WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW
I saw Civil War a couple weeks ago as part of AMC’s Ultimate Captain America Marathon, a whopping fourteen hour affair consisting of The First Avenger, The Avengers, The Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron, followed by the grand event. And as I walked out of the theater that night after enduring (and reveling in) the hours upon hours of Marvel movie watching, I couldn’t believe that the highlight of the day was Age of Ultron, a film that has been in contention for my favorite slot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but has needed some reevaluation. And after said reevaluation, I crown Ultron as the grand prize of the MCU, and while Civil War is not a bad movie (it’s actually better than being a “meh” movie), it is, unfortunately, one of Marvel’s lesser entries; one which prides itself in character politics that never become as interesting as we’re meant to think they are.
And right off the bat, I already know that you’re declaring me that guy that hates character development and doesn’t understand how screenwriting and character arcs work, but I want to assure you that I do. Look at Game of Thrones, one of the best shows on television right now, which is absolutely, one-hundred percent devoted to characterization as a plot dynamic and hardly reliant on action. I love it, because the writing is strong and always fascinating. When it comes to the latest Captain America, little of that is on display.
The movie is, for quite some time, boring, and I thought of every possible word to use in place of that and I just couldn’t. It’s certainly not a complete snoozefest (some of the drama woven throughout lands well and some of the action is incredible in every sense of the word), but after seeing the film a second time I realized that the parts that caused some of my audience to nod off and snore during my first viewing wasn’t just because of marathon fatigue; it was because some parts of the script are just… boring.
And during my screening, I knew something felt off from the get go, with a strange and out-of-place opening sequence that ignites the film even before the comic pages flip onto the screen forming the classic Marvel logo. After knowing the events of the third act, I understand why this scene was an opener but it, combined with the large, white, location subtitles made everything feel off.
And if those weren’t enough, the first action sequence certainly was. I’m still unsure what the hell happened here, but while most people were upset about the wasting of Crossbones, I was frustrated by the insane shift in action direction from the Russo brothers. While The Winter Soldier contained its fair share of shaky-cam, none of it felt as out of place and headache-inducing as it does in the first twenty minutes of Civil War. But as the film goes on, it clears up, especially when we get to the enormous airport battle that is simply wonderful, which begs the question, who was behind the camera for the first twenty minutes?
But after the opening sequence in which Steve Rodgers commands his pals around in an effort to defeat Crossbones, this barely feels like a Captain America movie. Remember back when we asked if anyone could have made an Avengers movie as good as Joss Whedon? Well, Civil War is the answer, and the answer is no. Even though the dialogue is there (see Falcon’s Red-Wing line and all of the Spider-Man stuff), none of it feels as genuine and heartfelt as it did in The Avengers and Age of Ultron, and one can’t help but watch this movie and long for the pen of Joss.
I completely understand this, too. I didn’t expect someone to balance these characters as well as Whedon did, but I also wouldn’t have had to if this had been a straight-up Captain America movie, which it isn’t. It’s an Avengers movie, and I think it does stumble over itself more often than not, even if some of its stumbling isn’t as disastrous as Batman v Superman‘s.
Still, it’s quite messy, with the new characters’ introductions feeling a bit crammed, despite the ultimate enjoyment that is had when they’re there. I would talk about how Spider-Man has no business being in this movie (he doesn’t), but I won’t, simply because he is undisputedly one of the finest elements of the entire movie. His screen appearance, while brief and unnecessary, is so fun, giving us comic nerds exactly what we’ve been needing for years: a great and faithful rendering of the webhead. Now we have that thanks to Tom Holland.
I am a big fan of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies (Spider-Man 2 is my favorite comic-book movie) and I love Tobey Maguire in them, but I really do think that while he was a great Spider-Man and Peter Parker for Raimi’s world, Holland is Peter Parker and Spider-Man. He is the perfect incarnation of the character, nailing the mannerisms of the shy, geeky, and intellectually driven teenage kid I know from the comics. It doesn’t hurt matters that his suit is straight out of those same comics. Marvel finally got Spidey so right, and it’s great to see him back home.
Regarding Spider-Man, I want to note here that I am thrilled to see Aunt May as a young, hot woman (yes, Marissa Tomei is sizzling) because despite the great, motherly element to the character given by the sweet and heartwarming Rosemary Harris, it’s kind of hard to believe that a teenage kid’s aunt needs to be that old. Civil War knows that, and it lets the aunt-nephew relationship play out uniquely. Unlike The Amazing Spider-Man, this Spider-Man feels new and original, and I think that’s why it works. (And the age change allows Tony to hit on her, something I didn’t expect but worked very well.)
Also introduced here (and the only new guy that serves a purpose in the film) is T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther, the MCU’s new badass from Wakanda, and the franchise’s first real, earthly King. Chadwick Boseman is good and very likable as T’Challa, but nothing in his performance compares to the thrill of seeing Black Panther in action. He’s good, but Black Panther is great. All of his scenes made me long for Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. His introductory chase sequence is a gasp-inducing one, one that would’ve gone unrivaled if it weren’t for the wonderful and awe-inspiring climactic battle sequence between both sides of this civil war.
When the battle comes, it can’t help but feel like it exists for the sole purpose of entertaining us (do the Avengers really need to be punching each other over and over again in order to come to an agreement?). But despite my not believing one single punch as being necessary, the entire sequence is loaded with many exciting battles, character interplay, and… Giant Man!
Of course I knew about Giant Man, but I had no idea they would incorporate him into Civil War! And what’s even more embarrassing, I didn’t even think of it until he made the transition. After seeing it a second time, I couldn’t help but scold myself for not seeing it coming, especially when he tells him he’s about to do something “big.” But it’s an enormously crowd-pleasing moment, and the way Spider-Man references “that really old movie Empire Strikes Back” to bring down Lang was just perfect. I never thought I would say it, but Ant-Man turned out to be my favorite aspect of the entire movie.
The airport battle is truly the film’s greatest achievement, with a dizzying array of non-stop superhero action that keeps pounding and pounding and then pounding some more until we feel like we’ve had enough. Funny thing is, enough really isn’t enough, because when it was over, I just wanted more. But the comedic reliefs go away and we track with Tony and Steve as they go track down Zemo (by the way, this movie should’ve been called Finding Zemo) and find the other Winter Soldiers and find out about Tony’s parents’ murder and blah blah blah.
Look, I’m not knocking it. It did affect me. Especially when Tony says, “I don’t care. He killed my mom.” That hit me hard, and I think it was a simple and effective piece of writing, a totally triumphant “oh shit” moment where I feared maybe Bucky (or even Steve) would meet his demise. But I do think the entire parent arc feels shoehorned in, and it does feel a bit reminiscent of the Martha stuff in Batman v Superman. It works better here, mainly because we have a history with Stark and care more about him contextually, but upon rewatching it, all the randomly inserted scenes of Tony’s parents felt as forced as the tombstone scenes in BvS.
On the whole, Civil War is okay. It’s not a movie worthy of a negative review because it’s a pretty decent time at the movies. But when it comes to story and structure, it sure is a mess. I know that Batman v Superman was also very messy, but I can say that I was never bored by it. I was bored by Civil War on more than one occasion. And while (at the moment) I think Civil War is a better film, there are aspects of Batman v Superman that I like more than Civil War‘s entirety. For Marvel’s standards, this one is just so-so.
I also want to point out that I think Civil War has one of the worst final shots in any of the Marvel movies. It ends on such a poor note, but then again, nothing can top the excellent closing line in Age of Ultron.
If only they could assemble under Joss Whedon’s magic again.