Heading to the home stretch with hours to go.
CAPTAIN AMERICA; CIVIL WAR (2016)
DID I FALL ASLEEP? Nopity nope.
DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? It was solid but not exceptional.
WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE: Whoo doggie.
When I saw Civil War in the theater, I retained almost nothing of it. The only thing I remembered was the switcheroo at the end and, yes, the epic battle between Tony, Cap and Bucky, the moment that the MCU had been leading to for…6 years?
This amnesia is especially odd considering that upon embarking on this rewatch, it was the movie I was most eager to see again. And after seeing it, I have to agree that it is indeed the best MCU movie yet sheerly as an MCU movie.
Why did I blank it out when I saw it the first time? Probably because of the accumulated baggage of the MCU formula. On the surface, this film sticks to that formula like white on rice: there’s the grey/blue color scheme and muted cinematography; more Cap and Tony; more notes from the past and SHIELD and Stark Industries and clever intros of new characters who have solo movies coming. The plant of the five Soviet Super Soldiers and the swerve with Zemo at the end did shock me out of my chair and made me think that Kevin Feige had stuck with a formula for 8 years just to get the shock of this swerve.
In fact, it’s only after watching the (at this point) 13 previews MCU films that I really got what Civil War does and how beautifully constructed it is.
That said, it’s really like the best episode of a TV show. In Game of Thrones, ‘The Door’ is an amazing and wonderful episode, but the impact can only be gauged after five and a half previous seasons of Hodor and his relationship to the Starks.
For that reason as a standalone movie, Civil War is a 7 at best.
But as a Marvel Movie? It’s 11.
There will always be Marvel movies that I love as standalones, like Guardians 1 and Thor Ragnarok and Black Panther. But Civil War reveal that the detail and planning that has gone into this immense movie series is like nothing ever attempted in film or pop culture.
As I watch these movies, I jot notes into my iPad. I have only one for Civil War: “Can you move your seat up?” The cat-like jealousy between Falcon and Bucky is one of the little delights of the movie, levity in a film that doesn’t need levity.
Civil War is all payoff (although one suspects that Infinity War will be even MOAR MOAR MOAR payoff), but there is so much to cover. Tony’s moping about his parents’ car crash death – so long a character detail – has a brutal resolution that directly affects Cap and Bucky. Cap’s acknowledgement that he knew the truth makes Tony’s rage defensible. And Cap’s endless defense of Bucky is understood as hanging on to the one person who stood by you when no one else did. Stucky indeed!
But the rest fades a bit. Black Panther’s debut is strong, his motivation great and his timely appearance in a jet in Siberia is continuity of the best kind. Spider-Man is a little bit more of an extended trailer, but still gets laughs and sets up Homecoming.
Some of the other characters don’t fare as well here, but they are window dressing. I still don’t like Wanda and the Vision and the idea of the vision cooking up a homey stew for Wanda is a little silly in a caharcter that’s meant o be silly. The Vision needs his own short or TV series or Taika Waititi to take a crack at him to hone in on his character – the screen here is just too crowded.
I know the big battle at the airport is beloved – with 12 count ’em 12 superheroes – but maybe as a long time comics reader the “the good guys fight each other” doesn’t have as much impact for me. Yes it’s amazingly choreographed with insane moments, like Ant Man’s new powers. But it all seems a little forced since we know everyone has a movie sequel coming out and the one person who is injured – Rhodey – is the classic “POC gets hurt to make the white hero feel bad” trope.
Plus, Mark Millar’s original Civil War does float a little above this, a perfect summation of the zeitgeist of when it was written. Civil War the movie isn’t really about the Sokovia Accords, and the justifications for who takes what side are a little pat, as the Black Widow flip-flopping shows. Maybe the reason I remembered only the last third of this movie is that the personal part is what really matters . Cap and Tony’s battle over “Ethics” is just a stage for the personal beef that’s been brewing for years.
Plus, the Russo Brothers really have a knack for scenes set in abandoned warehouses. There’s a haunting eerieness about the abandoned Super Soldier facility (and the repeated shots of airplanes flying over stormy seas, a bit of a callback to the end of Captain America The First Avenger) that brings the REAL theme of this movie into focus: you can’t escape your past. Cap and Bucky have had everything from their world wiped out and crumble to dust – but they still can’t escape it. Tony has spent his life being an arrogant asshole to cover up his guilt over being a bad son. (We never see what really went down when his parents say goodbye, only his imagined version.) Bucky’s memories have been shredded over and over and yet he still remembers his friendship with Cap.
This movie crackles in the Bourne-like action scenes – the motorcycle chase, the opening piece – but after watching 13 Marvel movies, I’ve realized a very important thing: far from being fluffy entertainment, every movie is about loss and destruction. From NYC’s wounds in Avengers, to Thor’s knack for destroying parts of his homeland, to SHIELD’s ongoing dismantling. Every thing falls apart in these movies. In Civil War it’s the Avengers themselves.
A couple of end notes:
• Thunderbolt Ross – YESSSSSSS. As I noted on watching The Incredible Hulk, William Hurt was the best Older White Man in all the moves, so glad he came back.
• Daniel Brühl’s Zemo is a great villain, and the reveal that his grudge is personal not based on Hydra is another twist that brings it all home. B ut it’s a bit mucuh for just one guy to accomplish all that don’t ya think? Still his detective work underscores the theme of the haunting past very well.
• Sharon Carter. OK I know many people think this is icky, but she ALSO proves over and over again that she has the heart and skills for Cap to at least respect her. If not Bucky, then who IS worthy?
• Despite my praise above, this is still a pretty pedestrian looking movie. Maybe it didn’t need to stand out any more than it did. Maybe all the previz saps the energy. It doesn’t hurt, but it does reinforce the idea that Marvel movies mostly look the same.
• Civil War and Thor Ragnarok are the movies that spin directly out of the grim, unpleasant Age of Ultron and they couldn’t be more different. HOW ON EARTH will they reconcile in INFINITY WAR?
• I believe that Kevin Feige has said there’s a scene in this that forms a crucial part of Infinity War and no one has figured it out yet. I believe this because I think I read it but I can’t find it by Googling and I dare not Google too much for fear of spoilers. But here’s my stab at it: Where WERE Howard and Maria Stark going that night with five vials of Super Soldier Serum in their trunk? Why did they know they wouldn’t come back? Has that ever been answered?
WOULD I REWATCH: I think I’m going to have to get this on DVD.
NEXT TIME: It’s back to Ditko land with Spider-Man: Homecoming and Doctor Strange
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.