"I'm good, arrow guy, let's go!"
Anyone else feeling MCU fatigue? Just me? Okay, that's what I figured. Captain America: Civil War comes to us at a time when there's so much competition in the marketplace for comic book movies that "good enough" won't cut it. Thankfully the film is far above average, but it does so little to distinguish itself from the lackluster Avengers films that it's difficult to recommend unconditionally. Let's start with the title, which is the first place things go off the rails. Despite what the title or anyone else says, this is hardly a Captain America film. In fact, I would be shocked to discover that the character is onscreen for more than half the film's 147 minute running time.
Anyone hoping for a solid conclusion to Steve Rogers' storyline from his last two films will leave sorely disappointed. The film touches on elements and tensions that have been building throughout Cap's arc, but anytime we start to get invested in his story, we pivot to another scene of another Avenger not named Captain America doing something that's nothing more than setup for future MCU entries. The balance between setups and payoffs is getting out of whack, and these films are feeling more and more like an attempt to setup more than they can payoff in one film, and with no clear endgame in sight, it's not unlike those middle seasons of Lost where you started to get the feeling that there was no way to resolve everything they've been setting up.
Following the events of The Avengers, The Winter Soldier, and Age of Ultron, Secretary of State Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) assembles the Avengers in a conference room to let them know that over 100 countries in the UN support a new initiative called the Sokovia Accords. This would force the superheroes to operate under the umbrella of the UN, who would decide when and where the Avengers should assemble next. While Steve (Chris Evans) is reluctant to sign, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.—still on autopilot) fears that unless they sign, there will be far worse repercussions for the heroes down the road.
To add fuel to the fire, a car bombing during the signing of the Accords kills many people, including Wakanda's King T'Chaka (John Kani). The bombing is blamed on Steve's oldest friend and fugitive Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), and Cap goes off to help Bucky clear his name. The film then adds T'Chaka's vengeance driven son T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) a.k.a. Black Panther to the mix, making him an uneasy ally with Tony to capture Bucky and get Cap in line. We also get a shadowy figure named Zemo (Daniel Brühl) who seems intent on keeping Bucky brainwashed, for reasons only explained in an exposition dump by the character in the third act. And I haven't even gotten to Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Crossbones (Frank Grillo), or the rest of The Avengers, who either fall in line with Tony or Cap on either side of the Sokovia Accords battle lines.
Talk about overstuffed. Thankfully the Russo Brothers once more demonstrate an alacrity behind the camera, never making it feel overwhelming while you're watching the film, something Joss Whedon was never able to successfully navigate himself. It gives me hope for the future of the MCU with them at the helm, despite the fact that, in retrospect, this film suffered from a ton of fatal flaws. The too-muchness of Age of Ultron begins to creep in here, but action packed scenes like the airport battle keep the mood lighter and more fun than that previous Marvel monstrosity.
In fact, were it not for that airport battle, I likely wouldn't have as many fond memories of the film as I do. That scene is utter comic book movie perfection, complete with splash pages and fun bits like a scene where War Machine (Don Cheadle) winds up on the wrong side of the undiscovered powers of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). It's breezy, fun, fast paced, and entertaining, and is the best the film has to offer. It's a shame that the rest of the film can't live up to this scene's raw power. That's not to say that it's not a good film, because it is very good, just busy, noisy, and WAY overcrowded.
The most disappointing aspect of the film, for my money, has got to be its adherence to the Civil War comic series, particularly turning Tony Stark into the de facto antagonist. One of the most brilliant things about 2008's Iron Man was how well it redeemed the character of Tony Stark following his turn as Marvel's number one asshole in the comics. To take that character back to square one like this was a bit of a slap in the face to the character's legacy and an unnecessary turn of events. I'll get into this more in our spoiler filled battle tomorrow, but I feel like there's no going back for Tony at this point, which is why they're likely going to try to redeem him by turning him into Peter Parker's Quartermaster.
As we move through Marvel's Phase Three, however, I worry that things are only going to get more complicated and complex. There are so many characters in play at this point, I can't even imagine how they're going to weave the Guardians of the Galaxy into the mix, let alone all the other characters who weren't in this film like Thor and Hulk. Things are reaching a breaking point, and while this film is fun to watch and has some great moments, it's also a harbinger of darker horizons ahead. I fear there's no going back, however, so we've either got to get used to it or throw our hands up in disgust, and something tells me I'm no longer alone in the latter camp.
—One of Crossbones' henchman that fights Black Widow is heretofore known as Not Oscar Isaac
—Oh hey, look, it's Hope Davis... nevermind, she's gone
—William Hurt is a great actor, but Sam Elliott will always be Thaddeus Ross to me
—What accent are you trying to do there, Martin Freeman? Is that standard Mid-American?
—Does this mean Joe Pesci's playing Uncle Ben in Homecoming? h/t Donaldson
—Bucky sure has killed a lot of dads in the MCU
—It sounds like Zemo is calling him Becky instead of Bucky
—Manchurian Candidate jokes? Once again, RDJ, I'm left to wonder who these jokes are for? Are they for me? Because I'm the only one laughing