sapped from him as he finds that only quiet conduct has been deemed acceptable, a man is told to be calm and collected and apply his other talents to win the day. But deep, deep down, down inside, a man knows that whatever the situation, even if the other man has more money, wields more power, or has reached the adulation that can only come from a celebrated status, a man knows that the only thing that ever mattered and ever will matter was that he would win in a fight against the other man. That’s what makes a man a man. Or an Iron Man. Or a Spider-Man.
The idea of superheroes fighting each other before teaming up to take on the real bad guy is one of the hoariest old tropes of superhero fiction, and as foolish, overzealous, and unnecessary as it may seem, let’s face it, we all love to watch a fight, the more superpowered the better. It’s inside of us, innate, a desire to assert ourselves and claim dominance, and when we don’t have that ability ourselves, we leave it to our champions, our superheroes, to do it for us. Even when talking things out almost always makes more sense. Or at least usually leads to fewer hard feelings.
Ever since the two first met back in 2012’s The Avengers, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark have had a contentious relationship. They may have grown to respect each other’s talents and abilities (even though they never did agree on how to conduct themselves on the battlefield), but they were never on the same page, not totally, when it came to politics or personal beliefs. The motivation and argument that Captain America: Civil War is making, between #TeamCap’s liberty or #TeamIronMan’s responsibility is the question of whether or not our heroes should be regulated and government sanctioned. When posed against the seemingly black and white backdrop of a summer superhero blockbuster, the answer at first might seem clear, but if you don’t see the shades of grey in the question, your answer probably says more about you than it does about the issue. It’s a smart question honestly, at least smarter than it has any need to be, because… well, we all know what this movie really is:
What’s it about?
It’s been more than a year since Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), our Captain America and the leader of the Avengers, discovered that his former wartime ally, James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) was still alive and working for sinister forces as the Winter Soldier, and in that time, despite exhaustive efforts, he still hasn’t found him. Long thought perished in one of their greatest battles against Hydra, Bucky had in fact been found, enhanced, and brainwashed by mysterious foreign financiers, and repeatedly put in and brought out of suspended animation as he carried out some of the most notable and notorious assassinations of the 20th century. When evidence that implicates Bucky in an attack on the UN arises, Captain America intervenes, but after the events of the battle of New York, the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Ultron’s attack on Sokovia left hundreds of innocent civilians dead or injured, the public and governmental outcry against superhumans has grown to a fever pitch, leading to the Sokovia Accords, a treaty mandating government-sanctioned oversight on superhuman activities that counts the superhero Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) among its most active proponents. Disagreeing with the Accords’ attempt to dictate when and where superheroes are allowed to act, Cap and his small group of supporters now find themselves on the run from UN forces and former Avengers allies alike as he tries to save his best friend.
There’s no way around it (at least not in my mind), and I would love to tell you otherwise when it comes to one of the more influential comics of the 21st century, but the original Civil War miniseries on which Captain America: Civil War is partially based is a really stupid comicbook. Written by Mark Millar (the creator of Kick-Ass, Wanted, and the comicbook that inspired Kingsman: The Secret Service among other [and forthcoming movie] properties) and published in 2006, it’s a series that asked the same basic question of superhero sanctioning, only also with the added caveat that superheroes must reveal their secret identities as part of its mass registration process. You see, unlike in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Marvel comicbook universe is filled with hundreds of different superheroes, with many still trying to maintain their secret identities, and so whether or not you agree with the idea that superheroes need to be policed, that’s a lot to ask of any hero who’s trying to protect their families and loved ones (like Spider-Man or Daredevil). It’s a series that might seem like it’s asking hard questions about power and responsibility and oversight and who-watches-the-watchmen-type truisms, but it’s an inelegant series at best, and one whose major appeal was clearly seeing superheroes fighting each other on an unprecedented scale. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, I’m not even saying that fighting isn’t what superhero comics are all, basically, about, I’m just saying that, for those of you who haven’t read the original comicbook yet, don’t feel like reading it will give you any more insight than just watching the movie.
Considering that all of Captain America, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Iron Man, War Machine, Vision, and newcomers Spider-Man and Black Panther are in this movie, Captain America: Civil War has been labeled more Avengers 2.5 than Captain America 3, but the producers of the movie have all along insisted that this is a Captain America story first and foremost. After having seen it, I can tell you that that’s technically true, it is a story that begins, middles, and ends with stories built on the house that Captain America has built, but this is definitely a story that’s the culmination of a whole lot more. Civil War is neither as personal as The First Avenger or The Winter Soldier, nor is it as content to examine the continuing stories of Captain America on as small a scale.
Is It Any Good?
It’d be hard for anyone invested in this world or invested in seeing movies like this succeed to not enjoy Captain America: Civil War. Very hard. Like Batman v Superman before it, it’s a movie packed with great moments, but unlike BvS, it’s also an almost shockingly coherent and remarkably balanced movie when you consider just how many things are going on. As the follow up to The Winter Soldier, it’s a movie that needs to catch back up with and continue the story of Bucky, tell us what happens with Peggy Carter (Steve’s would be World-War-II-era girlfriend), update Steve’s possible romantic relationship with Agent Sharon Carter, and continue Steve’s partnership with allies Falcon and Black Widow, but as a major piece in the MCU machine, it also introduces the idea of UN-sanctioned superhero oversight, the Black Panther, and Spider-Man, while setting up Iron Man as an antagonist, showing us how Steve has done with the new Avengers, progressing Scarlet Witch and the Vision’s relationship, pulling Ant-Man into the Avengers’ fold, and setting up where the universe is going next. And, like all MCU movies, it still has to be at least a little bit funny.
As in the better movies in the MCU, Civil War is a movie that’s smart enough to consider these characters as real people and how they’re affected by their chosen professions, and I’m not just talking about superhero oversight. While in the midst of introducing the Sokovia Accords to the Avengers, Steve learns of the passing of someone close to him, one of the last of his WWII-era friends, and immediately tells everyone he needs to go. It’s a small moment, but it tells you a lot about the character and his priorities. Similarly with Iron Man, we learn that he’s split with Pepper, a development that makes sense considering the way that he’s never been able to fully quit his superheroic duties.
There’s also a fundamental sense of integrity when it comes to all of the different characters in the movie, one that gives each of them their own space, a full moment, and a reason for being that succeeds beyond any of the two Avengers movies. Black Widow’s fluctuations between Team Cap and Team Iron Man are presented as more matters of practical sense than wishy-washy flip flopping, Falcon displays an array of abilities that give him and his flight pack agency in a world where other characters wear entire suits of high-powered (and flying) armour, and Ant-Man remains the fundamentally silly character he is while single-handedly giving everyone on Team Iron Man a hard time. Even Hawkeye looks good here making the most of his non-powered abilities and proving himself a key part of Cap’s plans.
In Civil War, we finally get the MCU version of Spider-Man we’ve all wanted, and he’s a Spider-Man with the potential to speak to audiences better than any have before. Unlike Tobey Maguire and better than Andrew Garfield, he’s quippy and funny, and he fits well in the movie and this world in a way that makes it almost impossible to believe that any movie studio could ever have problems getting the character right. And unlike in Amazing Spider-Man 2, Civil War has found a good new take on the old “With great power must come great responsibility” line. The Black Panther, also introduced in Civil War, shows up as a key part of the movie who, unlike Spider-Man, is tightly integrated into the overall plot as the ruler of Wakanda, a country deeply affected by the fallout of past superhero activities, and I think without question he makes an even better debut than the webslinger. He’s strong and fast, sure, the equal and maybe better of any super-soldier, and given his resources as the leader of the most advanced nation in the world, he’s arguably the most powerful Marvel superhero yet, but he’s also the only one with the wisdom and perspective to see through the deceptions of the movie that bring the heroes into conflict.
I don’t know if it was ever really in question whether or not Captain America: Civil War was going to be any good. It follows what many consider to be the best of all the Marvel movies (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), it’s written and directed by the same directors of that previous triumph, it’s gotten rave reviews, and it has superheroes fighting each other in a story we all probably knew was going to be better than BvS. There are so many things I liked about Civil War, from the fight scenes to the new characters to the sense of responsibility and morality that — more than almost any other superhero movie (save, perhaps, for the first Superman) — felt real and believable, and I loved that Civil War, despite its proportions, was ultimately a movie about standing by your friends. Yep, I loved almost everything about Captain America: Civil War. Everything except the war part.
Civil War is a movie where motivations are important. After all, we’re talking about a fractious split in an entire superhero community rather than just two superheroes whose mother’s names happen to be the same, and those motivations are even explored and amplified throughout. The movie does an almost astoundingly good job in positioning and maneuvering all of these characters into a shape and place where their motivations work, but it’s still a movie that’s little more reliant on superheroes being stupid, ignoring advice, and acting on their basest instincts. If you’re a reasonable person, you’ll like the movie, but if you’re an especially reasonable person, you’ll still see the tears and seems in the story where an open discussion probably would have curtailed a lot of what ended up happening. And that really bugged me.
So should I see it?
Honestly, one of the best things you can say about Captain America: Civil War is that even if you don’t find complexity in its plot, even if you’re not swayed one way another by its central conflict, at least it’s a movie that tries to ask a question, because it really didn’t need to. The conflict of Civil War has lasting consequences, where it ends is a place that leaves the team shattered, and what’s really exciting about that is that when Thor comes back after his own Ragnarok, when the world is f*cked up beyond all belief after whatever we learn in Doctor Strange, part of the problem the Avengers may face is that there is no team to left to take on whatever’s coming.
There’s almost no doubt that Civil War is a good movie, a movie that benefits from spectacular execution, surprising and stirring moments, and the sheer thrill of seeing a widescreen battle with a bunch of our favourite superheroes, but I still I feel a little stuck right now between two critical points. It’s the fights that help earn this movie a heart, but for me it’s the fighting that drags down the number of stars. Because it’s still kind of dumb. And it’s not as good as Winter Soldier.
Thom’s Captain America: Civil War final score
On the Edge
- Smart watch manufacturers are really missing out on cross-promotional opportunities by not throwing their brand all over Tony’s watch/gauntlet.
- Y’know who else could use those Falcon’s targeting goggles? Hawkeye.
- Unlike in that stupid Arrow show, at least Hawkeye’s bow actually turns into a close-quarters staff, so it’s not that dumb that he’s bashing people over the head with it.