|Divided, they fall.|
After an undeserved guilt trip, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) worries that the Avengers need to be put in check. He is surprised to find that if, say, an alien army attacks New York, or a robot AI army tries to lift an entire city into the sky and drop it again, people die in the wake. So, he signs a document called the Sokovia Accords, putting himself under the command of General Ross (William Hurt) and forces the other Avengers to either sign as well, or retire from their crime-fighting ways; or become outlaws. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), however, is Captain America, and as such sees no wisdom in allowing himself to be controlled by someone who may someday order him to do something wrong, or deny him permission to do something right. He and about half the Avengers refuse to sign.
Rising tension between the two sides explodes when Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) appears on the grid and everyone wants a piece of him; Steve, the ever-loyal friend to help him, new addition T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) for revenge, Ross (and thus Tony) because he's dangerous, and also the villain Zemo (Daniel Brühl) who framed him for the UN bombing in the first place. Zemo plans to destroy the Avengers by leading them to destroy each other.
|Anthony and Joe Russo return for another Captain America movie featuring the cast of an Avenger movie.|
It's the year of the "hero vs. hero" story line, and Civil War set out to make it realistic. It is -- a little bit too much. Superheroes, practically by definition, are people who can act outside the law and remain good, but this movie challenges that, putting our heroes under the harsh judgment of our reality. The result is that the plot is not fundamentally conducive to the genre. It's like if Pirates of the Caribbean 5 were a courtroom drama where Jack stands trail for all his misdeeds. The film struggles to find footing at the beginning, forced to scrounge around for some contrived situations to justify the plot; some that sacrifice character and sense in the effort.
At first Iron Man is only antagonistic and it works alright. He was pressured and emotionally coerced into believing he needed someone to put him in check, and imposed his beliefs on everyone else. But no matter what that self-righteous, cruel, finger-pointing woman by the elevator wrongly says, Tony is not a murderer, and I hate that they made him buy into that lie. He created Ultron, yes, but ultimately, Ultron was an intelligent being that made decisions for himself. What he chose to do isn't on Tony. And that's something Tony would know if the movie didn't require otherwise. Most of the characters have the drama work for them -- as it should -- but someone had to be made the villain, and Tony got the short straw in a lot that shouldn't have existed.
|After five films, Tony is no stranger to putting himself in check, but suddenly now he needs someone else to do it for him?|
Eventually it reaches a point where if they'd have just stopped and talked about things for a few seconds everything would have been cleared up. Cap has evidence that Bucky was framed and they attempt to go off after Zemo. But Tony and co. (Rhodey (Don Cheadle), Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), and Vision (Paul Bettany) with the help of T'Challa, aka Black Panther, and some kid named Peter (Tom Holland)) are under orders to arrest Cap and co. (Bucky, Sam (Anthony Mackie), Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), Barton (Jeremy Renner), and newly recruited Scott Lang (Paul Rudd)), and they battle it out instead. This was one of the most fun sequences in the movie though, so of course they couldn't just bypass it with a simple exchange of information. Still I reserve the right to be annoyed that that's all it would have taken.
After that Tony discovers the truth for himself and goes off to help Cap and Bucky. Great, right? They team up and prevail against the villain, right? It's a glorious reuniting of friends almost torn apart joining together and putting aside their differences to fight evil, right? Nope -- instead, the villain reveals his plan to them, and shows video footage of Bucky as the Winter Soldier, under the influence of mind control, killing Tony's parents. Tony flips back over in his rage and actually becomes a villain. Not just a misguided and uninformed antagonist -- as irking as that was -- but a villain, uncharacteristically intent on causing harm to the innocent. There are so many things wrong with this; I hardly know where to begin.
|It did endear Bucky to me a lot more, so it's arguably worth it. I wasn't ever a huge Iron Man fan anyway. And I'm sure he'll be back to hero status in no time...|
Tony knows that Bucky killed his parents because of mind control. And this is not a new issue; Barton killed several people under mind control in The Avengers, but once he came back, no one batted an eyelash. They said it wasn't him, and they were right. Here Cap says the same, and Tony doesn't care, trying to kill Bucky in revenge. (Yet he didn't even blame anyone for Rhodey's injury?) They pick and choose what pushes Tony's buttons based on where the plot wanted to go, instead of the other way around as it should be. He knows he's innocent and he doesn't care -- but not killing innocents was exactly his whole agenda in the first place!
In the end Cap defeats Iron Man physically, but it's really Zemo who wins the day. He didn't succeed in making them kill each other, but he divided them, and the results of Steve's attempts to heal the breach are left ambiguous. Also, it's sad that Zemo's family dies, but it doesn't justify his villainy; it makes it a double standard. He murders in order to orchestrate murder, and his revenge is directed at the people who stopped the one really responsible. These plot lines are the foundation of the movie, and are almost nothing but nonsensical hogwash, and I couldn't buy it. This whole movie was contrived into existence, and characters were bent and broken to its whims all for a nice, swift kick of maddeningly lazy drama that moved nowhere before being resolved by nothing.
|I guess one thing this movie portrays well is the folly of revenge.|
Remember that heartbreaking moment in the trailer, where Cap seems to have abandoned his friendship with Tony? "He's my friend" he says of Bucky. And Tony replies sadly, "So was I." I don't know if the same take was used in the trailer and the finished film, but the difference the context made was incredible. Once we see that Cap is at that moment keeping Tony from committing emotionally driven unjustified murderous revenge on his friend, that "So was I" comes across in the exact opposite way. Suddenly Cap is the one we feel for, ever the man who will stand up for what he knows is right, and has his friends turn on him for it. That's noble.
And Bucky -- the movie's main focus in on Bucky, and he was the main redeeming factor that kept the film afloat. Bucky regrets the things he was forced to do, and even though he doesn't blame himself, he takes himself out of the equation, giving up on living a life he deserves until he knows he can live it without inadvertently putting others in danger. Like Iron Man, he recognizes that his existence is dangerous, but he takes it upon himself to prevent that danger. That is noble. That is what superheroes do. Iron Man's only spark of nobility here is only perhaps in his motivations of wanting to keep people safe. His actions do a poor job of reflecting that desire if it's true though, and I wonder if really he was only interested in dulling his misguided guilt. In past movies he's been the noble character, but not here, and that doesn't sit right.
|So -- that concludes the main point of what is wrong with this movie. On to what is good. Here's to my ability to express it in a more condensed fashion!|
Next, I need to devote a whole section to Spider-Man, (Forget condensed!) because his part in this film felt like a whole different film. He didn't really fit, but I was glad he was there. The scenes he has with Iron Man were the only times in the movie that I actually liked Iron Man, and the fight sequence at the airport was fun (uncharacteristically so) because of him -- and Ant-Man. I knew Tom Holland was going to be my favorite Spider-Man, but he didn't let me down even one bit in his short amount of screen time. He tell his origins with a mere "It's a long story," and explains his version of "with great power comes great responsibility" earnestly and simply, like a teenager would. His place in the movie was obviously contrived, but that didn't dampen the exciting appeal of his presence at all.
But even when Spidey is absent the fights are still the most effective distractions from the occasionally insulting drama the movie gives. The choreography is just as great as The Winter Soldier, and though there isn't exactly an equivalent of the elevator scene, Civil War makes up for it by having lots more fights, and lots of fights featuring Bucky. Bucky was great wherever he went. The stairwell fight and the sequence when Zemo activates Bucky stand out as the best and most memorable. I did miss Cap though. It was his movie in name, but he was slightly overshadowed by the long list of a-list co-stars whose characters had bigger issues than Cap did. Cap's problems didn't carry as much weight as they should because all he had to do was the right thing, and that's the one thing he always does. It's why we love him.
|Cap trying to hold the movie together...|
Acting all around was as good as ever, and not hindered by the plot's often confused and illogical nature. Even Robert Downey Jr. pushed a very impressive performance through his character's sludge. Everyone I've previously mentioned had a solid moment to display their chops, and so did Martin Freeman, Emily VanCamp, and even Frank Grillo in a disappointingly short-lived stint as post-Winter Soldier Crossbones. Vision and Wanda's dynamic was quite strange and oddly cute. Not much was new with Hawkeye when he wasn't given much to do but left a mark anyway. Chadwick Boseman makes a great first impression as Black Panther. And Bucky is steadily and ever-increasing in my affections. This movie's moments of organic drama were almost exclusively his. (Any chance he'll make an appearance in Black Panther, you think?
Marvel films at this point have become well-oiled machines, and it's beginning to show in less-than-appealing ways. They know how to cater to an audience, and know what kind of moments will serve fans the most and stoke their fandom fires. In the moment, it's a blast, but it's not a good thing at heart. The stories are becoming less and less personal as a result; and more and more familiar. Civil War goes through the motions of what made The Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron successful, doling out high-caliber, production-line thrills, but slacking off when it came to the stamp of originality, confident that the heroes turning on each other would be enough. I prefer a handcrafted story that respects character foremost, even if it has flaws in the execution.
|This movie didn't seem personal to anyone besides its characters. |
I doubt I will ever not notice the plot holes and contrivances that allowed for this film's existence, but I know that I will sit through them again for the parts that catered to my action-loving side and appealed to my love of character. This film is not the ground-breaking, tide-turning event it wanted to be and thinks it is, but, as a Marvel film, and as a Captain America film, and as a preview of what a Russo Brothers Avenger film might be like -- not to mention an introduction film for Black Panther and Spider-Man, and a continuation of the Winter Soldier's story -- it's got something of everything. Civil War is so packed with so much that it could hardly have done anything that would've neutralized its addictive fun, or seriously dampened the effect of the chaotically, colorfully intense and exciting blockbuster that it is.