written by Kate Danvers
Once again I’ll separate this into light and heavy spoiler sections. Light spoilers won’t contain plot twists, major developments, discussion of the film’s themes, ending details, or anything you couldn’t get from the trailers.
Captain America: Civil War is a film that’s been brewing for a long time. We’ve had three Iron Man, two Captain America, and two Avengers films to set this up. If you’ve seen those films, you know going into Civil War which side Captain America and Iron Man are on and why. In the eight years since this franchise began, the Marvel Studios films have given us living, breathing, constantly evolving characters. Had Civil War happened directly after Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America’s roles might have been reversed. But they’re not the same men they were back then. That’s what makes a film like this where they’re in conflict so good – you know who they are already, you know what they’ve been through and what they stand for. Whereas another film with a similar hero vs. hero concept might pit the characters against each other shortly after a reboot where we don’t know either, we have eight years of context to this fight.
That’s not to say the entire eight years of Marvel Studios films are required viewing. Civil War stands well on its own and catches you up to speed without using clunky exposition or flashbacks. The driving force of much of the film is what happened in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, but it lets you know the important parts of that without really spoiling much of that movie. Basically, the Avengers have done good, but some of their past operations have resulted in collateral damage. They go anywhere in the world and operate independently with no one to answer to, and the governments of the world are understandably concerned. The Sokovia Accords are passed which require the Avengers and other hero types to only operate with United Nations approval. Iron Man thinks it’s a good idea to keep them in check, but Captain America is worried that it’s going to make them a weapon of governments and ideologies.
I tried to review the film on its own without comparing it to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (and a full comparison is coming later, I promise) but it’s hard not to. The central conflict between the heroes in BvS was how each viewed the other’s methods. Batman saw Superman as too powerful and unconcerned with collateral damage, Superman saw Batman as needlessly violent and murderous. The problem with that conflict was they’re both awful. When you look at Captain America and Iron Man though, you can see where both are coming from, both have excellent points, and both are right and wrong in their own way. More importantly, both are sympathetic characters. You don’t want to see Steve and Tony fight because in their own way, they’re both in the right.
Amazingly, almost every character gets a bit of spotlight on them. No one really feels left out apart from a few exceptions. Some are really only there for the big team vs team battle, and that’s one of the film’s highlights. Even in that battle, every combatant is given a moment to shine and they all play off of each other so well. Ant-Man had his own solo film, and apart from a post-credits sequence, he didn’t really have much interaction with the Avengers before now. He just fits in though. The same goes for Black Panther and Spider-Man – both are introduced in this film and, like Ant-Man, once you see them with the others you could swear they’ve been with the Avengers the whole time. The cast have such great chemistry with each other and the action sequences work so well, playing to every character’s strength. It all just works together beautifully.
I won’t give away the main “villain” of the film in this section, but I will say that while he’s not like his comic counterpart, he’s extremely well done. He’s given depth that’s missing in a lot of Marvel Studios film villains. The central conflict is still Captain America vs. Iron Man, but he plays an important role in the film. There are a bit of leaps of logic and huge coincidences involved in his plan, but they’re easy to overlook.
Civil War is Marvel at its best. The characters are well-written, the plot rolls right off the other films in the series without leaving newcomers behind, and the action is colorful and easy to follow. If you haven’t had the chance to watch it, please do so before you read the next part of this review. I can’t recommend this movie enough.
And now for the spoilers…
Well, at least no one said “Martha”. The final fight did sort of have something to do with someone’s mom though, so that’s a thing.
Let’s talk about the new characters first. The first one we’re introduced to is T’Challa, prince of Wakanda. He’s at the signing of the Sokovia Accords with his father, King T’Chaka, because several Wakandan humanitarian workers are killed in the incident at the beginning of the film. When the meeting is bombed and T’Chaka is killed, T’Challa goes on a quest for revenge against the man the world believes is responsible – Bucky Barnes. He wears a vibranium suit, fights like a super soldier, and is all around completely badass. The freeway chase with Black Panther, Captain America, and Bucky is fantastic, and gives us a good idea of what Black Panther is capable of. T’Challa’s mindset in the film is interesting. Once T’Chaka dies, he knows he’s supposed to become king and he’s ready for that, but first he needs to avenge his father. We’re not given too much about him and his background, but what little there is has me excited for the Black Panther film in 2018. The mid-credits scene even gives us a little peek at Wakanda.
Spider-Man. I’ve become sort of disillusioned with Spider-Man in the past several years, particularly in the comics. I was not looking forward to yet another film reboot, so one of the biggest compliments I can give Civil War is it made me want to see Spider-Man: Homecoming. Tom Holland plays a very convincing teenage Peter Parker and plays off of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark very well. The scene with Tony recruiting Peter is great because I think Tony sees a lot of himself in the kid. We only see Spidey in action once and that’s the big team vs. team battle at the airport, but he really shines. You can tell he’s a tiny bit in over his head but he still holds his own no matter who he’s sparring against. Marisa Tomei is in the film as Aunt May, and when I heard that casting announcement I was a little confused why they would choose her to portray a character who in the comics is more like Peter’s grandma than his aunt. I mean Marisa Tomei looks like she’s only five to ten years off unconvincingly playing a teenager in a CW drama. Why her as Aunt May? …and then I saw Tony Stark flirting with her and went “Aah. Now I get it.” Hey, it works. It’s a different direction for a very familiar character and she plays the role well. I’m looking forward to seeing more of her in the reboot too.
Civil War wasn’t going to end without one major or semi-major death for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and we got that. While discussing the Sokovian Accords with the other Avengers, Steve gets a text saying “She’s gone. Died in her sleep.” and my heart immediately sank. Agent Peggy Carter, founder of S.H.I.E.L.D., has died. We’re finally given confirmation that Agent 13/Sharon Carter is Peggy’s niece when she delivers a eulogy. That’s news to Steve and Sam, who worked with her in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The eulogy seems to convince Steve to stick with his gut and stand against government oversight of the Avengers. The death is sad, and it could almost be seen as fridging a character for someone else’s benefit, but honestly how many characters in this film series (or superhero comics in general) actually die of old age? Good on Peggy for toughing it out as long as she did.
I want to talk about the themes of the movie. What pushes forward the Sokovian Accords is the attempted theft of a biological weapon by Crossbones at the beginning of the film. Crossbones blows a suicide vest in an attempt to kill Captain America, but Scarlet Witch throws him and the explosion into the air to save not only Cap and herself, but the crowded market. Unfortunately, the explosion takes out part of a building, killing eleven people. People aren’t concerned with the lives that were saved on the ground or the hundreds or thousands that were saved by recovering the bioweapon, they’re looking at the loss that did occur and who’s to blame. Similar questions have been raised about the incidents that occurred in previous films. With the bad guys gone, the Avengers are the only ones left when the dust settles. Governments can’t regulate the bad guys, but maybe they can regulate the good guys. People want someone they can pin the blame on and someone they can hold responsible. And so we see the first stage of the theme – accountability. This is also shown in the scene where a woman confronts Tony Stark about her son who died in Sokovia. Whether she’s blaming him for the creation of Ultron or for the collateral damage that happened in the fight, the theme is clear: “Who’s to blame?” She also asks Tony who is going to avenge her son, which sort of ties into the next stage of the theme.
When T’Chaka dies as a result of the bombing, T’Challa as Black Panther goes on a quest for vengeance against the man he believes is responsible. He’s consumed with grief and anger, and when presented with whom he believes to be the one to blame, he acts. T’Challa isn’t going to let anything stand between him and killing Bucky, so that brings him into conflict with Captain America and the rest of his team. He does draw a line in getting his revenge, something we see when he compares himself to Zemo at the end.
Helmut Zemo lost his family in the Sokovia incident and he’s so overcome with grief and a need for revenge that he’ll do anything to tear the Avengers apart – including becoming a murderer. He does it all to find a tape of the Winter Soldier killing Tony Stark’s parents and present it to Stark so he’ll try to kill Bucky, which will also pit him against Steve. Zemo is consumed by his need for revenge, and I think he recognizes this. He even apologizes to T’Challa for killing his father. He’s gone too far and he knows it, but he’s toppled the Avengers so he feels justified. T’Challa hears all of this and realizes he, too, has been so blinded by his own quest for vengeance that he blamed the wrong man.
Inside at that very moment, Stark is also blaming the wrong person. HYDRA is gone – but their trigger man is still alive. Even if he wasn’t in control of his actions when he did it, Stark doesn’t care. “He killed my mom.” T’Challa is the only one who casts aside his lust for revenge by refusing to kill Zemo, and in fact saving him from killing himself. With that, T’Challa becomes the only one to both put the blame in the right place and seek justice instead of revenge.
If there’s a weakness to the film, it’s Zemo’s plan and its utter absurdity. His plan revolves around getting access to Bucky in order to find out where other Winter Soldiers are held (because Bucky wasn’t the only one) and find the mission tapes which prove Bucky killed Howard and Maria Stark. It gets a little convoluted in that he bombs the signing of the Sokovian Accords so he can frame Bucky to force him out of hiding, wait till Bucky is captured alive, slip in to interrogate him and use special code words HYDRA implanted, all in order to do the following:
-Find out where the training facility was
-Set Stark and Rogers against each other just enough to get some animosity going
-Still leave a trail that both men will follow to the facility
-Finally, show Stark the tape so he’ll try to kill Bucky and Steve (whom he’ll blame for not telling him).
This all relies on a lot of things that are out of his control, like Stark finding out where to go in the end, Steve having not told Stark that the Winter Soldier killed his parents, and the big one – no one killing Bucky at any stage of this plan. His original plan was a bit more solid – finding an old HYDRA agent, stealing the code book, and trying to get him to tell him where the mission report was. Where would the fun be in that, though? We wouldn’t have had half of those awesome fight scenes.
And those fight scenes are glorious. These films have a way of doing action scenes which highlights each character’s particular powers or skillset. In Civil War they pit all of those characters against each other. Spider-Man vs. Falcon and Winter Soldier, Captain America vs. Black Panther, Iron Man vs. Hawkeye and Ant-Man, Spider-Man vs. Captain America, Ant– err, Giant-Man vs. Iron Man’s entire team – and that’s not even half of the airport battle. All of the action just flows so well and everything is so bright and easy to follow. That scene could have easily turned into a clusterfuck of special effects, but it was all very clean and straightforward.
I could go on and on, but in summary, this is a very enjoyable movie. It’s superhero conflict done right and well worth the price of admission.