Captain America has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and not just within this film.
Captain America: Civil War is the 13th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a sequel to the excellent Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the jumping point for the MCU’s much-hyped third phase, and is coming off the heels of both a disappointing Avengers sequel and the modestly successful Ant-Man and last summer’s creative shakeup at Marvel Studios.
Meanwhile, the story is loosely adapted from a controversial seven-part comic series of the same name that saw the Marvel universe fractured nearly beyond repair over the introduction of a superhero registration act.
Clearly, there’s no pressure here.
With that in mind, Captain America: Civil War is one of Marvel’s most technically and emotionally solid films to date. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo show a thorough understanding of this universe’s characters and craft an effective, well-balanced film.
At the same time, oddly, Civil War is also one of Marvel’s more unfulfilling entries due to its complete unwillingness to take the universe to the next step. Even the Russos can’t sidestep common Marvel missteps here and the film feels like a big missed opportunity to be the game changer it really should be.
Before we get further into that matter though, there is one point that must be stressed going forward: this is a better Avengers movie than Age of Ultron and probably the original.
A plot that could have easily been fragmented is instead brought together very naturally here. The story wisely builds its core around the arcs of Cap, Bucky and Tony Stark and brings its many other characters into the fray in a pleasant, organic way. Side arcs like Wanda and Vision’s, as well as Zemo’s, are almost all given enough focus and content to be meaningful but not so much so that they drag the movie down or feel out of place (no magic spirit pool hokum here).
The filmmakers know that the real meat of the story is the conflict between Steve and Tony over the act, known here as the Sokovia Accords, and the added wrinkle of when Bucky reappears. The approach to the internal split is refreshingly open ended; no side is overtly right or wrong and it’s easy to sympathize with both.
Likewise, the villain of the piece is actually able to buck Marvel’s lackluster villain standard by doing something different: not being a supervillain. Zemo doesn’t have enhanced abilities or world-dominating plans but he does have fierce intelligence, relatable motivations and a very personal plan.
There’s no cliche where the villain is just a dark reflection of the hero here, just a very smart man out for vengeance. This comes off as more true and interesting than almost anything Marvel has done lately with their foils.
There are cool new characters, memorable gags and an epic airport battle (not to be confused with Marvel’s typical final aerial battle) — all good new things that keep the film feeling fresh.
But at the same time, Civil War, for how good it is, can’t escape some of the lesser aspects of the Marvel paradigm.
The film has what is probably the studio’s worst opening action sequence. The battle with Crossbones in Nigeria is artificially sped up to the point of being unaffecting. It’s a bad foot for the film to start on and unusually shoddy filmmaking from a duo that usually delivers.
More unforgivable is the handling of Crossbones. Once again, Marvel has the opportunity for a scenery-chewing recurring bad guy with Frank Grillo and, once again, they utterly waste it by killing him off.
Just like a bland, forgettable score, that’s just business as usual for Marvel and it’s not the only predictable decisions they make. The studio is still petrified of offing any of their main heroes and even with a story that was a perfect fit for such a dramatic act, they chose to play it safe.
Even though our heroes end up in separate places by the end of the film, it still feels like the status quo is kept and there’s nothing they can’t bounce back from.
It’s filmmaking without risk and thus not very rewarding.
In the ever-expanding balloon of Marvel, one door closes, while all current ones remain open and a handful are introduced.
And on that topic, we need to talk about Spider-Man. Whereas Black Panther is treated to a terrific entrance here, Spider-Man falls flat. There’s just no reason for him to be in this movie outside of the studio saying “look, we have the rights back now!”
I’m sure Tom Holland is perfectly capable and a refreshing choice for the role but they’re trying way too hard with the humor. Instead of skillful and natural comedic timing, the character just becomes annoying — within minutes of a generally short screen presence too.
We have yet to see how a different filmmaker will handle the character for Spider-Man: Homecoming but there’s notably less enthusiasm on this end after seeing a favorite character of mine be such a weak point of this film.
Don’t get me wrong, when weighing the scales, Captain America: Civil War is going to end up with much more good to its name than bad. Enough so to be considered one of Marvel’s best movies too. There are plenty of moments in this film to justify its place in the universe.
But the cracks are starting to show in the house that Marvel built. This movie was a chance to move this story and these characters forward and they largely squandered it. Marvel is still stuck in its ways and, as an audience member, that just makes fatigue set in even faster.