My MCU Rewatch: Captain America Civil War – Into the Darkness

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Heading to the home stretch with hours to go.

CAPTAIN AMERICA; CIVIL WAR (2016)

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

civilwarpq.png• 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.

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NEXT TIME: It’s back to Ditko land with Spider-Man: Homecoming and Doctor Strange

20 COMMENTS

  1. “That said, it’s really like the best episode of a TV show. ”

    I was thinking earlier today that this would probably end up being the best way to approach watching Infinity War. There are just too many moving pieces for some of these films to fully work as individual films. They are a different beast.

  2. Sorry, not going to see it. Civil War in the comics introduced and solidified the concept that honor, loyalty and friendship to the marvel superheroes are suits that can be worn, soiled, washed and put on again with no real consequences. I don’t really expect the movies to be any different. In the comics Tony cloned a dead Thor and sent him out to terrorize, Reed created a negative zone prison to hold fellow heroes for the rest of their lives and Carol Danvers threw them in there. I think the movie would just glorify the time when marvel decided cynicism, anger and distrust worked as a marketing strategy and they’ve been feeding off of that ever since.

  3. Mark: it’s called drama.

    Never gotten on the wave length of fans who want stories without conflict, drama or surprise.

  4. I’ve got a bit of time before Infinity War so I’ll just offer some quick thoughts and responses to this film. I’m not a fan, but some good elements, which I’ll finish on.

    A major, glaring fault with this film I actually picked up on the first time that I saw this flick in the cinema (and I largely thought this film was alright in this screening but I like it less with repeat viewings). The huge, glaring fault is that the last time Stark showed up in a movie, we had to listen to his multiple speeches about being mad scientists and owning it. That’s fine, but now, in this film, he’s calling for massive oversight of supes. You might yet pull this massive u-turn reversal in character off (remorse and guilt), except for one thing: HE CREATED ULTRON, as a MAD SCIENTIST. Locking Wanda, your friends up and starting a crusade without truly looking at yourself first – not even Tony is capable of that. True human remorse begins at home and it is not enough to become a convert and lock everyone else up other than yourself.

    This is the massive start of contrivance to this film, and none of the other Avengers even raised the point in discussion! The filmmakers intend that the audience is just not supposed to look, forget what has just happened and progress with this obscured reality.

    Contrivance continues later on near the movie’s end, when Stark actually calls Bucky ‘Manchurian candidate’ – which shows understanding – and then two minutes later attacks Cap and Bucky because he just found out the Winter Soldier killed his mother. An appropriate and human response is a deep and weary fatigue, sorrow, helplessness and maybe self-rage, and rage at Bucky but with that deranged helplessnees. Nope, instead understanding vanishes, and we have a vengeance cycle. Because we needed a vengeance cycle, just like we needed Stark at odds with Cap (no matter how we got there).

    I’ve got other problems with this movie but I’d rather just address the two points in this film that I actually really like. One is when Tony is trying to get Steve to sign with the Lendlease pens, calls Cap out on being sorry (and he’s right, Cap is stoically silent and is absolutely not sorry), and he tells Steve that sometimes he’d like to punch him in his ‘perfect teeth’. In a movie of contrivance, that is good and true character stuff done well. My second favourite point is when Stark goes to the imprisoned Sam for help. That’s the actual first time these characters interact, and it speaks to the importance of Sam’s relation to Cap and all that has come before. Recognition of something deeper here, and Tony is asking to be let into this sphere a little. Good.

    From the action and light comedy that’s tailored for children, I like Cap’s fight with Spidey, and BP’s intro just fine. Bucky and Sam quibbling is fine. Russos’ action is fine, but perhaps too much running, and some of the hero combat against one another is surprisingly lethal if it connected, at times.

    I just prefer substance, and I generally find it lacking here. Keyword: contrivance

  5. The plot contrivance of Winter Soldier killing Stark’s parents was pretty lame, but it’s hardly an overriding negation of an otherwise pretty good superhero film (one of the best of the MCU).

  6. “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”

    As a long time comic reader myself, I couldn’t disagree more. Marvel was built on/originated the very idea of superheroes fighting superheroes. I mean, when Superman and Batman first met, they played volleyball or had a picnic or something goofy. When Human Torch and Submariner first met they tore the hell out of NY in an effort to murder each other. These guys were literally Marvel’s first two superheroes. The prelude to that classic fire/water battle was featured in Feiffer’s Great Comic Book Heroes, the book that introduced me to comic books.

    When Marvel’s various heroes fighting each other in their own self titled books wasn’t enough we got Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two In One. When that wasn’t enough we got villains fighting each other in Super Villain Team-Up. Just because these characters had to continue on in other issues didn’t mean their battles with each other weren’t fascinating to watch. It’s not only not forced, for Marvel, it’s something that couldn’t be more organic and natural. Feige clearly understands this history and gives it to us in in the first two Avenger films and in spades with Civil War. I mean, just look at the cover to Avengers 71. If Feige doesn’t have a dog eared copy of that somewhere then it’s a huge coincidence because that airport battle takes me directly to that cover. More so than anything in Millar’s Civil War.

    I also don’t understand the “this isn’t a stand alone film” thing. That isn’t what these movies are doing. I think it’s why, 18 films in, people still can’t wrap there heads around what Feige has done. If you want to see a stand alone film you see a stand alone film. If you want to see a continuing saga spread across 18 movies you watch an MCU film. It’s like criticizing the Young and the Restless episodes for not being stand alone.

  7. Great re-review! After reading enough hero vs hero comics, I was soured on the premise of this movie. By the time we got to the twist, I was already pulled out of the movie. I can respect is ambition, but it’s my least favorite Marvel movie. The Giant Man action and the Tony/Cap/Bucky fight visuals are all I really enjoyed. I think I remember reading that Marvel only went with “Civil War” in order to go head to head with BvS. Both should have stuck with heroes being heroes.

  8. It’s not that I don’t understand drama or that I don’t see the hero/hero conflict theme as legitimate drama. It is that I see a very flawed foundation for the story. Tony Stark who went through enormous hoops to hide his own secret identity for so long, Carol Danvers who helped the X-men break into the Pentagon to destroy government data on them and once threatened to break a federal agents wrist when her secret identity was threatened, Reed Richards who demonstrated the dangers of government registration at a federal hearing, Jenifer Walters who didn’t raise a legal peep about the constitutionality of the SHRA and didn’t realize that the law allowed SHIELD to draft her… You could drive a planet clumsily through the potholes and character inconsistencies of the cw plotline in the comics and from what Mr. Kaleb says about the movie seems to be the same thing. Plus these are characters who know SHIELD and know that a 7-11 has better security. Not to mention how brutal the negative zone prison was. Reed, Tony and the rest had no problem tossing people into another dimension for life.
    In the comics you had fights, Spider-Man first fought Iron Fist, Captain America first fought Iron Fist when they met. Heck the FF and the X-men first fought when they met. But there is a difference between miss-understandings, mind control and out and the out and out brutality of Cape Killer robots that Tony had ready to run at 12:01 the day the law passed.
    CW set the stage for the Illuminati blowing up planets and murdering worlds, it set the stage for what Tony did to Jen and a lot of other plot points that revealed to me that heroism in the marvel universe is more about who has good pr than who is a good person. The way everyone switches sides you could be a mass killer on issue and be on the Avengers in the next and leading them after that.

  9. I don’t know how some comics readers can bring a thoughtful, critical eye to analyses of the comics, but then when they see a movie their brains turn to mush.

    Civil War was garbage. Much like the comic it’s based on, almost all the characters are given arbitrary alignments that aren’t consistent with their ideologies in previous films. The rift between certain characters that was built up during Age of Ultron is pretty much never discussed. The Black Panther is given a generic bland role to play. The entire final battle is premised on the mere coincidence that Iron Man, Cap, and Bucky would show up at the exact same time.

  10. >>So Age of Ultron was bad because it was too dark.

    >>>But Civil War is great because it’s super dark.

    Dark + muddled script = bad

    Dark + good script = good

    Interesting comments, all. keep ’em coming.

  11. This one was the most improved upon second viewing. I was a bit gutted first time because I thought the Cap trilogy, by far my favorite, was being hijacked by the Avengers, but the second time through, I was better able to follow all the moving pieces and appreciate what the Russos, screenwriters, actors and crew achieved here. Random thoughts:

    I think the Black Widow stuff plays out perfectly and flows right from both Winter Soldier and Ultron. In the end, this woman trying to recover the humanity that had been taken from her is transformed by her friendship with Steve and the family she found with the team. If I have a complaint, it would be that I would like to see more how Natasha influenced him so that the friendships was more mutual. But, you know, Bucky. (Sam suffers from a similar problem.) But overall, from Avengers through Civil War, she has had a great arc. Splice ’em together smartly and we might actually have that Black Widow movie already.

    I loved the airport battle. It’s one of the first times the MCU actually seemed to think through how powers would work in conflict instead of just using them to dazzle. Bryan Singer is the only one I can think of who has done that well in superhero flicks. The Russos nearly matched him here. (Whedon did a bit of that but he, or Feige, lacked the visual flair to pull it off.)

    Contrivance? Hmm. I suspect this is one of those things where if you like the film it works; if you don’t, it doesn’t. The character moments here (and in most MCU movies) are far less contrived that Martha solutions. In fact, I think most of the moments flow pretty smoothly from all the work done across the movies.

    My gosh, it is a TV episode, isn’t it? I’d watched them all enough that I forgot that. Oh well, at least it isn’t decompressed storytelling!

    Sharon wasn’t given a fair shot solely because Hayley Atwell was impossible to top. Atwell made Peggy MCU Steve’s Mary Jane. No one else has a shot to win our hearts.

    Zemo. Wow. Of course it’s a stretch that he’d pull it off, but this entire genre is built on stretches. And it’s so much better than some dude wearing carpet on his face would have been.

    Even though I’d seen this movie recently, it wasn’t until I was thinking through Heidi’s piece, this is the one where Marvel began to figure out third acts better. Tony’s fury and sense of betrayal makes perfect sense to me in those moments. It may have been the first time I truly sympathized with the guy.

  12. Oh and as for the hero vs. hero thing. I think that plays out pretty smartly politically. Of course the powers that be aren’t going to take the blame for New York or Washington. They’ll blame the costumes. And though Tony plays the rebel, he’s so deeply enmeshed in the system/establishment and conflicted with guilt (rightly so) that it makes sense emotionally that he would cave. And Steve? Bucky is his one link to his own world, as Heidi pointed out, and being the man out of time, he’s not keen on everything the government has become, a plot point first laid out in Avengers. The other splits made more sense, too. And, they didn’t just fight first and talk later. They tried to avoid fighting, but couldn’t because no one would bend, until Tony went to the Raft at the start of the third act.

  13. “the detail and planning that has gone into this immense movie series is like nothing ever attempted in film or pop culture.”

    I’d concede film but pop culture? Exhibit A: funnybooks. Exhibit B: the 84-part epic, Marvel Comics’ Civil War. Or maybe you’re talking about something else.

    I wasn’t expecting the reaction here to find it’s way to Millar’s Civil War and lingering negative feelings so quickly. Other than Hero v. Hero in the Case of Registration or Nope there isn’t that much resemblance to the source material, huh? A new suit for Spider Kid if you squint a little? But Iron Spider-Young Man is happening in this new one though right? Superunsure!

    But man aren’t those some juicy riffs though? Those ones where somebody believes in something and then somebody else believes in the exactly opposite thing and then they want to make each other believes what the other one does? WAR! And then you make both of the sides full of superheroes? If we are all the heroes of our own story then that means superheroes are the superheroes of their own story. CIVIL!

    Superheroes are always fighting each other anyways. And they’ve never much needed a good reason. It’s their way. It’s like how dogs sniff one another when they meet or people shake hands–superheroes fight each other (esp. when they first meet). They are by nature violent people.

    But I suppose there are varying degrees of how entertaining a story about superheroes fighting each other can be. I’d imagine there are some that are entertaining and some not so much. In keeping with the court room analogy, my verdict on Civil War is that I liked that these ones were having their big slobberknocker at an airstrip. It didn’t feel like they were murdering as much people.

  14. From reading all of this I get the feeling that if they just showed the battle at the airport and nothing else many would have been satisfied.

  15. Mark, you are correct. The airport scene and the 3 man fight scene are the most memorable scenes for most viewers. But ask them what was the inciting incident for Tony to change his mind, or explain how Zemo could have planned such a breakdown of the Avengers, and they will have to go back and do research. I was personally taken out of the movie when Tony suddenly decides to go on a manhunt for Steve and his crew. Steve didn’t actually did something that caused him to be pursued except not sign the accords immediately. Didn’t Steve say he just had something to do first without having to worry about getting called into service by the U.N. or S.H.I.E.L.D.? That was apparently so unacceptable to Tony that he had to get a posse and start rounding people up. And about Zemo, how does he get a pass? He is literally as much of a walking plot hole as Lex Luthor in BvS. They needed a bad guy to blame the heroes disagreement on, when really both the heroes were acting like villains themselves.

  16. “Dark + muddled script = bad

    Dark + good script = good”

    So then you actually didn’t like Civil War. Glad we cleared that up.

  17. “The way everyone switches sides you could be a mass killer on issue and be on the Avengers in the next and leading them after that.”

    Comments like this tend to come from people who outgrew superhero comics (or just burned out on them) many years ago. But for some reason they keep reading them, and of course the stories don’t appeal to them, and they constantly gripe.

    These folks should have found another hobby long ago.

    I guess they’re trying to recapture the thrill that superheroes gave them as kids. But that’s not gonna happen with new comics (which aren’t intended for them), only from rereading their old comics, published when they were young.

  18. “Didn’t Steve say he just had something to do first without having to worry about getting called into service by the U.N. or S.H.I.E.L.D.? That was apparently so unacceptable to Tony that he had to get a posse and start rounding people up.”

    Nope. The thing that Steve needed to do was go and see Sharon one last time, then protect Bucky from the authorities. He ended up fighting the police in order to stop Bucky from being taken into custody, thus becoming an outlaw and (in Tony’s mind) justifying the decision to move towards more regulation of superhuman activity. When Bucky was reactivated as the Winter Soldier and escaped custody, pursued by Steve and his allies, that was when Tony was tasked with catching them. Events spun out of control from there.

    What you’re describing is more like what happened in the “Civil War” comic book, which featured Tony acting totally out of character as an evil douchebag in order to twist him into what Mark Millar needed for his silly plot.

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