My Spoiler-Free Review: Captain America: Civil War

Like many people, I thought Winter Soldier was the best film in the Marvel Universe, and so the big question everyone’s asking is: Is Civil War better than Winter Soldier?

The answer: Kiiiiiinda.

Civil War has high points that are head and shoulders above Winter Soldier, but it also has some weak points that make it a little draggy.  And the biggest problem with Civil War is this: while they are masterful at introducing literally fourteen likeable characters, each with their own agenda and charm, they forget to give a scene to the most critical character of all:

Bucky.

Now, it’s difficult because Bucky is a formerly brainwashed assassin, and part of his whole schtick is that he wants to be left alone.  But a major problem in Civil War is that while literally every issue in it revolves around Bucky, if Captain America at any point had relented and said, “You know what?  I’m cool if you guys take Bucky,” I would have been okay with that.

I care about Captain America.  I don’t really care what happens to Bucky, mostly because Bucky barely seems to care what happens to Bucky.  Even when he’s fighting for his freedom, he’s got all the concern of a man parallel parking.  So Civil War is like when your best friend calls you up to say, “Man, I am so stoked to see this concert, you’re coming with me, right?” and you’re like, “Well, I don’t really give a crap about this band, but I know it’ll make my friend happy to show up, so sure.”

Now, note that the way movies work is that some people are more inherently sympathetic to certain situations than others – and so you’ll often fill in sympathies that aren’t actually outlined in the movie itself.  (As witness when someone pitched me on John Wick and I said, “They shot his dog!?  Shit, of course he has to kill the guy’s entire family in revenge.”)  Bucky’s one of those odd characters where he’s in a sympathetic situation, so some people in the audience will feel bad for him no matter what, but beyond his situation he’s pretty much a cipher.  If you saw the trailer, you’ve seen literally 50% of the characterization of Bucky beyond “Hi, I fight well and can be controlled.”

Which is, realistically, how a lot of this movie floats by.  The rationale for Tony Stark – the poster boy for wandering amuck – suddenly going, “WE NEED REGULATIONS” is pretty tawdry, and realistically it depends on you understanding all the things that happened to him in Age Of Ultron.  That’s right; the actual emotional weight for Tony’s turnabout was done in another picture entirely.

Actually, everyone’s rationales seem kinda sketchy.  If I have one major beef with Civil War, it’s that anyone could really be on either side of this, and so “Who ends up where” seems fairly random.  I mean, sure, Captain America is for freedom, but there’s also the fact that he’s a soldier and spent his life taking orders.  They don’t even do something like this:

TONY: “You signed up for the army!  You should be used to taking orders!”
CAP: “If I obeyed dumb orders, I’d still be doing fundraisers for War Bonds.”

Bam.  But they don’t really go that far.  So, like, Hawkeye’s on Cap’s side, but he could be on Tony’s side, and there’s a really blatant scene where the Scarlet Witch literally changes her mind twice in a scene.  It’s not a firm Civil War.

The good news is that both sides of the Civil War have really good points.  It’s not like the comic book Civil War, which was basically “TONY STARK IS AN ASSHOLE, CAP IS GREAT.”  The trailer makes it seem like it’s all about Cap’s personal tie to Bucky, which at the heart it is, but there are very good political motivations to want Bucky put away and so I spent my time squirming uncomfortably because honestly, both Cap and Tony had some great points and made some asshole moves.

And lastly, the first half of the movie?  It’s grim and airless.  Hardly anybody’s quipping.  My boss told me, “I couldn’t hear some of the dialogue because everyone in the theater was laughing,” but the trick is that they’re not laughing in the first part.  And that makes this film feel a little long….

And then Spider-Man shows up.

Spider-Man is almost fucking perfect: nerdy, insecure, talking way too much, making quips, and he is by far the best thing in this movie.  (Though I’m biased: Spidey’s my guy.)

And the really clever trick that this movie pulls off is letting you see how powerful these guys are. There is a pitched battle that is perhaps the most comic bookiest fight in the history of comic book movies, where everyone is in the soup and they’re all using their powers in crazy ways (hello Ant-Man!), and it’s this stunning fireworks sequence of Holy crap that happened that out-Avengers the fucking Avengers.

And Spider-Man?  It’s really clear that if he had to, he could take down the Winter Soldier without breaking a sweat.  Hell, he takes down Falcon and The Winter Soldier without breaking a sweat.  Which is not a spoiler, because the joy of this great pitched battle you can clearly see who’s outmatched by who, but Spidey does not get to fight only the Winter Soldier, and whenever Hawkeye gets in over his head – guess what, fighting Iron Man is not your forte, dude – someone’s coming to his rescue.  T’Challa is a goddamned badass who really could outfight just about anyone one-on-one, but he never gets that opportunity because it’s a flurry of heroes.

It is a beautiful scene.

And the end to Civil War, where they strip away all the superfluous heroes for very good reasons to reduce us to the old trio of Cap vs. Tony vs. Bucky, is really fucking gruelling.  The payoff is perfect, because we’ve seen these heroes for years, and we know what’s going to happen the minute the plot-hammer drops, and we all want to avoid it coming, and yet it’s inevitable, and no I’m not telling you what it is because the smartness of that moment comes because it’s not the sort of thing that happens in a vacuum.  It’s been set up, not just by this movie but by the consistent characterization of everyone in all the Marvel films until now, and it is emotionally painful.

Which is wonderful.

So you know, Civil War is a high-water mark of the Marvel movies.  You’ve got Avengers, Civil War, Winter Soldier, and you can fight for yourself to see which is the best.  (Iron Man is also a favorite, but it’s the genesis, not the climax.)  You’re gonna wanna see it.  It’s worth seeing.

In fact, I’m betting you’ve seen it already and have come here to weigh in in the comments, to which I say get commenting.

 

7 Comments

  1. Ethan Fleischer
    May 7, 2016

    I totally agree that Bucky was unappealing.

    It was very interesting to me what he REPRESENTED, though. He was the superpowered individual who had no say in what he did. He had no moral agency. Steve could see, in Bucky, what the Avengers could become if they abdicated responsibility for their actions.

    • TheFerrett
      May 7, 2016

      That’s an interesting parallel! I had not thought about that.

  2. Indigo
    May 7, 2016

    I felt completely differently about Bucky.

    He went along with Steve because Steve still saw good in him, even if he couldn’t see it in himself. He also went along with Steve because they are the only two guys of their kind from their time, and they have a commonality no one else can share. Steve is helping put his fragmented original memories together, and you can see flashes of that.

    But beyond that, the way it looked to me: Bucky obviously is riddled with guilt for what Hydra did to him, so there’s a part of him that thinks he deserves to be hunted down like a rabid animal, even as the part of him that is James Buchanan Barnes knows that he was a victim, programmed and forced to kill with mind control.

    Still because Steve has hope, Bucky has hope too (though much less) and fights for his life when threatened. He tries to get away so Steve won’t have to continue compromising his principles for his friend.

    When [spoiler] tried to reactivate his Winter Soldier programming, he fought to get away before it took hold, even though he was unsuccessful.

    • TheFerrett
      May 7, 2016

      I GET all that, but I don’t care. I mean, yeah, what you’re saying is, “Steve cares about him VERY MUCH and Bucky is going along with him,” which is pretty much my complaint. It’s really hard to care for someone who’s just going along for the ride.

      I mean, yeah, Bucky tried to fight when they made him into a murderer again. That’s, like, the bare minimum I’d expect for anyone even vaguely a hero. It doesn’t make me feel intensely for him, because there’s literally a hundred other movies where someone doesn’t want to be a murderer and I didn’t care about them, either.

      So basically, what you’re saying is, “Bucky is very important to Steve.” Nobody argues that, alas. The question is, “Take Steve away, and why is Bucky important to US?” And the answer is, for me and I suspect a lot of people, “He really isn’t.”

  3. Kristi
    May 8, 2016

    Bucky isn’t particularly important to us. He’s still far too confused and conflicted in himself to have enough personality to be important to us. But I agree with the above assessment that Cap can see, in Bucky, what could happen to the Avengers if they allow others to take responsibility for what they do (or don’t do.) We may come to love Bucky later – when he’s more himself again. Right now, he’s just barely surviving.

    It was a beautiful movie. Hard to watch at times. Painful. There were conversations I felt they should have had that they didn’t, but it was the same kinds of conversations I’ve felt friends who were fighting should have…and didn’t. Moments of it seemed a bit forced. Other moments were brilliant. That fight with all the superheroes was friggin’ amazing. And yea – both sides certainly had points, but I was pretty firmly with Cap the whole time. Turning over your abilities to any government agency seems like a bad idea to me.

  4. Bench
    May 17, 2016

    I saw someone comment on Twitter that they wish the movie had ended with us seeing Tony brutally kill Bucky, only for it to be revealed that it was in his hologram machine from the beginning of the film. That would have felt pretty satisfying to me. It offers some catharsis for Tony and lets him move on.

    • TheFerrett
      May 27, 2016

      That’s actually a super-good ending. I’m surprised they DIDN’T do that.

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