First of all, forget the trailers and the commercials. Forget the marketing of the movie, entirely. This film is not an Avengers movie. It’s not “Avengers 2.5” or “Avengers-lite” or anything of the sort that reviewers and critics and others are saying.
This is 100% a Captain America movie. It follows his story, the one that started way back with Phase One’s “The First Avenger” (the most underrated film in the MCU’s first phase) and is a direct sequel to the events of Cap’s second movie “The Winter Solider.” Yes there is a heavy dose of Tony Stark, and there is a lot of Avenger on Avenger action, and even the main villain of the film is motivated by events that transpired in Age of Ultron (his actual plan is “divide the Avengers and pit them against each other”) but the emotional core of this movie belongs to Steve Rogers. He is the hero. He’s not perfect and you can see where his idealism is the cause of much grief in the movie, but this is his movie and everything that happens occurs based off either the choices he makes or in the way he responds to others’ choices.
And that’s absolutely the right call.
Putting Captain America at the forefront of the movie gives it a grounded center that the two Avengers movies didn’t have. Those were big escapism adventure movies, and even though the marketing for this film promises the same thing, in reality this is a very introspective movie that explores the relationship between Cap and Bucky, Cap and Tony Stark and Cap and his place in this 21st century, post-9|11 world. It’s very much a direct sequel to The Winter Solider in that respect, but unlike that movie, when this one does go big it goes really big. It’s just that the stuff in between the set pieces is very personal. I appreciated that, especially since this was always going to be a billion dollar movie. It would have been so easy to make it a mindless popcorn film to try and squeeze every last dollar out of the ticket-buyers. Instead, Feige and the Russo brothers stuck to the Winter Soldier’s formula and produced a movie that rivals that one as being among the very best Marvel has ever produced.
If you are familiar with the comics, you should be aware (and probably are by now) that this movie is only loosely based on Mark Millar’s “Civil War” mini-series that ran from 2006-2007. Some of the surface elements are still present: It’s still largely a Captain America vs Iron Man feud, and the notion of Government control over superheros is the crux of the disagreement. Under the surface is where things change. Instead of being about Superhero registration and mandatory unmasking, this movie is about the issue of Government oversight over the Avengers. This was not just a needed change (since, other than Spider-Man and, to a lesser extent, Black Panther, none of the Marvel heroes have secret identities), it was also a logical progression from the stories established in Winter Solider and Age of Ultron.
In Winter Solider we learned that Hydra had spent decades infiltrating SHIELD in strategic locations, with their mission to gain control over a weapons program that could surgically target and eliminate potential threats. Cap exposed them but not before the “Security Council” (which had acted as kind of a watchdog over SHIELD) was wiped out. In Age of Ultron the crisis at Sokovia led to the deaths of many innocent civilians, and though the Avengers essentially saved an entire hemisphere of the planet, there was naturally going to be bureaucratic fallout, with big wigs wondering if the Avengers had the right to enter a sovereign territory and start trading blows with a powerful robot killing machine (which, let’s not forget, was kind of created by one of the top guys in the Avengers). Civil War happens with that political backdrop hanging over everyone’s head.
Things get even more hairy, however, early in the movie, when Crossbones (a sub-villain in Winter Soldier) becomes a suicide bomber intending to kill countless people on a street corner. Thinking fast, Scarlett Witch grabs him (via telekinesis) and hurls him into the air where he detonates. She saves the lives of the people on the ground, but the explosion destroys a chunk out of an inhabited building, killing dozens. Naturally the government, with Hulk-villain Thunderbolt Ross (now a US Secretary of State) sees this as the last straw.
The plan to reign in the superheroes is the so-called “Sokovia Accords” which would place the Avengers under direct oversight of…I think the UN (the movie is kind of vague here), restricting them only to missions that are specifically sanctioned and forbidding them from interfering according to their own agendas. The earth-bound Avengers (comprised of Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, The Vision, Scarlett Witch, War Machine and Falcon) all fall naturally on different sides of the issue:
PRO ACCORDS: Iron Man, Black Widow, The Vision, War Machine
ANTI ACCORDS: Captain America, Hawkeye, Scarlett Witch, Falcon
There are others who come in later and join their respective teams (Spider-Man and Black Panther on team Iron Man, Ant-Man on team Cap) and a few other Avengers who are notably absent (there’s no Nick Fury, Thor is gone and Hulk is still M.I.A.), but those are the basic teams on both sides. What’s interesting is how the movie shows that this is really a two-person argument between Cap and Iron Man. The others on their teams make some impassioned arguments, but they are essentially following their guy. This is a movie that seeks to explore (and explode) the very strong ideological differences between these two main characters. Essentially we get to finally see what was teased in the first Avengers film
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play out on an action and a philosophical level.
There is a “big bad” in this film—Zemo—and he is perhaps the best villain an MCU production has had since Loki, but for much of the film he is in the shadows, manipulating our heroes and working his plan with motivations that are not made clear to us until the end of the movie. The real on screen enemy is Iron Man. And as much as the filmmakers want you to debate and discuss the two sides of the Sokovia Accords issue, there’s no denying that this is Captain America’s movie, that he’s the hero, and that by the end of it you are definitely rooting for him to triumph over Tony Stark.
Speaking of: Even more so than in Age of Ultron, this movie highlights just how flawed a person Stark is. His personal demons drive his bad decisions. It was his PTSD after taking a little trip into outer space (at the end of Avengers) that led him to begin work on the Iron Legion that could be deployed to defend the whole earth. After getting a Scarlett Witch-induced vision that showed the earth destroyed and all his friends dead, he decided to kickstart the Ultron program that went very awry. And even though creating The Vision worked out for the best, it was still a huge gamble that Stark took, again because he saw a way to undo his prior mistakes. Now all of those past bad decisions have come back all at once (the movie even gives you a nice refresher on that fact as Tony comes face to face with the mother of a son killed in Sokovia) and he sees, with the Sokovia Accords, the chance to reign himself in. Naturally Captain America rejects this because, while Stark may need it, he doesn’t need reigning in. Stark sees that as arrogance, naïveté and idealism all rolled into one Greatest Generation package, but really he’s just blinded by his own need to correct his mistakes. Seeing Steve Rogers over there as Mr. Perfect who’s never made the big blunders that he has eats him up and drives him too far to the wrong side.
At the end of the movie, in what will likely be the film’s most controversial section, Stark again makes a very wrong decision. He had learned that Bucky was not the cold criminal that he thought he was (and that he thought Rogers was blinded to, out of loyalty) and that he in fact had been brainwashed by Hydra over the years. But then Zemo drops his ace in the hole, and reveals that Bucky was the one who killed Stark’s parents on an assassination mission. Intellectually, Stark should know that Bucky was not in control and that he was simply a pawn of Hydra. Emotionally, he doesn’t care. And even though it plays right into Zemo’s hands, Stark attacks Bucky, and then attacks Cap for defending him. Once again, Cap is in the right and Stark is acting impulsively and emotionally. It’s not very heroic. It’s not very “good.” But it’s very “Tony Stark” and his motivations, skewered as they are, come through perfectly with a poignant “I don’t care…he killed my mom” line.
1) I didn’t say a lot about him, but I’ll repeat what I said earlier: I think Zemo is the best villain Marvel has had since Loki, even though he’s not a villain at all like Loki. He’s very different, but still very well-written, with a good arc, and, once revealed, well-developed motivations. Basically his plan is borne out of the death of his family in Sokovia. He wants to destroy the Avengers by tearing them apart from the inside. He knows he can’t personally defeat the Avengers, so his plan is to make the Avengers beat themselves. He’s not a supervillain; he has no powers or special skills. He’s just a very driven and ambitious man and in the end he actually succeeds in driving Tony and Cap against each other. His arc is tragic and sad and even though you root against him, you feel great pity for him too.
2) The two new-comers are awesome. Spider-Man steals the show, but Black Panther is great too. Tom Holland is basically Ultimate Spider-Man come to life. The way he talks, the way he acts, the things he says, it all just works better than the web-slinger has ever worked before. I can’t wait for Homecoming next summer. Black Panther is another standout, and even though (like Spider-Man) his screen time is limited, his presence is big and his fight scenes are standouts. The movie does a good job getting you hyped for his standalone film (coming a few months before Infinity War part one), where his country of Wakanda will surely be highlighted further.
3) Even though this wasn’t an Avengers movie, it did feature more of the MCU’s characters than any other stand-alone film thus far, and in that respect it was a good preview of how the Russo’s would handle their two Avengers movies coming soon. In that respect they did excellently. Every hero gets a “moment” to shine and all of them are great. In addition there are nice little subplots for The Vision and Scarlett Witch, as well as great character interactions between Bucky and Falcon. The humor was on point too, so there’s no need to worry for you Joss Whedon fans out there.
4) We still have Thor:Ragnarok, which is promised to be a big universe-changing film the way Winter Soldier was, and that will probably provide a more direct lead-in to the events of Infinity War. As for this movie, the ending doesn’t really set up Infinity War, but it does leaves you thinking “Oh man, these guys are not prepared for Thanos.” At the end of Age of Ultron you felt like the team had survived and expanded. At the end of this movie it feels like there are no Avengers. Half the team is hiding in Wakanda as fugitives and the other half is either retired or severely neutered by the Sokovia Accords. It’s going to be Thanos’ threat that brings them all back together, but it’s going to be a messy reconciliation, I predict.
5) Hats off to Marvel, to Kevin Feige, and especially to the Russos and screenwriters Markus and McFeely for taking one of the squarest, blandest, most dated heroes in Marvel’s arsenal and producing a trilogy of movies that rivals Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. They made Captain America, not just cool, but fresh, important, and even a commentary on the role of government intrusion in our lives. Iron Man’s trilogy is finished and it basically ended with a whimper after its hot start. Thor’s trilogy finishes next year, and though I have high hopes that it will end on a big and awesome note, it doesn’t change the fact that his first two movies were “average” and “below average.” Who knows how much is left for the core of the Avengers team after Infinity War part two, but if this is the beginning of the end for those three, it’s amazing that Captain America ended up having the best trilogy of the bunch.
Bonus 6) If you though Marvel and the MCU had reached it’s peak and that the fad was wearing down, you couldn’t be more wrong. Things are only going to get wilder and crazier from here on out. There are some incredible movies in the pipeline and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
10/10 – It’s a must see film, but you already knew that
I’m going to have to watch this movie a few more times to really solidify my opinion on it, vis-à-vi the rest of the MCU, but my first impression is that, while it is stellar, I think it’s just barely a notch below Winter Soldier. That movie was a little tighter and a little more accessible. But this movie accomplished exactly what it set out to do, and did it spectacularly. Guardians of the Galaxy is just an awesome romp, Iron Man is the perfect stand-alone, the first Avengers is pure fun from start to finish, Winter Soldier is sublime and now we have a new entry to the upper tier of the MCU food chain.
Go see it (again)!
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