SPOILER ALERT! This review does contain spoilers.
First off, let me say that after seeing it three times, I thoroughly enjoy Captain America: Civil War. The movie itself is a spectacular display of how great cinematic elements come together to develop individual characters through plot progression, and vice versa. For CA:CW‘s purpose (recognizably what Avengers: Age of Ultron should have been in terms of MCU progression), CW is fantastic. But as a Captain America movie, the movie seems to not focus on the titular Steve and those closest to him–most notably Bucky and Sam–as much as necessary.The significance of Tony is fitting after essentially five Iron Man movies, but CW toes the line of yet another Stark Sob Story. As a result of the Russos being charged with cleaning up The Age of Ultron Mess™, CA: CW suffers, despite their valiant efforts to keep the movie centered on Cap.
The Russos undoubtedly handle the ensemble cast with skill and finesse, and I’m grateful that every character got a fair share of the spotlight. But, I have to ask: why was there not more Bucky development? Obviously, The Winter Soldier didn’t have much because Bucky took a villain role for the majority of the movie (and was seen in his right state-of-mind only in the mid-credit scene), but proportionately to screentime, TWS seems to have almost more Bucky development than CW. Certain scenes (such as Steve and Bucky reminiscing about ol’ Dot) are largely disconnected from the overall tone of Bucky’s character, which is fragile and nervous, but brutal. The hard-hitters certainly are impactful (“It always ends in a fight”/”I’m not gonna kill anyone.” in Berlin, “I don’t know if I’m worth it.”/”I know. But I did it.” in the quinjet, and “I remember all of it.” to Tony), but such one-liners don’t take full advantage of the opportunity provided by a movie considerably focused on Bucky. The audience is left with a character who is reactionary in nature, deferring to Steve in multiple occasions, and while this isn’t inherently a problem (Steve was Bucky’s CO and best friend, after all), it leaves Bucky without time to establish himself as someone beyond who Steve thinks he is and wants him to be. This implied characterization, instead of someone clearly established as struggling to find a balance between the Bucky he was and the Winter Soldier he remembers himself to be for 70 years, is tested and found wanting. Fortunately, however, for the movie-goers (if not Bucky fans), this static characterization is overshadowed by the pure colossal nature of the plot and its significance.
The theme seen throughout the movie centers around family and its extensions: home, loss, and vengeance. From Tony not wanting to break apart the Avengers, to Natasha telling Steve that the most important thing is staying together, to Steve’s letter to Tony at the end noting that “The Avengers are [his] family, maybe more so than [Steve’s]”, Civil War as a movie is completely set around family and its collapse, about finding home in people. Perhaps MCU’s grittiest movie, many of the onscreen deaths and dead are those of parents; throughout the movie, we see T’Challa’s father and Tony’s parents die, and hear about Zemo’s family.
In this way, Zemo is one of the best developed villains in a universe that normally treats its single-movie villains deplorably. What better way to show the lengths people who have lost family (like Tony, T’Challa, and to a certain extent, Steve and Bucky) will go to than to have a villain whose motivation is that exactly? Despite being slightly cliché, Zemo’s motivation does not feel out of place because of the emphasis on death, loss, relationships, and family throughout the movie. Why take Steve, Bucky, and Tony to Siberia for the final confrontation? Sure, Zemo needed the files and video, but could removing an explosive fight from any nearby civilian population have also been a calculated move?
Perhaps the most glaring of the few problems I have with the movie is the shift from ideological conflict to personal. Now, I’m always a sucker for a good character-driven, raw emotional fist fight, but the movie (perhaps as a nod to it being a CA movie?) goes to extreme length to make Steve seem like the bigger man. Despite having equally defendable positions for all on the pro-Accords and anti-Accords sides, CW is quick to move Team Cap from arguing with Tony to going after the psycho-assassin Winter Soldiers. So quickly are the Accords placed in effect that it becomes background noise and a simple plot device to force Team Iron Man to fight Team Cap in the airport. Obviously, Bucky’s presence, the Vienna bombing, and Wanda and Clint’s escape from the compound are all factors, but Tony’s refusal to listen to Cap is simply egotistical They’re breaking the law, and I won’t let them. This blindness, in typical Tony Stark fashion, leads to pettiness and misunderstanding, throwing Team Iron Man under the bus for taking the not-wrong side of an ideological conflict that is hardly explored. While it wouldn’t have made sense for Cap and Tony to come to blows over the Accords alone, the transition to Cap: trying to save the world and Tony: being stubborn takes away from the equally balanced Accords conflict. Despite the early signing of the Accords, in addition, we hardly see either side proven right or wrong. None of Steve’s fears are realized (except slightly when Ross won’t believe Tony on the Raft), and while Tony fights the lawbreakers, he soon realizes that he’s wrong. This lack of substance regarding the Accords takes away from the primary motivating force behind the entire movie. I would be happier with the shift away from ideological conflict if the characters highlighted by the change had been developed more, but as previously stated, Bucky is left rather static.
On the note of the two Sokovia Accords positions is the characterization of both Tony and Steve. Both their motivations and moral outlooks clearly place on display their different personalities. Steve, on one hand, is a soldier who realizes that for the protection of the bigger picture, smaller losses inevitably occur. Steve’s conversation with Wanda establishes this at the beginning of the movie. Tony, on the other hand, is riddled by guilt that the audience has seen clearly from his disarmament decision in Iron Man, and he can’t live with himself for even the smallest mistake. His genius, perhaps, causes this need to fix any crack, to look for a solution to everything. While Tony admits he was wrong twice in the movie, his ego keeps him from recognizing what Steve does: that sometimes in war, it’s necessary to learn to let go, accept losses, and look forward, even when doing things that “make [them] not sleep so well”. The other pro-Accords reasoning end up strengthening the Team Iron Man argument more than Tony. Vision’s causality and oversight argument, Natasha’s “one hand on the wheel” reason, and Rhodey’s support of the UN all provide reasons beyond Tony’s, which is, in direct contrast to Steve’s, made to be weak.
Absolutely one of my favorite things in the movie is what this contrast reveals. Steve was once ridiculed by Ultron for not being able to live without war, but this characterization couldn’t have been further from the mark, as proven by Steve’s actions at the end of Civil War. Tony, on the other hand, who proved his dedication to demilitarization, is now the one who didn’t “want to stop” after Iron Man 3, when he blew up his suits. This inability to quit fighting comes after a request from Pepper for him to stop, and subsequently causes their fallout. Steve, in contrast, is well on the way to proving that he can, in fact, live without war, as he drops his shield after picking up Bucky at the end of the movie. Steve is seemingly willing to stop fighting once he found someone to stop fighting for, while Tony cannot.
The women in the movie: Natasha, Wanda, and Sharon, are treated pretty well. Natasha makes her debut with a fight scene in which she takes out six or seven men, fights Crossbones, and makes it out of grenade situation. An interesting parallel is Natasha’s note to always look over your shoulder, which serves her well, when she finds out how close Steve and Sharon are by looking over her shoulder into the office where they stand watching Bucky’s psych eval. Wanda’s development in the movie is exponential, and she goes from badass to super-badass, as she saves Hawkeye from Natasha and actually saves Bucky’s neck from T’Challa’s vibranium claws during the airport scene. Her room displays her personality, complete with a picture of presumably her brother, and her time with Vision shows her youth but strength. Vision makes a decision on the Accords based on his logic, and in a hypothetical movie when women were developed around men, she would have chosen Team Cap because of a lover’s spat. Her growing romance with Vision, however, doesn’t diminish or overtake her character’s development, and Wanda makes her decision based entirely on her own self. Sharon is the least developed and least seen character in the movie, but even she has development beyond her relationship with Steve. Seen to be strong and capable of making her own decisions, it never truly seems that Sharon’s actions are motivated by her feelings for Steve; instead, they are based on what she believes is right. The kiss between her and Steve, however, felt out of place, especially after Steve finds out Sharon is Peggy’s niece at Peggy’s funeral.
The fight choreography of the movie was one of my favorite parts. Completely enjoyable to watch, from how fluid everyone’s motions are to the intricacy of every movement. Even during the airport scene, when Steve and Tony are clashing, Natasha and Scott are having a well-choreographed fight with size changes immediately behind them. The intertwined nature of the mass fights, like when Clint’s arrows hit Team Iron Man during seemingly one-on-one fights, enhances this even further.
My three gripes with the fight choreography begin with how Bucky always seems to have a metal bar or pole to defend himself with. In the first fight against T’Challa on the rooftop, Bucky blocks an attack with a metal pole. Against Tony in Siberia, Bucky grabs a pole to hit Tony with. Where are these coming from?! The second problem is with the two slow motion scenes. The first is when Redwing shoots one of Crossbones’ men and Natasha shoots the other and grabs the biohazard. Although the slow motion is supposed to enhance the speed of this event, it instead makes the two shots seem disjointed, taking away from the swift practiced nature of Natasha and Sam’s teamwork. Bucky’s slow-mo grab for the motorcycle during the German road chase is cool, but ends up out of place during the high speed chase. The disconnect isn’t much, but for the rest of the action being incredibly fast, both the Redwing and the motorcycle scene slow-mos come across as a little tacky. The third is the shaky camerawork, which doesn’t bother me at all during action scenes. What stood out to me was that during the shot of Bucky’s armored vehicle motorcode driving, the camerawork was still a bit unsteady, and I don’t see a reason for this when the driving came across as smooth sailing.
Overall, the movie was stunning in all facets, and it proves surprising every time it’s watched. Some of the below observations are incredibly obvious, while others I only noticed on my third time.
Observations that’ll enhance your experience:
- Bucky kills Tony’s mother with his real hand, not his metal one. Through the movie, Bucky tries to choke a lot of people (Steve at the helicopter, Natasha while he’s brainwashed) and always fights with his metal hand. This use symbolizes the difference between Bucky and the Winter Soldier. When Bucky kills Maria Stark with his real hand, it creates an impactful, personal, and clear message about how intertwined Bucky and the Winter Soldier are. This blurred line also warrants Tony’s reaction and Steve’s “It wasn’t him!” falling on deaf ears, especially notable when Tony says “I don’t care. He killed my mom.”
- Tony’s pro-Accords stance should worry him a bit more. It’s noted by Natasha that Sam’s wings are government property, meaning Tony’s suits are also something under the UN task force control. In this way, similar to the events of Iron Man 2, couldn’t the government force Tony to make suits or technology for them to use? Isn’t, as Steve said, Tony giving up his right to choose, also giving up the disarmament of his tech?
- I love Spiderman, but his introduction into the movie made me so upset. How dare Tony bring a high schooler, age 16-18, who is taking Algebra tests (on that note, not Calculus? A missed opportunity to prove Spidey’s smarts) and doing homework into a fight with the Avengers, the strongest individuals on the planet? Tony doesn’t even have a guarantee that no one will try to kill Peter or even, for that matter, go easy on him, as no one knows his age or who he is. Black Panther is trying to kill Bucky, so a simple fight between friends isn’t assured. A boy with 6 months experience with his powers, who is amateurish in a fight at best, mixed with the full-powered Avengers and a volatile Winter Soldier is not the best mix. It’s highly irresponsible for Tony, who has and understands PTSD, to risk bringing a teenager into a fight.
- Peter tells Tony when they talk that if you have powers and something’s going on, and you don’t do anything, then it’s your fault. This parallels with Steve’s inability to ignore something go down, and shows that it’s possible Peter would have chosen Team Cap had Tony not exploited him using money and resources.
- There’s a really great parallel displaying the inevitability of destruction and mistakes during war. When Crossbones throws a bomb onto Cap’s shield, Steve throws it upwards and it explodes in the air, saving the civilians. When Crossbones detonates his bomb, however, and Wanda throws him upwards, it explodes a building, killing many. This unpredictable nature of war culminates in Vision’s shooting down of Rhodey.
- Steve constantly acts like Wanda’s father figure, as he defends her, says “She’s a kid!”, turns off her TV, and comforts her in her room. My favorite part of this is that at the beginning of the movie when the team is doing recon, Steve notices the details about the ATM machine and one-way street, but prompts Wanda instead of explaining what these mean himself. Quizzing her, this dialogue shows Steve’s training of the New Avengers and Wanda, who doesn’t have a military background. The scene finishes with Steve telling Sam to take the dump truck and Wanda asking why.
- Vision tells Wanda during their conversation in the kitchen that he wants to understand and one day control the Mind Stone that’s made him. Wanda parallels this by telling him that she can’t control everyone else’s fear, but can only control her own.
While I can’t say that Civil War is my favorite MCU movie of all time (that spot still belongs to The Winter Soldier), it definitely takes second place. I love the movie, and I definitely want more. Civil War has made me excited for the solo movies of new characters, left me satisfied with an MCU villain for the first time in a while, and now I can’t wait to see how the Russos handle so many characters in Avengers: Infinity War.