Captain America: Civil War
I’m almost hesitant to call this a Captain America movie. Sure overall it is from Cap’s/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) perspective but there’s more going on than just him overall. Not only is this, at first glance, “Avengers 2.5 but this movie is also the best Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) movie since Iron Man 1. That’s not even taking into account Spider-Man (Tom Holland)! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Captain America: Civil War is tied with Guardians of the Galaxy as my second favorite Marvel movie! (Sorry. Iron Man still takes the cake for me.) As someone who greatly dislikes the comic from which this movie is based, this movie is basically everything I wanted the comic to be! And it is far superior to Captain America: Winter Soldier. (I actually do not like Winter Soldier. Go ahead Internet, hate me.) I went into this movie expecting to hate it for adapting a terrible comic story and came out pleasantly surprised.
The event that kicks off the Superhero Registration, in this movie called the “Sokovia Accords”, named after the (fictional) Eastern European nation from Avengers: Age of Ultron, is an operation by the Avengers in Lagos, where Wanda/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, who for some reason has lost her accent) accidentally causes an explosion to kill several medical workers sent by the Wakandan government to show Wakanda is de-isolating itself from the world. This, combined with the events of previous movies, with the destruction on Manhattan Island in New York from Avengers, Washington DC in Winter Soldier, and the entire small country of Sokovia in Age of Ultron, causes the United Nations to create the Sokovia Accords, because for some reason people seem to think the UN has actual power.
I like this scene yet dislike it at the same time. In the comics the event that kicks off the Registration Act is a bunch of idiot superpowered teenagers with a tv show after “ratings” who cause an explosion to happen in a schoolyard, killing over 600 civilians, including 300 children, all because some idiots with a tv show were after “ratings”. Compare that to a small side of a building and it’s less… shocking. I understand why, since they don’t want to scare little children, at least not too much, but I feel that Civil War needed that shock value the comic had.
This movie benefits from Fox owning the rights to X-Men and subsequently mutants. In the comics, mutants are people who are born with their powers, not the result of a chemical accident or fancy gadgets. One of the biggest conflicts with the X-Men is the Mutant Registration Act, where mutants must be registered by the government. The Superhero Registration Act always felt redundant, like a wider-scale Mutant Act and everyone, even the non-mutant heroes, had always rallied against the Mutant Act so why some would support the Superhero Act always felt confusing. The fact that mutants don’t exist in Disney’s and Marvel’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is an unacknowledged benefit.
Something else that was improved from the comic is why Tony Stark supports registration. In the comics his character relied on being against the government for trying to take his Iron Man armor. Stark supports registration because of Miriam Sharpe. Sharpe’s son was killed in the explosion at the school and at the funeral for the 600 victims, which Stark attends, she spits in his face. I know she’s mad about heroes doing whatever they want, but it’s hard to sympathize with anyone doing THAT. Later Giant-Man/Bill Foster, a C-lister hero not well known these days, is killed by a clone of Thor, and Sharpe arrives at the funeral to basically say that Goliath was an idiot and deserved to die, while Goliath’s family is there! Please forgive me if I don’t find this woman endearing.
Sharpe is vastly improved here. Played by Alfre Woodard (The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag, 12 Years a Slave) as an employee of the US State Department, Sharpe confronts Stark over the death of her son during the Battle of Sokovia, berating him and the Avengers for not caring about the loss of innocent life and just causing destruction. Of course we, the audience, know that the Avengers did go out of their way to save people but from an outsider’s, like Sharpe, perspective it just seems the “heroes” go about doing whatever they please. Sharpe is justifiably angry and comes off in a way that makes her more sympathetic.
(Woodard will be playing an entirely different character, Mariah Dillard, on Luke Cage, one of the Marvel/Netflix shows leading up to The Defenders. Woodard was cast in Civil War at the suggestion of Downey before Marvel Studios learned of her casting on Luke Cage.)
This issue splits the Avengers, with the dispute coming to a head by an event allegedly caused by Rogers’ best friend, Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier. The conflict becomes personal now, which makes the events more relatable, and leads to personal war!
I should mention is they spend more time explaining Stark’s side than they do Rogers’. I think the idea was that most people who are coming to see this movie are Captain America fans and most Marvel fans and movie-goers in general are probably siding with Rogers. Not an unreasonable assumption considering most people appear to have voiced support for Rogers over the past year, and it makes Stark more understandable, whereas the comic was basically a lazy vehicle to make everyone hate Iron Man. At the same time I feel the movie would have been better served by allocating an equal amount of time to flesh out Rogers perspective because Stark really is the only character with an arc in this movie.
Full disclosure: I’m Team Neutral. I see the legitimacy of both sides. The fact that the fight is more personal thanks to Bucky makes the conflict less loud and stupid than the comic was. I understand the fear of these guys going rogue, but I’m also not a fan of the government making our heroes their personal weapons. Neither Stark’s nor Rogers’ side feels completely justified. For great representation of this fear I recommend the Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Dwayne McDuffie written Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated shows.
As for the new cast, everyone is perfect! Daniel Bruhl (The Bourne Ultimatum, Inglourious Basterds) plays a loose version of the character Baron Zemo from the comics. There are two versions. The first is a former Nazi scientist who was developing a permanent adhesive for the Axis but was stopped when Cap destroys the container with the adhesive and it spills on Zemo’s face, leaving a mask permanently stuck on his face. He wants revenge on Cap but dies and then his son, whose own face was damaged as a result of Cap fighting Zemo Sr., wants revenge for his father. I won’t spoil what this version of Zemo wants, but the basic idea of vengeance is still there so it still feels like Zemo. Not only that, but this is the best villain the MCU has had in years (not counting the Netlfix shows). He’s not a “ha ha I’m evil and ripping off Hans Gruber” type. Zemo is a character with motivation and goals.
Chadwick Boseman (Law and Order, 42) is great as T’Challa, the Black Panther. Even though he’s yet another American putting on a fake accent, it sounds real, similar to the way British actor John Boyega (24: Live Another Day, Attack the Block) sounds genuine when he puts on an American accent. Boseman is perfect as Panther and his overall comic origin is kept intact. I won’t spoil it for general movie audiences.
And now Spider-Man! As a New Yorker, I would like to say, FINALLY! Finally, we have a perfect version of Spider-Man in live-action! I did enjoy Tobey Maguire (Walker, Texas Ranger, The Great Gatsby (2013)) and Andrew Garfield (Doctor Who, The Social Network) but Maguire was great only as Peter Parker while Garfield was great only as Spider-Man (barring the writers giving him bad jokes that resulted in more cringing than laughter) and also their Californian and British, respectively, always shone through their voices. They didn’t entirely sound like the character they were playing. Now with Tom Holland, a character who is supposed to be a kid from Queens FINALLY sounds like a kid from Queens! Holland’s British accent never slipped through and he sounds just like he really is from Queens! And he has jokes that are actually funny! Spider-Man has some of the funniest lines of dialogue whenever he’s on screen, even making a good Star Wars joke! And I will always love the classic Steve Ditko and John Romita costume design!
Now I am aware some people aren’t sure about the casting of Marisa Tomei (Oscar, War, Inc.) as Aunt May, and there have been plenty of jokes about people being “attracted to Aunt May”. Rest assured Tomei is perfectly cast as May Parker and for the first time in literally forever, May Parker actually looks and sounds like an aunt to someone of Peter’s age! My real life aunts are all about or around Tomei’s age (51) and it always bothered me that May looked much older than an aunt to a teenager or even young adult. This is because Aunt May looked as old as my great-grandmother, who I had known personally growing up before her death at 81. As of this review, I am 19 years old and now May actually looks like she’s the Aunt of a teenager.
The fight scenes are some of the best in a comic book movie too. There was never dull moment during all the fight scenes. I was thoroughly entertained thanks to the emotion behind the scenes, wanting the combatants to win yet not wanting them to win. It was so emotional and actually had meaning behind it all! I know everyone’s made a big deal about the airport fight scene, and while it is great eye candy and some of the best superhero action put to film, I think the best fight in the film is the one at the end between Iron Man, Cap, and Bucky. A big revelation is given to Stark, resulting in him becoming very angry, lashing out and wanting revenge against Bucky. What for? I won’t tell, but it is truly a spectacular fight, as we see Stark lash out, determined to bring down his target! This is how you make heroes plausibly try to kill! Building their character and making us care about them rather than say “oh the books did this”. The whole fight I was biting my nails on the edge of my seat, not rooting for either Stark or Rogers. I was just anxious to see how it ends.
I’m just going to come out and say it. In spite of how much I love this movie, there are a few things wrong with it. No one dies. Nothing really changes. After the fights end Rogers literally calls Stark and basically says, “if you need anything, just call me!” This is just a problem with the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general. Sometimes the stakes don’t feel elevated and because no one dies in the MCU, it just feels annoying how comics in general do not let death have any real meaning. I do not count Quicksilver because I have the feeling that because Quicksilver was done better by another studio in a separate franchise that did not use Scarlet Witch yet, Disney decided they were going to kill off Quicksilver completely and there might be an unspoken agreement between Fox and Disney to use their respective characters. Then again having no one die is better than constantly killing them and bringing them back I suppose.
I know people are saying with regards to Spider-Man that Stark is almost recruiting child soldiers in a way. I do see the argument there and how Spidey might not make much difference in a fight involving War Machine and Vision. My theory though is that Stark wanted to make an impression on Parker. To quickly recruit Parker to his cause and sees a potential secret weapon that people are underestimating and wants to quickly make this potentially powerful kid an ally because not only does Stark see a great hero in the future but also a brilliant scientific mind. It helps that Peter has a personal reason for helping Stark as Stark offers financial assistance to the cash-strapped Parkers for Peter’s education.
Regardless my issues with this movie are minor overall and Captain America: Civil War is still one of the best movies of the MCU and one of the best comic book movies of all time. I highly recommend it. It is a must see for Marvel fans and comic fans in general. I should note for general audiences who probably do not really care for the comics, the previous films in the MCU are very much required watching before seeing this movie as it leans heavily on the backstory established in previous movies. Watch what comes before this movie if you haven’t yet, then watch this.
*image search: moviepilot.com