Captain America must fight against a dangerous overreach of government power, while trying to redeem his former friend, turned brainwashed assassin.
I am of course speaking of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Oh, if you’re here to read about Civil War, be warned: serious spoilers follow.
Captain America: Civil War has a lot of fun moments, and is a diverting evening at the movies. But ultimately it tries to emulate fairly closely the structure of Winter Soldier, while losing much of the metaphorical power of the former film. In addition, Marvel attempts to add many more characters to the mix, diluting the emotional journey of the title character.
You really can’t get around it. This is two films awkwardly fused together. And the movie really suffers for it, because they are pretty incompatible.
The first film is the Civil War, and it just doesn’t work. I know the comic series written about ten years ago has its problems, and I don’t intend to hold it up as some kind of paragon of storytelling. But the ideas that underpin it conceptually are actually pretty sound.
In the comics, the Superhuman Registration Act is passed in the wake of a disaster in which inexperienced heroes try to apprehend second-rate villains, resulting in the destruction of a school. The government, with the support of Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic, implement a registration program to reign in vigilantism. This runs afoul of more civil liberty minded superheroes, most notably Mutants, who have very direct experience of government tracking being exercised to their detriment.
So what happens in the Civil War film? The Sokovia Accords essentially make the Avengers accountable to the United Nations. Now maybe there’s something big that I’m missing here, but I don’t see what’s so onerous about that, except that maybe William Hurt is played up to be kind of a jerk. The fact that SHIELD was infiltrated so thoroughly by HYDRA might be a good argument… but the film never actually makes it. Instead Captain America doesn’t fight for any broad moral principle, or that it might lead to unforeseen harms; he fights because it personally inconveniences him. And why can’t he leverage his position to negotiate a better deal?
If the film takes any kind of broad metaphorical stand, it’s pretty starkly Libertarian, where the most important thing that governmental power threatens is individual convenience. This stands in contrast to the comics, where what is threatened is in very real ways the safety of the individual.
I’m aware there’s a lot of territory from the comics I haven’t covered here, like Iron Man and the pro-registration camp actually starting to recruit super-villains to enforce the law, but I’d like to evaluate the film mostly on its own merits, so back to that. In the movie, there is no broad philosophical reason for Cap’s stance. He simply defies the international community because he wants to capture Bucky himself instead of risk him being killed.
The second film is the one actually centered on Captain America. Steve spends much of the film tracking down and attempting to redeem Bucky. This is actually the most important part of the Captain America story, because so much has been made in establishing it. Other than Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes is the only character to have made an appearance in every film. You’d expect some kind of emotional payoff here, but instead it’s almost entirely overshadowed by Steve’s rift with Tony. Even by the end of the film, they simply kick the can down the road by freezing Bucky again. Are they just going to keep kicking the can down the road? Will we ever see this pay off?
The ending of the film was simply terrible. I really can’t pull punches here. I usually try to focus on my personal, emotional reaction when responding to media, but this is a rare case where I’ll say that the ending was just objectively bad.
So even though Tony is entirely aware that the Winter Soldier has been brainwashed and programmed, he still goes completely berserk when he finds out that Bucky was USED to kill his parents. That’s like getting mad at the club for killing a baby seal. Sorry, Tony Stark as a character within the cinematic universe itself is much, much smarter than that. I groaned when I saw it coming. And I sighed as the fight unfolded.
Contradicting everything you’ve established about a character just to incite drama is lazy writing.
The driving antagonist of the film was fairly strong conceptually, if forgettable by design. I’m certainly not going to miss the Baron Zemo from the comics, but does Marvel have to graft a name they’ve used before onto every character in the movies? New people are fine too. And kudos to the filmmakers for having him kill the super soldiers in the end instead of forcing an extraneous fistfight.
Black Panther got the most bare-bones introduction and character arc you can imagine in a film, but after all this wasn’t his movie. It was enough, though, to make me really look forward to it. One of my favorite things about the film was how the filmmakers resolved his story. That was probably the thing about superhero films that I wish they’d do more of. The fact that the hero does their best to save human life, no matter how vile. Justice is perhaps their most important core value, and making the hero kill them or allow them do commit suicide is perhaps the most egregious violation of what these characters mean in the first place. Do you hear that Nolan and Snyder??? Anyways. Black Panther movie. Totally excited.
Tom Holland as Spider-Man only made a brief appearance in this film, but already I will firmly go to bat that this is the best cinematic iteration of the wall-crawler. Better than any of the films, better than any of the shows. I’m sad that he didn’t play a role more proximate to his role in the comics, but nevertheless what I saw was a clear home run.
Why was Wanda in the Avengers? Yes, she has super powers. But unlike Steve or Natasha or Rhodes, she has no actual training. But even so, why does she get the blame for what Crossbones did? Wouldn’t the casualties have been just as high in that giant crowd of people they were standing in? How does any of this make sense?
Giving Steve a girlfriend? Who was the niece of his last kind of love interest? Creepy. And entirely shoehorned into the film. That was the refreshing thing about Winter Soldier, was the lack of an obligatory girlfriend.
The airport fight scene was obviously the best thing about the movie. And yay Paul Rudd!
So, that was the film for me. Characters I like played by actors I love directed by skilled filmmakers but filming a script that was deeply conceptually flawed.