Captain America: Civil War was probably my most anticipated Marvel movie ever.
I mean, that’s not a particularly difficult title to achieve. I only finally saw Guardians of the Galaxy about six months ago, enjoyed Ant Man more than most of their movies, and still haven’t seen the first Captain America, despite watching Agent Carter. But The Winter Soldier was fantastic — when I finally watched it, a year after everyone else — and I couldn’t wait for the clever plotting and high emotional stakes that Civil War promised to provide.
So, does it live up to all that hype and potential? The rest of the world seemed to think so, judging from its score on Rotten Tomatoes, but my response was far more muted. Not “omg best movie ever,” but that solid, “yeah, it was good” feeling you get when you don’t regret seeing a movie, but aren’t exactly going to be thinking about it much once you leave the theatre.
Which is a solid result for a superhero movie, but perhaps not what the movie wanted to be. Unfortunately, Civil War is never quite as philosophically interesting as it aspires to be.
The set-up is a pretty good one, if slightly too convoluted to explain in a sentence. After Wanda accidentally kills people when trying to disarm a bomb, the world demands more oversight on The Avengers — something that Tony Stark supports, as he’s haunted by the casualties his own superheroing has left behind, but that Steve disagrees with, as it will cripple the group’s ability to do good. When it seems that The Winter Soldier has attacked a UN meeting on the issue, the Avengers are forbidden to interfere, but Steve can’t just stand by and watch his friend be hunted and killed, turning him and his allies into outlaws.
So far, so good. It’s a compelling and morally interesting set-up, because there’s no clear right answer. UN oversight will potentially cripple the Avengers’ ability to do good. But superpowered individuals acting without any oversight at all is pretty dangerous too. They don’t necessarily know the best course of action, just because they’ve been granted superpowers, and too much free reign could potentially lead to superheroes sliding down into supervillains. Similarly, Bucky is Steve’s friend, and he’s been brainwashed… but he is also dangerous and, as far as anybody knows, just murdered a whole bunch of people. Everyone in the fight has a point.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t last long. “Captain America is totally right and Iron Man needs to stop” becomes the theme of the movie. Once we get to the secret underwater superhero prison, the whole “monitoring is good for us” argument falls apart, and the logic behind Tony’s stance collapses too. He’s willing to help his fellow heroes, because he knows injustice is being done, but then he stands by his initial stance at the movie’s end. This might be related to his discoveries about Bucky, but it isn’t really explained, making “Team Tony” a little confusing by the end.
On the plus side, Civil War is excellent at providing the superhero spectacle part of the equation. There are a lot of characters in this one, but the movie somehow managed to prevent it from turning into character soup. Mostly, it did this by remembering who was important — it’s Steve and Tony, then the people closest to them, with the others mainly cropping up for humor and spectacle. Characters who appeared in The Winter Soldier have emotional arcs, and Ant Man just shows up to add to the fun.
So we have the big fight between all of the heroes as a fun showcase of their different strengths and potential combo powers, but then in the finale, it’s reduced to the key three, allowing it to focus less on tricks and more on emotion. My takeaway from the movie, though, was that one big fight. The “wasn’t spiderman funny??” and “wasn’t it cool when…” parts of the film. Although the emotional set-up of the finale was compelling, it didn’t quite come together.
And then let’s get to the “feminist fiction”-relevant parts of the movie. There basically were none. There were three female hero-y characters, which seems like progress — one for each side of the war and one for fandom to aggressively hate for getting close to Steve. And hey, Black Widow and Scarlet Witch spoke to one another, sort of, at the very very beginning. There’s not really much to say on the topic of these female characters, except that it would be good if the movie gave us more (good!) things to talk about. No horrible female character tropes, but nothing particularly noteworthy either.
Except, perhaps, for Wanda, the one victim of the movie’s character overload. I really felt like we needed more from her. More plot, more emotional development, more insight into her, just more. She was the one who triggered this debate, after all. She was the one who accidentally killed people, and who was being locked up “for her own good.” It would have been interesting if she’d done something, anything, on her own initiative after the film’s opening scenes. Perhaps we could have heard more about her opinions on all this. Why is she on Captain America’s side, when she’s feeling so much guilt over her actions? She’s one of the group’s biggest badasses, with one of the coolest outfits, but she’s also incredibly new — she deserved more screentime than she got.
Also, as much as I loved Spiderman in this, a part of me really wishes they had gone for Ms Marvel for the same vibe. I know she’s far less iconic, but she also hasn’t been rebooted twice in the past decade, and she would have been just as fun in that fight.
But, overall, the movie was good. Not as gripping as The Winter Soldier, but good. Funny at the right times, rooted in character and emotion, and even capable of making me appreciate Iron Man’s presence on screen. It didn’t rely on a fakeout!death to create false tension, and it’s reshaped the Marvel universe in interesting ways that have the potential to create fresh and exciting movies in the future.
Civil War is a perfectly serviceable, amusing, dramatic, non-squee-inspiring, “yeah, it was good” type movie. And after the disappointment that was Age of Ultron, I’m more than happy with that as a result.