An outsider’s take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe: ‘Captain America: Civil War’ (2016) (Movie review)

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his blog series chronicles my first viewing of the complete MCU movie saga. I’ll examine each film under various categories that reflect popular discussion points. Next up is the 13th film, “Captain America: Civil War” (2016):

STRENGTHS

“Captain America: Civil War” shows how to do a “superheroes vs. superheroes” movie the right way, a couple months after “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” was built around a dumb misunderstanding between the title characters. In “Civil War,” we know why every one of the dozen or so Avengers are on the side they are on, and the tension of their chosen loyalties stays front and center.

WEAKNESSES

I never find it fun to watch superheroes fight each other, so even though this is an elite version of that type of film, I was still thinking “Why are you fighting each other?! You don’t have to do this!”

In “Civil War,” we know why every one of the dozen or so Avengers are on the side they are on, and the tension of their chosen loyalties stays front and center.

HEROES

I can safely say that Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is my favorite MCU superhero, someone who does not compromise in his stance of fighting for individuals rather than organizations. As the launcher to Phase Three of the MCU, “Civil War” effectively introduces T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) – who admirably decides the cycle of vengeance will stop with him — and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who as a teenager is the surrogate for the (ostensible) target audience. Although it’s frustrating to see some Avengers stand against Cap as he tries to solve the mystery of who is framing the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), I like those who line up behind him all the more, including Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, Ant-Man and (eventually) Black Widow.

VILLAINS

Helmut Zemo (the outstanding Daniel Bruhl from “The Alienist”) had me curious about his agenda, and I like how it ends up being a personal revenge obsession against the Avengers for the collateral damage that killed his family in Sokovia (in “Age of Ultron”). Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) stands in Cap’s way, trying too hard to set his mind at ease for his part in the “Utron” fiasco, with personal allies War Machine, Vision and Spider-Man helping him. It’s not fun to see a hero become a villain, but “Civil War” at least does a nice job of showing Iron Man’s thought process, and then delivers a kicker (the Winter Soldier killed his parents) that triggers one more fight between friends.

WOMEN

“Civil War” gets its Bechdel Test passing mark out of the way early, as Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) communicate while on surveillance. Then it settles into being a male-dominated film, but it is nice to see Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter emerge as both an anti-terror official and a love interest for Captain America. Sharon is Peggy’s niece, which would be awkward if not for Cap’s time jump, but nonetheless will likely invite snarky remarks from Iron Man in future films.

MIRROR TO REALITY

This is a tricky one, since there are no superheroes in reality and technically no politicians who are above the law. There are many who are almost above the law, though, and while they aren’t too concerned about the checks and balances of the U.S. government or the United Nations, they are often concerned with how they are perceived by the public. Some powerful people fade from the spotlight when they are found guilty in the court of public opinion. That’s what’s on the minds of the Avengers, who have to decide if the PR value of being under a UN umbrella is a necessary sacrifice for the sake of their continued existence.

BEST ACTION SCENE

The tarmac battle between Tony’s team and Cap’s team is a crystallization of what this film does well. It offers the visceral pleasure of many iconic heroes in action, but at the same time we understand why everyone is on the side they are on. It culminates with Natasha – whom I was somewhat disgusted with for standing against Cap – getting on the right side and letting him go.

BEST COMEDIC MOMENT

The bruised Spider-Man recounts the fight to his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) with honesty, but in such a way that she’ll assume he’s talking about a schoolyard brawl.

WORLD BUILDING

The secretive African nation of Wakanda, introduced in “Age of Ultron,” is ready to step onto the international stage, at first worried about the Avengers’ free reign. Ultimately, the nation – led by their king, Black Panther — allies with Captain America. Spider-Man comes into play as Iron Man’s young ally, although as he grows up he’ll have to examine whether he agrees with what his hero stands for. By the film’s end, we have a truce between two Avengers splinter groups: Tony’s, which nominally answers to U.S. Secretary of State Ross (William Hurt, last seen in “The Incredible Hulk”) and the UN oversight committee, and Captain America’s, an independent entity that answers to its own morality.

I am a bit surprised that Cap doesn’t suggest re-forming S.H.I.E.L.D. as a compromise. By this time, the Hyrdra members would’ve been excised, and perhaps the Avengers could’ve returned to their former set-up, which often benefitted from having Fury’s militarized wing helping them. But it seems S.H.I.E.L.D. has become a distant memory, despite the fact that “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” was (and still is) on the air.

FINAL THOUGHTS/EXPECTATIONS

Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directors Anthony and Joe Russo prove that “The Winter Soldier” was no fluke. “Civil War” is utterly confident superhero filmmaking that won me over despite my distaste for Iron Man’s behavior. It has epic fights and spectacle yet is brave enough to have the villains be two men who have personal vengeance on their mind – either as an obsession (Zemo) or a distraction (Iron Man, in the final fight against Cap).