Stillanerd Reviews: Captain America: Civil War


Marvel Studios scores yet another hit with a somber, yet still fun adaptation of Civil War. Oh, and the new Spider-Man is great, too.

There are two points I wish to discuss at the start of this review. The first is Captain America: Civil War should not have been the title for this movie; it should’ve been called Avengers: Civil War, instead. Not that Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) isn’t a central or pivotal character in this film, as almost everything that happens are the direct result of his actions, and his decisions do drive the plot forward. Yet unlike the other Captain America films, Captain America: Civil War isn’t just about him. He’s not the only person affected by the events of the movie, and in many cases, we’re not always rooting for him. Moreover, the movie isn’t restricted or filtered through Cap’s point-of-view or how react and respond towards him.  By the end of Civil War, it isn’t just Cap who changes but every single superhero involved, along with their perception by the public, their relationships with each other, and the landscape of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is a movie where no one, including Cap, survives without either being physically or emotionally scarred in some fundamental way.

The second point is that comparisons between Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice are inevitable. Like Batman v Superman, we have an escalating conflict between two superheroes rooted in their ideological differences, this is case its between Cap and fellow Avenger, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) and with a lot more combatants on each side. The plot also revolves around the question of how much should heroes be held accountable for their actions, especially with regards to any collateral damage they might cause while saving lives and stopping the bad guys. There’s a terrorist bombing during a public governmental hearing, in this case a United Nations conference on the signing of the “Sokovia Accords,” the legislation which drafts the heroes into service under penalty of international law. One hero, Cap’s childhood friend and World War II comrade turned super-assassin, Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) gets accused of a crime he didn’t commit, while newcomer Prince T’Challa of Wakanda/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman in an excellent performance) seeks to kill him for revenge over the death of someone close to him, in this case his father (John Kani). Even the main villain, Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), like Lex Luthor, favors intellect over brute force, who schemes and manipulates the heroes into fighting one another from the shadows.

from Captain America: Civil War by Marvel Entertainment

…although [Captain America: Civil War] has an abundance of characters, you never get the feeling the film’s bloated or than anyone’s story arc is short-changed.

Unlike Batman v Superman however, Civil War succeeds on just about every single level and then some. Of course, it has the advantage of being a sequel not just for Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), but for several Marvel Cinematic movies, especially Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Civil War also avoids the trap of many films with large ensemble casts is that, although it has an abundance of characters, you never get the feeling the film’s bloated or that anyone’s story arc is short-changed. Thus even if you haven’t seen every single Marvel Studios movie, you still have an in-depth, intimate knowledge of who these characters are, what they’ve experienced, and why they do what they do. It’s also one of those rare comic book movies which improves upon its original source material. One of the problems with Mark Millar’s original Civil War comic book series is that it never made sense why a maverick industrialist like Tony Stark would be in favor governmental regulation of superheroes, or that an experienced soldier like Steve Rogers would champion the cause of vigilantism. But in the context of Civil War the movie, it makes complete sense for why Steve, Tony, and every one else would be on the side that they are on.  Some, like the The Vision (Paul Bettany), see registration as the logical answer in addressing the rise of crimes committed by enhanced humans; others like the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) see it as means of survival; both Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Rhodes (Don Cheadle) base their decisions on their own military experiences and loyalty to Cap and Tony respectively; and the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) just wants to be treated like a person instead of a weapon.

Complete poster for Captain America: Civil War by Marvel Entertainment

Nor is the debate of registration presented as a simple black-and-white issue, as Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus‘ script gives each side equal time and measure.  If forced to make a decision, I admit I’d lean more in favor towards Tony’s side (though that could also be, in part, because Downey Jr. once again, is so charismatic and convincing, bringing along not only his trademark sardonicism but also giving Tony genuine pathos and sincerity). In this world’s setting, where people literally have the power to destroy entire cities, it only makes sense to have some sort of governmental oversight. The film even reminds the audience that during all those rousing big budget battles from Avengers, Winter Solider, and Age of Ultron, there was still untold destruction in the billions and hundreds–if not thousands–of lives lost. A grieving mother even shows Tony a picture of her dead son, holding him responsible. It’s no wonder when Tony says, “We need to be put in check. Whatever form that takes, I’m game,” you find yourself nodding in agreement. And yet, Cap’s stance is just as valid. Governments and bureaucracies can also make catastrophic mistakes, or become paralyzed by indecision and corruption. “What if,” Cap says, “this [United Nations] panel sends us somewhere where we don’t think we should go? What if there’s somewhere we need to go, and they don’t let us?” On top of this, Cap sees Bucky as a victim of Hydra’s brainwashing, someone forced to act against their will. Which, ironically, is what the UN is trying to do to the Avengers, by mandating they become their own peacekeepers, or face forced retirement or imprisonment without due process. Thus Civil War brings a complex, philosophical debate not often found in summer blockbusters, in which there’s no easy, simple solution. By the time the heroes do come to blows, and in the film’s climax in particular, it’s genuinely hard to see these characters who we’ve watched turn into close friends become so fractured and antagonistic towards each other.

More from Spider-Man

Of course, the action scenes are the highlight of the film, as Anthony and Joe Russo manage to outdo what they’ve accomplished in The Winter Soldier. Despite this being a movie about people with enhanced abilities and science fiction gadgetry, the Russo brothers are able to make these fight scenes feel both real, brutal and intense. One can’t help but wince any time someone falls several stories, gets kicked across the room, or gets repeatedly punched in the face. What CGI they use enhances and compliments the action instead of making look like a video game or overwhelm the senses . There’s also so many great set-pieces it’s almost impossible to rank which stands out more. During one chase sequence on a busy street in Budapest, there’s a moment where Bucky steals a motorcycle in such a way that to call it “jaw-dropping” would be an understatement. Or when Tony manages to catch a bullet with his armored glove at close-range.   Then there’s the epic showdown at the Leipzig/Halle Airport, the one battle which gives Civil War its name and which comic book fans have been eager to see ever since the trailers showed both sides charging at once another. I am not exaggerating when I say this extended sequence is a masterpiece of fight choreography.  Keep in mind, there are a dozen different characters involved, in which we’re constantly cutting back-and-forth between them in different locations, and not once are you confused about what is happening or who is fighting who. Moreover, every character’s fighting style is distinctive and unique, as the Russo brothers keep finding inventive and imaginative ways for the heroes each use their powers, gadgets, and skills, and allow for each one to have their moment to shine.

from Captain America: Civil War, by Marvel Entertainment

…Tom Holland as [Spider-Man] is so perfectly realized that, in spite of his limited screen time, he all but steals the movie.

Which brings me to the real reason some of you are reading this review: the Marvel Cinematic debut of Spider-Man! Yes, in another similarity to Batman v Superman in that just like Gal Godot’s Wonder Woman, Tom Holland as Peter Parker is so perfectly realized that in spite of his limited screen time, he all but steals the movie. It’s been said that Tobey Maguire made for a great Peter Parker but an adequate Spider-Man, while Andrew Garfield was an excellent Spider-Man but too smarmy a Peter Parker; yet Holland manages to find the perfect balance between both personas in what can only be described as (and no, I don’t often use this word) “adorkable.” Also unlike Maguire and Garfield, you really do get the sense this Spider-Man is a young (perhaps too young) teenager, as Peter not only keeps geeking out over being in the company of these older heroes and how their tech works, his very voice and mannerisms makes everyone incredulous over the fact he’s still just a wet-behind-the-ears kid. But the film also never undermines Spider-Man in the slightest, making a point that in spite of his youth, inexperience, and non-stop nervous, comical banter, he’s very smart and very powerful for his age. It also makes sense within the context of the movie why Tony would respect and admire Peter, and why Peter would see Tony as a mentor. Although I imagine some Spider-Man fans may balk at Tony being the one to give Peter his classic costume, or that he also flirts with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), and that, by recruiting Spider-Man, Tony’s probably guilty of endangering a minor.  At least they can take comfort in that this Spider-Man invents his own web-shooters and web-fluid from “dumpster diving.” Incidentally, the other humorous bug-related hero who comes closest to stealing the film is Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). I don’t wish to give too much away, but let’s just say Paul Rudd gets some pretty big laughs.

There are, however, a few moments which make Captain America: Civil War just shy of perfection. There’s a tacked-on romance between Cap and Peggy Carter’s niece, Sharon (Emily VanCamp) which doesn’t add much to the plot, and (if one thinks about it long enough) is a bit creepy. Frank Grillo’s cameo reprisal as Crossbones, while the catalyst for the drafting and approval of the Sokovia Accords, could’ve been replaced by any number of villains in Marvel’s catalog of rogues.  The same goes for Martin Freeman as Everett K. Ross, no relation to Secretary of State “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt). Also, the opening prologue does threaten to reveal the film’s major and emotional final twist. Then again, since I was being every attentive to what was happening, perhaps that allowed me to spot was coming well in advance, even though it didn’t ruin it in the slightest. And while I do think Chris Evans continues to radiate an old-fashioned charm as Cap, there were a few times in which he was getting overshadowed. Not to mention there comes a point where it’s really difficult to sympathize with Cap’s decisions and actions even while you still understand them.

from Captain America: Civil War by Marvel Entertainment

Although this is one of the more darker, serious, and bittersweet installments from Marvel Studios, Captain America: Civil War never forgets when to have fun.

There’s one other thing which separates this movie from Batman v Superman, however. Although this is one of the more darker, serious, and bittersweet installments from Marvel Studios, Captain America: Civil War never forgets when to have fun. For all the pseudo-political intrigue, the divided loyalties, the betrayals, and the violence, the film still has a sense of gentle humor and silliness about it which reminds us why we fell in love with these characters to begin with. Despite a running time of almost two-and-a-half hours, not once do you ever feel bored or lose your sense of excitement and wonder. At a time where you might think you’re starting to get sick of comic book movies, Civil War makes you eager to see next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, and 2018’s Black Panther, and the two-part Avengers: Infinity War. As the credits and post-credit scenes rolled across the screen, I heard from behind my seat a parent explain to his kid how “nobody the movie really won.” In hindsight, I wish I could’ve turned around and told them, “The heroes may not have won, but we sure did.”

Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)

  • “I make five.” Actually Falcon, there should only be four hostiles left.  There were at nine at first, then Cap took down three and said there were seven left, then you took out three more. As a certain purple Transylvanian Muppet from Sesame Street would say, “That’s four–four hostiles! Ha Ha Ha!”
  • Okay, raise your hand if you were more than a little freaked out seeing Downey Jr. digitally de-aged by over twenty years?

    You know, I think The Vision should fight crime while wearing stylish cashmere sweaters and perfectly pressed slacks instead of green spandex and yellow capes from now on.

  • Wait a minute, Marvel and Disney. I thought you said the Hulk wasn’t in this movie? Surely “Thunderbolt” Ross’ footage from the first Avengers movie qualifies as a cameo appearance, doesn’t it?
  • Okay, this might sound like a morbid question, but how exactly did that ex-Hydra agent drown? Zemo has him tied up hanging upside in a sink as it fills with water. Even before the guy starts drowning, the water is already spilling over the rim of the sink. And how did the water get into his lungs from being sucked up his nose, anyway? Anyone whose ever used a nettle pot knows just how hard that is.

    So Bucky is such a nondescript person that all it takes for Zemo to frame him is to wear a baseball cap, a ratty hoodie, and a long-haired wig? And that disguise is so convincing that even Bucky’s best friend thinks it’s him? No wonder the authorities had so much trouble finding The Winter Soldier for over seventy years.

    I guess the GSG 9, the German counter-terrorism unit, has jurisdiction in Budapest, Hungary. After all, it did say “Polizei” on their bullet proof vests which is German for “police.”

    Who knew that, aside from attractive Eastern-European women with telekinetic powers, the Vision’s other weakness is paprika?

    from Captain America: Civil War by Marvel Entertainment

    Yes, Cap, we know how big and impressive your biceps are. No need to rub it in for us who still have scrawny arms like you once did when you grabbed that helicopter.

  • I bet before Peter came home, Tony and May were really reminiscing about that one time, before she met Ben Parker, they met and fell in love in Venice because she thought Tony’s real name was “Damon Bradley.” Or about that other time where they reenacted silent movies as Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand. Yeah, the Marvel Cinematic Universe really is “a small world after all.”
  • Hawkeye: “My name’s Clint.” Black Panter: “I don’t care.” And Hawkeye is still the Rodney Dangerfield of the Avengers in that he keeps getting “no respect.” Plus, T’Challa, you didn’t really need to tear down Hawkeye like that, because you’ve already proved more than enough times that your this film’s MVP and resident badass.

    “That shield does not obey the laws of physics.” Hmm…yep, got give Spider-Man points for that one.

  • Oh, come on, Spider-Man! I know you’re young, but The Empire Strikes Back is not an “old movie.” Okay, it came out in 1980, so I guess that, technically makes it “old,” but what about the Special Edition? Oh wait, that came out in 1997, so that makes that version “old,” too. Gee, now I’m starting to feel old.
  • So T’Challa’s vibranium suit can shrug off high-caliber bullets but not multiple hits from Black Widow’s stingers? Then again, he still didn’t get knocked out from them, so I guess that splits the difference.

  • Not that I’m complaining or anything because it was still an “Oh my gosh!” moment but…Rhodey is still alive even after that?
  • Okay, maybe it’s Ant-Man now has the title of being the Rodney Dangerfield of the Avengers after that dis by Tony.

    Here’s a question for you: just who was it that took that footage of Bucky’s mission from 1991? Because there’s no way a mere deserted country road would have that many automated security cameras positioned to cover every possible angle. Unless Hydra had agents planted in the bushes and tree tops with camcorders to make sure the Winter Soldier completed his mission.

    From now on, I’ll be extra careful not to say or type “Tony Stank” when thinking “Tony Stark.” Thanks a lot, Stan Lee!