Review: Captain America: Civil War

Captain America Civil War alternative movie poster

Captain America: Civil War is immediately distinctive because it doesn’t have “The” in the subheading. So is Steve Rogers third outing as slick, refined and cutback as the new title? Well, I’m gonna tell ya.

First, let’s catch up. Trust me, you’ll need to because there are so many characters and shenanigans now that you’ll probably be lost without a primer or flow chart with diagrams and shit. It’s going to get even more mental when the Guardians of the Galaxy enter the mix, but we’ll worry about that later.

Anyway, at the end of The Winter Soldier SHIELD was in tatters, HYRDA cells (the bad people from The First Avenger) were everywhere, and Bucky Barnes (the eponymous wintry soldier) was still at large. But don’t stress too hard, as the Avengers Re-assemble to take them all down one by one. During the destruction of one such cell in Eastern Europe’s Sokovia (don’t bother checking a map, Dora the Explorer, it’s a made up country), two new super-soldiers are unleashed into the world. You’ve got the Brother/Sister team of Scarlet Bitch Witch (Elizabeth Olsen – Godzilla) who can fire psychic balls and manipulate minds and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Godzilla) who can run really quick.

Age of Ultron Maximoff twins

During the raid, good old Tony Start (Robert Downey Jnr – US Marshals) penetrates the compound while the rest easily massacre hundreds of puny human soldiers outside. However, Scarlet Witch infects Tony with a vision of a possible future – the Avengers all dead with the Earth left undefended and ripe for it’s virginity to be taken by some giant alien space cock. This, along with the discovery of Loki’s scepter, sets a plan in motion.

Tony has built a load of autonomous drone Iron Man’s which can do a lot of the super hero leg work for him. Plus, he and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo – Shutter Island) have discovered that there’s a weird life form inside the scepter – an AI lifeform. This quickly comes to life, identifies itself as Ultron, kills off Tony’s lovely butler Jarvis (Paul Bettany – Da Vinci Code), and infiltrates the drones. The original programming of “Saving the Earth” is perverted into “the only way to save the Earth is getting rid of those interfering humans” and so begins a world wide battle.

This culminates in the resurrection of Jarvis into Vision, a red-faced psuedo-Robot-God thing (think Dr. Manhattan from the Watchmen), and the destruction of an entire city. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, whom had previously joined Ultron, get wind of his plan and change sides, with Quicksilver dying to protect some child. It’s proper sad.

Ultron get’s destroyed forever, and the new Avengers go back to the snazzy new Avengers HQ that’s been paid for by someone. SHIELD is over, but The Avengers are back to stay (well, until Civil War).

Soon after, some small time thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd – Anchorman) is given a suit that can shrink him into the size of an ant by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas – Romancing the Stone). Using his shrinking skills, he has to infiltrate the Avengers HQ to steal some technology. This puts him in a fun fight with Falcon (Anthony Mackie – Triple 9). Ant-Man, as he’s known, then goes off and does some Ant shit… Don’t worry about this too much. Just realize there’s a guy out there who can shrink to the size of an ant and is played by Paul Rudd.

Paul Rudd Ant Man ok

There, all caught up.

Civil War begins with Captain America (Chris Evans – Sunshine), Falcon, Scarlet Witch and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson – Lucy) tracking down Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo – The Grey). He’d gone rogue in The Winter Soldier and has now become a merc for hire called Crossbones. During a foiled raid in Nigeria, Crossbones blows himself up to get Captain America. Thankfully, Scarlet Witch manages to save him, but at the cost of loads of Nigerian lives.

Coupled with the New York (Avengers 1) and Sokovia (Avengers 2) incidents, this has pissed off quite a lot of people across the world. The US Government steps in to put a rein on the Avengers. Their actions are to be controlled and sanctioned by a world council. They’re not going to be some freelance heroes rolling around the under the radar like the A-Team any more. But who is the poster child for the government in this bold initiative? Tony Stark.

Why, you think, is the free-balling, legendarily undisciplined and “Don’t-give-a-fuck-about-the-rules” Iron Man quarter-backing this bureaucratic bullshit? Because some American kid who was doing aid work in Sokovia died during the Ultron battle. There’s also the suggestion that Tony is still plagued by the visions of an unprotected Earth. Surely, Scarlet Witch should have told him “lol, I did that when I was trying to kill you. Chill out dude”. Clearly she hasn’t, and he’s still obsessed with doing crazy shit to make sure that everyone is “safe”.

Scarlet Witch tony stark gif

This element doesn’t sit well with me, no matter how they’re trying to rationalize it. It doesn’t suit the character, and I think Downey Jnr struggles with it too. How can you walk the line of being a care-free billionaire superhero and then be totally for Government control? It just doesn’t make sense. Now I’m not one for giving a shit about how close something is to the source material (unless it’s Game of Thrones), but the Civil War storyline in the comics is slightly different. Iron Man was already a government schill in the comics. Plus, everyone already knows that Tony Stark wears the mask. He’s also a bit more of a megalomaniac too.

In the film I just don’t buy Tony Stark as the bad guy. It feels too much like they’ve shoe-horned him into the role as the Anti-Captain America, so it can match the comic book. However, I do like the concept of the story. The Sokovia Accords (as they’re known) is a grey area that has both benefits and pit falls. It’s an understandable issue, and you can appreciate why everyone else falls into the two camps that they do: War Machine – a military man – follows orders. Black Widow, already recognized as an Avenger worldwide, also believes this is the right thing to do. Vision, ultimately Iron Man’s servant, and follower of logic and rules also signs up. Those apposed? Scarlet Witch – a rogue mutant criminal done good. Falcon, a former special forces dude disenfranchised with the military. And Captain America, who knows the dangers of blindly following orders from higher powers. Come on, has everyone forgotten that SHIELD, the world’s bodyguard, was also infiltrated and controlled by the most evil of organisations? Are you surprised he’s a little suspicious?!

But this whole area of the film isn’t the meat of the story however. It’s sort of like the B-story that’s becomes so bloated that it over-takes the A-story which is about Captain America and (of course) Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier. It is a Captain America film remember.

Captain America & bucky barnes

And things on the whole Steve Rogers front are a bit grim at the moment as his old flame Peggy Carter has finally died of old age. During the funeral it’s revealed that the girl-next-door who turned out to be a SHIELD spy was actually her niece, Sharon Carter. Her and Steve still have a bit of an attraction to each other, which will help as the film progresses.

During the signing of the accords at the UN, there is an explosion and the king of Wakanda (a fictional African country) is killed. Images identifying the bomber as the Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan – The Martian) immediately begin to circulate. Rogers is immediately concerned as the entire world is now out to get his former best friend. Specifically, the new king T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman – Gods of Egypt) is out to kill the Winter Soldier for revenge. The whole thing lends credence to Tony Stark’s argument about regulation. But Steve thinks “fuck that” and want’s to bring Bucky in himself. He owes him for saving his ass that one time in the alley.

Sharon Carter lets slip where Bucky Barnes has been spotted so Falcon and Capn head off to get him before the authorities. Cue a badass encounter with SWAT teams, motorcycle chases and King T’Challa in a wicked new black panther suit out to kill poor Bucky. Eventually they’re all caught and are taken to a safe facility where everyone’s gear is repossessed (Steve’s shield, Falcons bird costume etc). Barnes protests his innocence as a mysterious psychologist begins to debrief him. He starts asking random questions just as the power goes down in the building. This doctor turns out to be Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl – Rush) – a former Sokovian soldier who has declared war on the Avengers. He’s located The Winter Soldier’s instruction manual, and has him reveal the location of a secret Hydra base in the Siberian wastes.

All Hell breaks lose as everyone escapes. Steve manages to chase down Bucky whom is knocked unconscious. He awakens, robotic arm in a vice and tells Falcon and Steve that he didn’t do the bombing, and that Zemo made him reveal the location of the Hydra base where he was kept on ice for so long. The shit is about to hit the fan though as Hydra had also created a whole squad of other Winter Soldiers that were still asleep, awaiting to be awoken to do mass-evil in the name of their multi-headed God. They have to get there to stop him.

Only one problem though. Iron Man and his goons (Vision, T’Challa, War Machine, Black Widow and Spiderman! – more on this below) arrive to take them all into custody. The outlaw trio are joined by the other renegade superheroes Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man (as a favour to Falcon), and Hawkeye fresh out of retirement. Neither side is going to back down, and we all know it’s gonna descent into a ruck. We have all seen the trailer, right?

Who is gonna win? Are they all gonna make up afterward? Will they stop Zemo in time? Why the fuck is Spiderman in this film? Well you’ll just have to watch it to find out.

Civil War Face Off

I think I made it pretty clear last time that I wasn’t a massive fan of The First Avenger but that The Winter Soldier was the best pre-Guardians of the Galaxy film in the Marvel universe. Civil War sit’s right in the middle of those two in terms of quality and execution. It’s retained that darkness I enjoyed in the Winter Soldier, has some fantastic action sequences, the now par-for-the-course Marvel humour, and brilliant character moments. I especially love the bickering between Falcon and Bucky. The only issue I really have is that is much less a Captain America film overall. He’s still the main character, but by-God the days of old Captain and Bucky Barnes/Falcon dominating the screen time are long gone.

No, this is more like Avengers 2.5. But don’t fret, this is the Avengers sequel we deserved. Avengers: Age of Ultron was decent. But as my mate Phil eloquently put one day, “It just don’t pop like the first film”. No, it doesn’t Phil. Maybe because it was just a bit of a rehash of Assemble. Maybe it was studio interference. Who knows. However, it causes a problem. A big problem. Thanks to the morass of storylines and characters left over from the Age of Ultron, Civil War becomes a film is totally inaccessible to the Marvel Universe neophyte. If you’re little Johnny’s Dad taking his fave son to the cinema to see this, you’re not going to know what the fuck is going on.

You could muddle through The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier. It would have helped having seen Avengers Assemble, but it would still make sense generally. Good luck with this one if you haven’t seen all the other films though. “Why is Paul Rudd in this? Why the fuck is he shrinking?! Spiderman?! Isn’t he an X-Man?”

Civil War table scene

The best bit for me in Avengers 1 was when they’re all in that lab chatting shit each other, then Thor has to fight Hulk and Loki comes in and bests them all. Pitting super-hero vs super-hero is interesting to us because we’re always interested in rankings, who would beat who etc. But more specifically, we’re interested in these clashes because we’re invested in the characters. We give a shit (or we’re supposed to give a shit). A major issue with Marvel movies so far is that barring one or two exceptions, we don’t care about the bad guys. We know the heroes are going to prevail. We spend most of the movies with the hero along for the ride. So when the villain dies or gets beaten at the end, we’re just not bothered about their backstory or what they were trying to accomplish. The good guy won and that is what’s supposed to happen.

But when good guy fights good guy…well someone is going to lose. But who?! Now we’re cast into doubt. Now we’re on the edge of our seats wondering what the hell is going to happen. As before, this worked well in Avengers Assemble. It didn’t work in Batman vs Superman. Why? Because they were dull, uninteresting characters. However, by now, we all know that no one is going to die in the Avengers. So we’ve lost interest in this super hero clash before it even begins.

I think the general disappointment with Age of Ultron totally influenced Captain America: Civil War. Yet fitting in more of the Avengers doesn’t suit this film. Instead, they just clog up the story. This film works best when it’s just Captain America plus one or two others. Basically, the focus should have been about Steve Rogers bringing Bucky Barnes back into the fold. Look at it this way:

  1. The First Avenger is about Steve becoming Captain America. During the process he loses his best friend, Bucky Barnes.
  2. The Winter Soldier is about Captain America learning that the most badass mysterious assassin in the world is actually his friend Bucky Barnes whom has been brainwashed.
  3. Captain America 3 should have been about Steve rescuing Bucky Barnes and re-establishing his mind and their friendship as in the first film.

Sadly, we don’t get that. We don’t get true closure on Steve Roger’s story. This is an end to the Captain America trilogy so to speak. And yet it ends so abruptly. It doesn’t conclude anything with the character or the story. We just get endless fan service instead. Notice how none of the trailers or promo’s focus on the Rogers/Barnes storyline. It’s all about Iron Man vs. Captain America. Yeah, the action and fighting is fun and great, but we know they’re all gonna make up in the end. No one is gonna get hurt (OK, Roadie does get crippled). Also, where the fuck is Vision during that entire fight at the airport? Everyone else is paired off. He’s just disappeared somewhere? Contemplating life? Wondering why the fuck he ever starred in Priest?

Winter Soldier had a lot of callbacks to The First Avenger. It felt very much like a sequel, a piece to a larger story. Civil War doesn’t. They spend a little time tying up loose ends from Winter Soldier (Frank Grillo, Peggy Carter etc), but there aren’t the parallels you could draw between the first movies and this. One callback I did notice and did appreciate is the similar framing at the end where a nearly beaten Captain America is fighting Iron Man. “I can do this all day” he utters, exactly like in the First Avenger.

There are other issues too. Re-watching the film, it does kind of make you think “did they really have that kind of technology in the 80’s?” during the flashback sequences. Flatscreens monitors? Was CC-TV that prevalent in outback America? They’d mastered cyborg arms?! It’s pushing the credibility a bit. The second film was especially much more grounded in reality. However, reality is totally thrown out of the stratosphere when a floating British half-robot half-spirit dude is blowing stuff up with the crystal in his forehead. Plus, all the fun jokes about Captain America being an alien among us are gone. He’s perfectly adapted to being in the future. He’s even got an iPhone. He’s not fumbling over film and music references any more. Which is sad.

Plus, there’s also that shit with Sharon Carter. Look, I understand what they’re trying to do with the love interest. Steve came close in the first film, then had that love ripped away from him by the ravages of time in the second. Now, Peggy Carter is dead and he can begin to move on. But really, move on with her grand-niece? I see that it’s sort of meant to be like “it’s acceptable because she’s technically the newer, upgraded Peggy Carter model”, but it also seems a bit forced, even a might bit incestuous. What, can this guy not be attracted to anyone else but this family? The whole sexual tension thing with Black Widow is sorely missing from Winter Solider too, though the love/hate thing between Bucky/Falcon makes up for this.

And let’s talk about Spiderman. I’m probably the only human who couldn’t give a fuck about Spiderman. When I hear about a Spider-man, I immediately want to see a half-man-half-spider mutant like Brundlefly in The Fly. Not some punk kid in a red outfit.

Please, readers, can someone send me a photograph of a bright red and blue spider for reference sake to at least explain why he wears such a stupid costume? Here he’s added purely as a gimmick. He serves no narrative purpose other than to get a few extra punters in the door. I mean, Yay, Sony no longer own the IP, and now he can be in the Marvel cinematic universe and all that, but surely, such a bright and silly character doesn’t need to be added to the darker and more realistic Captain America movies.

Civil war helicopter gif

I’ve moaned on a lot and I really don’t want to give the impression I hated Civil War. I didn’t. It’s a very good film. A great Marvel film. But my expectations were high for a sequel to the awesome Winter Soldier. Yet, there are still great performances at work here. No one phones this in. The action is good. Everyone has little moments of their own. Plus, now we have loads of Marvel films and characters to draw on. If you’ve seen all the films you can pick up on all the little references and so fourth, and it really does add an extra layer of enjoyment to astute viewers.

Again, Chris Evans is perfectly cast as Captain America. He toes the line between being so cheeseball wholesome and likeable at the same time. He may not be the most badass dude on the field in terms of raw power, but you know he’s the biggest hero of them all. Sebastian Stan has a lot more to work with this time around too, it’s just a shame (as above) Civil War is less about him than it should be. The support staff are all on their A-game too. I especially liked Daniel Bruhl as Zemo – his lines about “I knew I could not kill them. More powerful men than me have tried” were especially poignant. For all the insane and wacky intergalactic menaces that go up against the Avengers, it’s a nice surprise to see just a normal guy bringing super heroes to their knees. “I have patience and experience. A man can do anything if he has those.”

Ultimately we’re not left with an end to the Captain America storyline. There’s no real closure. The comic book had the renegade heroes lose. Captain America himself is even shot and killed, leading to a rehabilitated Bucky Barnes taking up the shield. Due to this, there was speculation that this may happen in the film. Sadly, it doesn’t. Not that I don’t dig Evan’s as Captain America, or that I dislike the character. But it would have been nice to shake things up a bit. Batman vs. Superman, for all it’s faults at least had the balls to kill off one of the main cast. I think even the casual viewer now realizes that the Avengers are effectively going to survive through anything at this point.

Death of Captain America comic strip

Plus there needs to be a end to the story. At some point we’re going to have to close the curtains on this whole thing. And with Marvel making so much money, I don’t see that happening any time soon. What I do see happening is the quality of the films dropping off as more and more cooks join in to spoil the tasty Marvel brew.

I think that Captain America: Civil War would have been a better film without all the extra Avenger stuff in it. In fact, I think you could probably chop a lot of it out, and still have a decent, nay better, film. But as it stands it’s still pretty fucking good. Get it watched.

PS. This is my first complete trilogy of reviews that I’ve ever done. Yay! Now, go about your business, citizen.

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