Alright, let’s be civil about this.
I will try to keep my critiques vague, but if you want to go into the new Captain America movie fresh, the TL;DR version is: It’s fine. It doesn’t break new ground, its greatest accomplishment being the best on screen interpretation of Spider-Man, but it’s as entertaining and enjoyable as Marvel movies tend to be. Nothing new to see here, but if you’re not tired of super heroes yet, then it’s fine. Just fine.
Last chance to leave.
So, a little unnecessary background on me and why this is such a long post. The Civil War comic series is what got me back into reading and working on comics. At the time, I was trying to focus more on animation, so I’d signed up for a course to learn how to use Maya. One day, walking to class, I passed a newspaper stand and did a double take. In bold letters, the headline declared, “Exclusive: Spider-Man revealed to be Peter Parker!” I thought this was an Onion article, but was staggered to see that it was a real newspaper, covering the recent events of Marvel’s newest crossover comic event, Civil War. The idea of my favorite superhero growing up was enough to make me pick up the first few issues, and the rest is history. As an advertising scheme, it paid off big. I wasn’t the only one to get back into comics due to this storyline (which I’m sure is why it was chosen as the subject of a Captain America movie). This comic series reignited a spark within me, and though I think it’s unfair to compare a comic story to its movie counterpart, I was hoping that Marvel’s newest entry would rekindle the love of super hero movies in me.
And yet, the fire fades.
(If it wasn’t obvious, yes, I’m still playing Dark Souls 3. More on that another time).
Civil War presents much more grown-up themes than the previous Marvel movies, taking stock of the cinematic universe they’ve been building since Iron Man was released in 2008. The film asks a lot of adult questions, and even creates realistic conflict within its community of heroes (and villains – we’ll get there in a bit). And that’s the problem. These mature questions promise something new, but the pacing, attitude, and overall effect are all those of the same old Marvel movie following the same old beats. The promise of the premise is never kept; the payoff is simply action, instead of the rich character moments that would mine what the beginning of the movie sets up. And simple action is fine if you just want more of the same thing. But for me, being teased with the idea that we’re going somewhere new, only to rinse and repeat, was disappointing, in spite of the wealth of talent (and super heroes). The film lacks the teeth and grit that would give any of its messages and themes deeper significance. You may think I’m asking too much of a Marvel movie, and maybe I am, but if you keep feeding me the same candy in a different box each time, eventually, I’m going to get sick of that candy. I need more.
I am being harsh here. The movie isn’t bad, really. It’s just more of the same. And some of its individual aspects work amazingly well. Each hero has some great moments, between Ant Man, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and an especially phenomenal premier for T’Challa as the Black Panther. The movie also has some genuine laughs, as well as unexpected twists. I loved the villain, Zemo, whose motivations are refreshingly down-to-earth as compared to… any super villain so far, really (though his Heath Ledger/Joker-like omnipotence is a bit unbelievable, even for a comic book movie). And, honestly, this is a good warmup for the Russos. It’s a better Avengers movie than Age of Ultron – because it isn’t really a Captain America movie. His presence in the film is that of an unmoving pillar of justice, while the main antagonist, Tony Stark/Iron Man, is the hero with the real character arc.
And then there’s Spider-Man. In the comics, Spider-Man was at the heart of Civil War, and the reason the conflict had significance to me. My love of the character has become strained and poisoned by careless, sloppy movie adaptations and the general whoring out of the character in the last 10 years. But I’m happy to say that if any fire was reignited, it was thanks to Tom Holland and co., who deliver the best on-screen Spider-Man to date. Not only does the performance capture both Peter and Spider-Man, but the script is the most authentic interpretation of the character there has ever been, finally channeling the true spirit of what makes Spidey one of Marvel’s greatest. He’s simply amazing.
He’s also one of the film’s bigger problems. Spider-Man is like Quicksilver in X-Men’s Days of Future Past – a seemingly last minute addition, one that could be cut out of the movie without affecting the plot whatsoever, yet also the single best and most memorable aspect of the entire film.
But his presence hurts one of the film’s best plot points – the Scarlet Witch.
This is the deepest I’ll be getting into specific beats in the movie. As I said, Spider-Man was the crux of Civil War in the comics, the novice hero that is more affected by the government regulation than anyone else. He realizes he could have benefited, maybe even saved more people, had such a system been in place earlier. But in this movie, that role fell to the Scarlet Witch, whose mistake launches the film’s events into motion. She is the untrained future hero who, more than anyone else, would be shaped by the Sokovia Accords. And in the beginning of the movie, it works. She is the heart of the story, humanizing the political drama and the struggle between Cap and Tony. But once Spider-Man appears, attention to her plot dwindles and any developments are quietly swept under the rug. By the end, she’s almost completely ignored in favor of setting up other heroes, movies, and bombastic fight sequences. And I couldn’t help but be disappointed seeing one of the film’s more genuine and less manufactured aspects sacrificed upon the altar of a more popular hero, even my favorite, Spider-Man. I also can’t help but feel that Pietro’s fate in Age of Ultron would have been a better fit for this movie. It would have not only solved this problem, but fixed that lack of grit I was speaking of earlier. Hindsight is 20/20.
I don’t know how much more I can really say about this film. I’m two pages in and I’m afraid of this becoming just another nerd rant. I think it just comes down to the fact that I wanted to like this film so much more. There’s a lot of great stuff in it (see: Spider-Man), and yet… I’m just underwhelmed. More than that, I left this movie and never wanted to see a super hero movie again. And not because it was bad. It really wasn’t bad.
But if this is it, if this is the big deal I’m supposed to be getting excited for, and it can’t live up to its own hype, then what’s the point?
And I still have no desire to see a single super hero movie ever again.