Today, I’ll be writing a spoiler review for “Captain America: Civil War”. Do not continue reading, if you haven’t seen the film. If you’re still with me, fantastic. I critique films a little differently than other reviewers. As a writer, the story is the most important part of the film. The acting and visuals could be out of this world, but the story is where it’s at for me.
I wrote these thoughts as I watched the film for the third time on DVD. I loved “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and what the Russo Brothers did in that film, along with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely on the script. That, coupled with this film being based on one of my favorite storylines, made me excited for this film. My only real concern was the balancing act with all of the characters involved. This will be a little long, but bear with me. I will say that Anthony Mackie as Falcon is my favorite MCU character, but I believe Sebastian Shaw had the best acting performance, switching between Bucky and Winter Soldier. Let’s get started.
I loved the opening fight scene until Crossbones killed himself. Such a waste of a character. It would’ve made more sense for him to be in the Zemo role in the story. There is an established connection to Cap, since this was indeed Captain America 3. Like “Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice”, it doesn’t know what it wants to be… a solo or team film. The idea of Tony having these internal demons at the beginning at MIT is great, but the random mother’s story pushing him to go for registration is a little out there and looked to be too much of a nod to an even better scene in the comics. The Zemo scenes take me out of the film. He’s a bad villain and when we are introduced to him, he reminds me of a Soviet Inigo Montoya. I loved the scene where they debate the merits of the Accords. Captain America fighting for the right to choose is a great allegory for freedom in our great country and how sometimes we aren’t allowed to choose. The surprise of Natasha backing Tony took me back at first, but then I realized she becomes the turncoat.
Unfortunately, they killed off Peggy Carter. Fortunately, Sharon Carter recites my favorite line by Cap in the Civil War comic. That is the backbone of our society, compromise where you can but never lose your values and beliefs. Natasha and Steve discussing the Accords at the church shows how you can disagree on points without it becoming personal. This is something that changes in the next sequence. The introduction of T’Challa is fantastic and I loved that scene. However, It does feel a bit forced rather than fluid with the story. Suddenly, you have a King with diplomatic immunity going against an agreement he was just promoting before his father, and now former King, died. It was a very quick turn for me and could have been handled better.
Not only is there a struggle between the two super factions, but also with the script. There is a war between the Captain America sequel and an Avenger sequel. Once again, we have a thrown-in Helmut Zemo scene. You still don’t really get what he’s doing even though he’s reading from the Winter Soldier book. The Bucharest scene is cool with the Cap and Bucky escape sequence and Black Panther joining the fight. With Rhodes arresting the four combatants, the reveal of T’Challa is not as ceremonious as you would expect. By now, It’s a hour into the film and you are still not sure what the end game is of the film. Is it Cap trying to save Bucky and continue his adventures from “Captain America: Winter Soldier” by uncovering another corrupted group in the government, or adjacent to the government, or is it a film about the breakdown of the Avengers because of philosophical differences? The answer seems to be both, which is a problem storytelling wise. For all the great action and important subject matter, the story is muddled.
The Vision and Scarlet Witch scene is just a tossed in scene that doesn’t need to be in there. It’s more universe building like Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is disappointing. Elizabeth Olson’s Russian accent comes in and out too much and it becomes very noticeable. The whole scene inside the government facility after the arrest is interesting as they set up the government property point for a later confrontation. Unfortunately, I’m in the small camp of people who never really saw Steve and Tony as friends. I think that whole conversation between the two heroes shows who the other person is and exploits their personalities. The fact that Zemo could get into the facility to talk to Bucky is a little ridiculous. They don’t have facial recognition or something. The more I watch this film, the more I believe he was just put in there at the last second as a “We need a puppet master” character. Although, that scene does illustrate why the Accords are dumb. Tony didn’t bring a suit because he can’t fight unless ordered to by Congress or whomever. To prove Bucky is really Bucky, he brings up Steve’s mom. What is it about superheroes and their mothers? We get some Winter Soldier facility flashbacks, which are nice but maybe unnecessary. They cut from the warehouse to the government facility where Tony is stuck between saving face and dealing with his parental issues. Even as he talks to Natasha, you get a sense that he’s losing control of the situation.
Cut to QUEENS… Enter the Spider-Man! Of course, we get hot Aunt May. We also get the reveal that Tony somehow knows Pete is Spidey, which is never really explained. I like what we saw of Spider-Man and am looking forward to Homecoming, but this is a scene that didn’t need to be there. I’m also disappointed they didn’t use “With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility” and that they neutered the character’s significance to the Civil War story. The Spider-Man spin-off comic for Civil War is fantastic. Of course, that deals more with secret identities and these films lack those for the most part. The next scene with Hawkeye, Vision and Scarlet Witch is also not really needed. I’m not sure what purpose the Widow/Panther scenes serve. Then there’s the Steve and Shannon kiss scene. The bros were proud of their boy getting kissed for the first time in 75 years.
The airport scene is fantastic and expertly crafted. It is probably the best scene in the film and one of the best fight scenes in cinematic history. I loved the pairings and fight choreography. It was simply amazing and blew me away. With that said, It didn’t need to be in there. It felt more like an intermission. This belonged in an Avengers film, which goes back to the struggle of the script. The Spider-Man and Captain America fight scene is my favorite. The back and forth, both verbally and physically, is top notch. It was also funny having Lang in the Iron Man suit. Once again, Sam becomes Steve’s voice of reason, acknowledging that there is a bigger story at play than this petty squabbling. When Black Widow makes her turn on Panther, you could see it coming from the very beginning. The “Empire Strikes Back” line is hilarious and probably is true for a lot of young people nowadays, unless they are Star Wars fans. Vision is the true uncontrollable one which shows when he inadvertently shoots Rhodes out of the sky. Tony blames Falcon out of frustration, which is unwarranted. At this point, you can’t really tell what Tony’s feelings about the situation are and frankly, he comes off as a tool for the government. That was probably the worse damage done to his character in this film.
As they now settle into “Zemo’s plan” and refocus on that, it proves that the story goes all over the place. They were literally just fighting each other over the Accords and Bucky and now they get back to the actual story. With everyone on Team Cap locked up in the Raft prison, Tony tries to turn face when he’s been the heel all along. Sam realizes that Steve needs help and he still doesn’t completely trust Bucky, so he figures Tony is his best shot at giving Cap some backup. I also thought it was strange that only T’Challa followed Tony and not Ross. I think that is a bit of a plot hole. It could’ve exposed Tony disobeying the Accords, but then he would be locked up in the raft too. So I guess that defeats the point of the unhappy end we get, more on that later. The whole third act goes downhill with the mustache twirling of Zemo behind the bulletproof glass. That whole flashback scene earlier was for naught since Zemo killed the other Winter Soldiers. He could’ve at least defrosted one of the Winter Soldiers to face them. Now that flashback scene is useless. I wish if they were going to use Zemo, that we could have gotten a little more character development. No emotional attachment at the end when he talks to T’Challa about his family. Sympathy, but no attachment.
And then, there’s Civil War’s “Martha” moment… I wish this film was more about this fight. The struggle between Tony and Steve over Bucky. This is what they were building on in “Captain America: the Winter Soldier”. This fight sequence is also very powerful in its significance. Steve Rogers is not only fighting Tony but what Tony represents, the government and the people who took away his only friend in the first place. Peggy is gone, which makes Bucky the only person left from his old life. Cutting to T’Challa and Zemo is very misplaced. This scene should have came after Captain drops his shield. That is the moment where you realize Steve Rogers truly is a man lost in time. The America that shield once stood for, in his eyes, is gone and replaced with people like Tony Stark and Secretary Ross. The “I can do this all day” line shows Captain America’s resilience and is a nice throwback to a great scene from “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Tony is right when he says that shield doesn’t belong to him anymore, just like America doesn’t. Very powerful themes and symbolisms that get lost in the shuffle.
The whole epilogue feels very Empire Strikes Back, hence the reference by Spider-Man earlier in the film. Stan Lee with his cameo was hilarious. In the last shot, we see Steve at the raft getting Sam. Is it assumed that he rescues the whole team? When would we see this? Infinity War is the only real possibility. The two post credit scenes are also set up for the future Black Panther and Spider-Man films.
I really struggled with this film. I wanted to love it like everyone else, but I feel the people saying it’s the greatest Comic Book movie of all time are being hyperbolic. The politics and symbolism behind this film are powerful, but get lost in a struggle between two different “A” stories. The slow scenes were very much the Russo Brothers handiwork, but you can tell the action scenes were done with the help of the director of “The Raid”. The Black Panther, Spider-Man and airport scenes are fantastic and out of this world, but feel misplaced in this film. Overall, I’ve seen this film three times and I think I’ve landed on a score. With all of it’s weaknesses, the strengths severely outweigh them. I think on a scale of 0-100, I’d give “Captain America: Civil War” an 83%. Another solid outing by Marvel Studios.