Captain America: Civil War
Based on Captain America
by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
2016 • 147 minutes • Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Are we ever going to be able to get back to Captain America: The Winter Soldier?
Don’t get me wrong: I heartily enjoyed Captain America: Civil War. It is no less ideologically chewy, as one review delightfully put it, than The Winter Soldier. The difference is that The Winter Soldier is a Captain America movie and Captain America: Civil War is an Avengers movie. I often wonder when the wheels are going to come off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, because we’re getting to a point where a Marvel film must do two things: be a good enough film and set up the board for the next film or films, depending on how many players are on this particular board. In my experience as a reader and viewer, serial plot structure is one of the most challenging things to do right. And Marvel, with the exception of Iron Man 2, has mostly been handling it well. But it’s difficult to serve two masters at once, and we know which one takes precedent.
The Russos, to their eternal credit, pull that delicate balancing act off elegantly, but I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to get a wholly singular genre riff like Captain America: The Winter Soldier again in the Marvel universe.
Captain America: Civil War finds the Avengers at odds after a mission in Lagos results in casualties. This pushes the international community over the edge, and the UN wants to ratify the Sokovia Accords, which would bring the Avengers under UN control. Tony Stark, haunted by the human cost of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, is for it, but Steve Rogers, who knows how power can easily be abused, is against it. With the added strain of Steve’s repeated attempts to bring in Bucky Barnes, former best friend and current Winter Soldier, the Avengers turn on each other—which is probably playing right into the hand of the mysterious Helmut Zemo…
There are two major questions at the heart of Captain America: Civil War. Are people weapons or individual agents? And is heroism a function of one’s resources or of one’s actions? Tony takes the former position in both questions, a man who became a hero due to his access to great means of production—and I am including his engineering prowess as a means of production. His first appearance in the film finds him back at MIT inspiring and funding a new generation of engineers. Later, he refers to Wanda as a “WMD” because her power is unpredictable (to him). And Steve is the latter, trusting the choices of individuals above the choices of systems. He stood up for the little guy when he was the little guy because it was the right thing to do—because actions matter more than intentions. A viewpoint, I might add, that gets complicated because the man he’ll do anything to save, Bucky, committed atrocities while brainwashed…
What makes this film’s moral landscape fascinating is that there is no objective answer to those questions. The Avengers hash this out again and again, having reasonable discussions up until the point that there’s no more time to have reasonable discussion. After the pure torture porn of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, seeing well-defined characters speaking clearly and reasonably about morality, ethics, and oversight and clearly begrudgingly and reluctantly engaging in violence only after other options have been exhausted is downright mind-blowing.
And all of this is done with a sense of character, motivation, and, above all, fun. Captain America: Civil War feels more comic book-y than previous installments, simply because the franchise is at the point where all they have to do is bounce characters off of each other in new and interesting ways (and boy, are there a lot of characters.) The action remains as dynamic as it was in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, although a little less visceral. The airport action sequence is one of the purest team mix ‘em ups I’ve ever seen on screen, complete with a moment that left my entire audience cheering in sheer delight.
I’d be remiss to end this review without mentioning the two new characters introduced: T’Challa and Peter Parker. Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa is, delightfully, an instant classic, from his introduction to every action scene he’s in. And Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is a great take on the character—and the first I’ve seen that really centers him as a too-smart kid from Queens. He’s not essential to the plot (which I only realized after seeing the film, so kudos there), but he will be essential to the franchise as we move forward. In a franchise built on and anchored by Iron Man, Spider-Man is the natural heir apparent. Which is kind of hilarious, given that Spider-Man was once Marvel’s biggest character. I find it really fascinating that Spider-Man was once Marvel’s biggest character and now he’s playing heir apparent to Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- I saw this film in theaters.