movie review – Captain America: Civil War

I have been waiting for this film since it was announced and saw it May 7. I am a Captain America fan, and as such, am pretty well guaranteed to see a Cap movie (considering that Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out at a time during which I was quite underwhelmed by superhero films). And, considering the fact that the same directors and screenwriters were on Captain America: Civil War as were on Winter Soldier, I was definitely ready to see it. Especially once I realized what a big deal the Civil War story was.

Unlike all my other reviews, this one will contain spoilers. I think trying to go spoiler-free would seriously hamper the review.

(Quick note: I didn’t do up a review for Age of Ultron for one reason: I was so bored by that film, I procrastinated on the whole writing up a review for it thing to the point of having forgotten large chunks of review-worthy material. Civil War obviously doesn’t share the same fate. It’s actually late because I ended up taking a long time saying what I wanted to say. 😀 )

Civil War, in case you didn’t already know, is based on the comic book storyline of the same name, but with significant changes (in particular, much smaller rosters due to the number of Marvel Cinematic Universe characters, and some tweaking to the government documents in question).

In the film, Captain America, the Falcon, Black Widow, and Scarlet Witch track down Crossbones, aka Rumlow, aka the villain who miraculously didn’t die in Winter Soldier. A fight ensues (naturally), and then catastrophe hits when a number of innocent bystanders are killed or injured. This is the last straw for a lot of people and 117 nations come together to draft a document they call the “Sokovia Accords”. The Accords propose that, given the events of The AvengersWinter Soldier, and Age of Ultron, the Avengers ought to put themselves under the authority of the United Nations and take care of business when, where, and how they are told.

Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, has been carrying a heavy weight to the effect of these named events since just after The Avengers. Throw in there the added guilt have having made Ultron… well, he’s ready to sign the document. If the UN can keep the general populace safe from any more of his independent (and even destructive) fiddling about, he’s game. In fact, it’s no different from the time he quit making weapons because he saw the damage he caused! The Avengers are dangerous and should be accountable to someone.

But, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, claims that no, it’s not similar. Stark freely chose to quit making weapons. To sign the document would be to surrender one’s right to choose: they’d be completely at the mercy of the UN and their decisions, regardless of what the Avengers themselves thought of them. And that’s just dangerous.

Well, some sign and others don’t. The Accords are passed as law in Vienna, an event attended by King T’Chaka and Prince T’challa of the secretive African nation of Wakanda. Unfortunately, an explosion rips into the building, killing the king. This leaves the prince anxious to avenge his father and “Team Iron Man” ready to capture the killer: the notorious Winter Soldier, aka Bucky Barnes, aka Cap’s best friend back in the day.

Between the Accords and the threat to his old friend, Cap’s got a lot of fighting to do.

As you should all know by now, this is my favourite part: the characters. I thought the Russo brothers and the screenwriting team of Markus and McFeely did beautifully in this department (and others) in Winter Soldier, and I was not disappointed with Civil War. In fact, I can say I was very impressed. Almost each character had at least one character moment in the midst of everything. As there are a lot of big players in this film, this section may take a while. Fair warning. 😀

We’ll start off with the biggest two: Captain America and Iron Man.

Cap is pretty firm on what he believes. He opposed Nick Fury to his face in Winter Soldier because he disagreed with a proposed plan of action. So when he believes that rights, freedoms, safeties are on the line, he fights for them. The way he sees things, you compromise where you can, but on the issues you can’t, “you plant yourself like a tree and tell them to move” instead. (This was said by him in the comic, but was attributed to his WWII girlfriend, Peggy Carter, for the film.)

Cap has always been fiercely loyal – he disobeyed a direct order in First Avenger to rescue POWs, among whom was Bucky, and Civil War shows no less. Especially in the case of Bucky, Cap will fight anyone to ensure Bucky’s safety, even when the latter is merely a mindless tool under the control of nefarious whomevers. On the flip side, he continually tries to “bring back” his friend, whether by physically forcing a helicopter from taking off or by convincing a not-quite-all-there mind to trust him. But his loyalties also extend to the rest of his friends, no matter which side they are on. It is never his intent to kill anyone on Team Iron Man (he didn’t even want to fight them to begin with), he writes Stark a polite and not-at-all cold letter at the end, and even though he had to abandon his team for tactical reasons, he returns for them.

Iron Man is notorious for being self-obsessed and not playing well with others (obviously, the latter has changed with the whole Avengers gig up and running). Since The Avengers though, as mentioned, he has felt guilty about the havoc wreaked on the world. Sure, the superheroes didn’t cause said havoc, but it’s hard on him all the same. When a grieving mother blames him for her son’s death in Sokovia (Age of Ultron), he is especially pushed to that limit. All he wants to do is the right thing so tragedies like that either are avoided entirely or are at least more corporate than the private group of superheroes. Of course, his idea of “the right thing” differs from Cap’s and he’s willing to go so far as to arrest those Avengers who do not agree with him. Even then, he retains some of his old, independent spirit when he finds out about critical intel that pushes him to sneak away and help Cap and Bucky with another mission.

Unlike the almost-lack of character during Winter Soldier (brainwashing tends to do that), Bucky is out of it for only parts of this film, allowing for more of the more-or-less “real him”. True, half of the time he’s not under someone’s control, he’s still trying to fit the pieces together, but even that shows a character within, rather than just a mindless fighting machine. He’s trying to be good, to not continue down the path of destruction he’s been forced into for the past few decades. Even when his life is in danger, he fights his way out with the intention of taking no man’s life. When he does finally, fully “wake up” (ie: remembers everything), we finally get the “real him” back – a friend, an ally. While this full recovery of memory seems rather convenient, he is shattered by the guilt of his brainwashed misdeeds (similar to how Stark feels, but worse) and distrustful of his own mind. In the end, despite his new freedom, he voluntarily puts himself out of commission in order to keep others safe. Whatever he thinks of himself, that was a heroic decision. I might as well note that he has nothing to do with the Sokovia Accords question. In fact, he’s only “Team Cap” in that he fights with that side, what with the multiple plots in this story.

Black Panther has a little more to do with the Accords, but only in that he wants them put into place. Curious, as he does not act according to the guidelines of the documents (ie: he’s not authorized by anyone to do anything). Perhaps he felt it beneath him as he is royalty or perhaps he didn’t care because he was bent on avenging his father. His story is directly linked to Bucky as such, again, appearing on a team roster simply because that is who he fights with, not necessarily because he is joining Team Iron Man’s specific mission per se. Anyway, I was pleased with his character. I liked him in the cartoon show, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and, while there are little differences between that rendition and this (eg: levels of wisdom and serenity), I think Panther’s core character is still there. He is still honourable and strives to do the right thing. My favourite bit about him, though, is when he looks at another character and remarks on how the other guy has been carrying his grief and hatred for a while and that those same things were tearing Cap and Iron Man apart… and then Panther, who started his MCU career with exactly that, decides that he’ll be the first of this group to let go of his desire for revenge.

Falcon, Cap’s best friend from this time period, is quick to side with Cap on the issue of the Sokovia Accords. (Hmm, kinda sounds like his line from Winter Soldier: “I do what he does, just slower.”) And unlike Team Iron Man’s quicker assembly, Falcon was the only one at first to attach himself to Cap. Probably a good thing he did too, as Cap was being a bit emotional about catching up to and reconnecting with Bucky; Falcon acted as a fresh pair of eyes and even the voice of reason: “I just want to make sure we consider all our options, ’cause the people who shoot at you wind up shooting at me too.” Also like a good friend, Falcon seems to begin to bond with Bucky rather quickly. I don’t just mean his willingness to help find and restore Bucky, I really do mean I think there’s the beginnings of a friendship there. Maybe I’m reading too much into some of the humour shared between then, but that’s what I think all the same. (If ever a Falcon-Bucky team-up film is made, I’ll be right there to see it.) As for his relationship with the rest of the Avengers, he’s clearly one of them, as best demonstrated by his effort to catch an opposing-team member.

Black Widow is one of the most conflicted characters on the issue of the Sokovia Accords. She is able to see both sides, but while she at first seems to lean Team Cap, she does decide to be pro-Accords, even to the point of expressing a disappointment that Cap will not join her in that decision. Note that I say “disappointment”. Even though she, like Iron Man, is willing to arrest Team Cap for being on the wrong side of the law, they are still her friends. Especially Cap, after the events of Winter Soldier. Shortly after fighting Team Cap, she suddenly defends him and Bucky from an attack, telling Panther that she said she help him find his father’s killer, not kill him. In addition to that, this same act is her way of condoning their film-end mission, even on the wrong side of the Accords, unlike Iron Man, who would have arrested first and asked questions later. I thought this made things more interesting as Cap has two loyal friends on his side… and one on the opposing side.

Scarlet Witch, like Widow, was also on the fence at first. Even after the rest of the Avengers declared which side they chose, she was still “TBD” (“to be determined”). Considering that it was her action that was partly responsible for the deaths at the beginning of the film, she did understand the benefits of submitting herself to the Accords. Sure, she’s advanced in power quite a good amount since Age of Ultron, but she recognizes that she’s not quite mastered her powers yet and that scares her. On the other hand, she’d been directly under authority before, by Hydra, who had experimented on her and her brother Quicksilver before the events of Age of Ultron. While I don’t remember it being specifically mentioned, I have no doubt she remembers what that was like. When the time comes to choose a side, Scarlet Witch tells Vision that she will not allow her fear to control her any longer.

Similar to Scarlet Witch, Vision isn’t entirely sure of what all he is capable of, due to the mysterious gem in his head that he hasn’t yet fathomed out. All he knows is that it is a part of him. He doesn’t share Scarlet Witch’s fear (what we being an artificial intelligence, but more on that later), but he has that same idea of what it’s like to not know. Regardless, he is quick to make his decision. The way he sees things, people have found ways to meet threats, resulting in greater threats, resulting in greater defences – the cycle goes on. In short, all of this continuous advancement has led to Earth being perceived as issuing a challenge. Since the Avengers – both individually and corporately – are one of, if not the, greatest asset to both justice and defence, then they ought to have someone holding the reins. Vision has always been a bit of a puzzle for me as he is an AI and yet can be rather human. Prime example being his relationship with Scarlet Witch. Now, in the comics, they become husband and wife (how, I haven’t the slightest), but the film doesn’t necessarily indicate anything in that direction. Romantic or not, those two have a very clear connection unique from their relationships with other Avengers and it was cool seeing these two minor Age of Ultron characters getting fleshed out the way they did here.

index2Hawkeye, per the norm, gets the short end of the stick. (C’mon, guys, I loved the Hawkeye of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!) From what I can remember, he never gives a reason for his decision to be anti-Accords; he just popped out of nowhere (as he’s said to have retired from the Avengers). Personally, I’m fine with sticking with the fact that, in the comics, Hawkeye always sides with Cap whenever there’s a division; I’m also okay with pretending that a deleted scene of Winter Soldier happened, one in which Hawkeye is ordered to take Cap out, but, while fighting him, tells Cap to knock him out so Hydra doesn’t question Hawkeye’s loyalties to SHIELD. Lack of (mentioned) motive and my imagination aside, I will say that I greatly appreciated the fact that he finally got to be a little more like the snarky Hawkeye I know and love from the cartoon. He doesn’t get a whole lot of screentime, so character moments are a bit limited, but whether he’s trying to talk down Vision, bantering on the battlefield, or glowering at Stark with all the sarcasm he can muster, he’s got some of that smart-mouth action going on and that much makes me happy.

War Machine is rather like the Team Iron Man version of Falcon. Specifically, he’s the team leader’s best friend and the first to side with him. Oh, yeah, and they both have military background. He is, however still very much his own character. I’m sure he gave a reason for choosing to be pro-Accords, but I honestly can’t remember what it could be (I’d have to see it again…). Despite being Iron Man’s best friend, he is more of a background player on the team so far as character emphasis goes in this film, though that’s not to say he just tagged along for the ride. His actions show that he’ll stick by Iron Man and his personal beliefs through thick and thin. Regarding the latter, he declares at the end that none of what transpired, including a terrible injury, has changed his mind on the matter of the Accords – if anything, he is even firmer in his conviction than before. I’ll bring this up again later, but it was nice to see that the film took this approach, of the Avengers still being divided over the issue with neither side being necessarily in the right or wrong.

Like Hawkeye, Ant-Man had only so much chance to shine as a character due to his late appearance in the film. Again, though, he does have his moments, most especially during the fight. Plus the additional humour of his being a total fanboy, complete with  awkwardly trying to mingle with everyone else and accidentally switching up his words (eg: “thinks for thanking of me”). While he never actually says anything on the issue of the Sokovia Accords, I assume he came along for the ride since Falcon, the only Avenger who’s ever crossed paths with him (in Ant-Man), specifically sought him out. (Actually, now that I think of it, Hawkeye and Ant-Man’s involvement could be related not to the Sokovia Accords plotline, but rather to the side-plot with Bucky. Ant-Man does mention that he’s aware of “something about… psycho-assassins?”. The fact that he and Hawkeye ended up joining the fight against Team Iron Man was just circumstantial. Man, that clears up a good bit for me!)

Let me say right now that I’ve never been even interested in Spider-Man. Civil War just might have changed my mind. Like Ant-Man, Spidey was specifically sought out by an Avenger, in his case, Iron Man. Spidey has never before appeared in the MCU and rather than delve into his origin story, we are introduced to him six months after the events with which we are already familiar. Iron Man has apparently been keeping track of the actions of Spider-Man, which Spidey tries to deny at first (as he is out of costume and completely surprised by Iron Man’s appearance at his apartment). The poor teen apparently has no secrets safe from Iron Man, though, so he finally accepts the fact that someone has found him out and then agrees to help (albeit somewhat reluctantly (“Germany? I can’t just drop everything. I’ve got homework!”)). Also like Ant-Man, Spidey is a fanboy who is rather overawed by the people he now finds himself with. But what made me like him was the humour of his scenes. It’s not all him, as he brings out the funny in other characters as well, but whether he’s blabbering (in true comic-faithful Spidey fashion) or reacting to Iron Man’s relentless interrogation or explaining his black eye to Aunt May, it’s good stuff. He had a short screentime, but I look forward to seeing more of him in the MCU.

And finally, I just want to address the villain, Zemo. I was surprised to find that he only has so much in common with his comic character. Rather than being a German, purple-sock-masked, sword-wielding, WWII foe of Cap’s, the MCU Zemo is a Sokovian military man whose family died during Age of Ultron. I still have mixed reactions regarding him, but the more I think of it, the more the MCU take on the character is growing on me. For one thing, it was nice to not see an old Cap villain come after him for having defeated him back in WWII. (Between Zemo and the Red Skull in Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, that motive got old fast (and, now that I think of it, forced Cap to constantly have to face his past, which is definitely not what the MCU wants to do with the man out of time).) For another, it was also nice to have a villain who wasn’t evil for the sake of being evil (though don’t get me wrong, the guy has issues). He comes off as a bit of an everyman, though a skilled and an extremely crafty one at that, and his character arc actually mirrors that of Black Panther’s. Both of them were angry and grieving, both of them wanted to destroy whomever they blamed, both were, really, on the same path until Panther decided to take the fork in the road.

Winter Soldier had succeeded in presenting moral questions to the audiences and leaning toward an answer, but still leaving the audience to decide. Civil War does the exact same thing (to Accord or not to Accord?), except this time, the heroes are on either side of the question. Answering the question gets a little more complicated now and the audience clearly sees both sides and the points they have. On top of that, they don’t reconcile the two sides. Team Cap goes fugitive, Team Iron Man remains as the Avengers, and Black Widow… we don’t know where she’s headed. The heroes are left either torn over the issue or reassured of their convictions, just like the audience.

As a result of this divide, though, there is a definite question of morality. Was Cap right in going intentionally outside of the law to fight the “psycho assassins” front? Was Black Widow right in allowing Cap and Bucky escape,  considering her decision regarding the Accords? Was Iron Man right to enforce the law and fight to beat Cap into submission?

The violence level of the film, I’d say, is somewhere between Avengers and Winter Soldier. Some parts are just fun to watch, especially where Black Panther and Spider-Man are involved. The fight scenes are pieces of choreographed art (though the first fight scene’s got a lot of shaky-cam action… maybe it’ll be better on a smaller screen?). Other moves are crafted to look really painful, particularly in the final fight of the film. In addition to the typical superhero bashings-around, though, this film includes three intentional murders up-close. We’ve seen murder in the MCU before: Coulson in Avengers. But the thing that makes these three feel different from Coulson’s death is that all three murder victims are helpless, whereas Coulson had a weapon (regardless of whether or not it would help him at all against Loki).

To my memory, there’s not much in the way of “adult content” apart from Iron Man pointing out that Spidey’s Aunt May is attractive (she’s much younger here than she’s usually portrayed) and an awkward kiss between Cap and Sharon Carter. I know they were a couple at one point in comic canon, but it seemed less acceptable in Civil War than it would have in Winter Soldier. Not entirely sure why I feel that way, though.

A second watching will be required before I’m absolutely sure, but as it stands right now, Civil War is my second-favourite superhero film, beating out Ant-Man for that spot on my list. It may contend with Winter Soldier at a later date, but until I’ve confirmed it, Winter Soldier is going to remain #1.

This movie had a lot to juggle all at once. A large roster of characters, an arc for most of them, independent (yet interweaving) plot lines, a fair presentation of both sides of the argument, the balance of intensity and humour… and all that in two and a half hours! However, I very much enjoyed it and didn’t feel that I got lost. A bonus of the complexity of the film is that it has a re-watch-ability factor that allows you to pick up on more as time goes on.

As for who I agree with…. Honestly, I see both sides. As a Christian who hears about governments all over the place stamping on religious freedom and the rights of religious minorities and even, in some cases, passing laws about state-approved churches and sermons, I’m very much Team Cap. True, this film isn’t about the suppression of Christianity. In fact, I’d feel safer in a world where the Avengers have someone above them to keep them in check. (Though, on the other hand, I’ve heard about a group called Anonymous that does its own brand of “avenging” against ISIS and I’m assuming they’re not a government-run organization. And I definitely appreciate them for their work there. So far as the Team Iron Man side of the argument goes, no, they’re not toppling buildings or crashing Chitauri Leviathans into streets and buildings, but it is kinda scary when you think about how the digital work they do and how easily it could turn against us non-terrorists, hypothetically speaking. So there’s a real-world, non-religious case of the same thing right there.) So, religious freedom application aside, I do see the potential for good and bad and thus can agree with both Iron Man and Cap. Which is exactly what this movie set out to do.


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