Here we are. That very special time of year when we get the latest offering from Marvel Studios. This year, it takes the form of Captain America: Civil War, putting us close to the end of Marvel’s phase 2 set of movies. While each of Marvel’s ventures have been successful, the quality of the individual phase 2 movies has been very hit and miss. For every thrilling Captain America: The Winter Soldier or fun Ant Man movie, we are treated to an Avengers: Age of Ultron or Thor: The Dark World. It has been a much more rocky climb in phase 2 than it was in the original set of Marvel movies, and nothing seems to embody that as much as Civil War.
Taken from the Marvel comic book event of the same name, Civil War pits our favorite time traveling popsicle, Captain America against the always charming Iron Man in a battle of both ideology and physicality. The movie revolves around the idea that the Avengers need to be regulated because of the various city wrecking antics they have been involved in, the latest being Scarlet Witch saving a group of citizens from a suicide bomber by tossing him into an office building with…well another group of citizens. Cap is reticent about the idea but a surprisingly conscientious Tony Stark understands the need for oversight and accountability. Things turn extremely personal when Cap’s buddy turned Russian cyborg bad ass, Bucky (aka the Winter Soldier), is seen bombing the UN, while the sanctions on the Avengers is being signed, killing many people, including the King of Wakanda. So, Black Panther, the new king of Wakanda has a reason to jump into the plot. Things continue to escalate between our two heroes as they battle over ideology, and it all eventually devolves into a series of punches.
Still with me? Kinda? Yeah that’s basically the feeling that I was left with while watching Civil War.
While glossy on the surface, with moments of fun, the entire movie feels very bogged down in an unfocused story which never seems to fully service any single character entirely. Much like Batman vs. Superman from earlier this year, it feels like a series of events that are concocted for the sole reason of getting a bunch of disparate heroes into the same scene all at once, instead of feeling natural and coherent progression of the story.
Because of the convoluted and somewhat circuitous way that the plot moves, I found myself bored throughout the first half of the movie. It just felt like things were happening and I wasn’t engaged with any of it. Until Spider-Man shows up. While I have never been a big fan of the character, the new take on Spider-Man has really captured my imagination and I am way more interested in seeing the troubles and adventures of this new teenage focused Peter Parker than I ever have before. The introduction of Peter Parker comes shortly before we get to see Ant Man appear to help out Cap, and let me tell you, Paul Rudd is awesome when he is just Paul Rudd-ing around in the MCU. The dude is charming as hell and has just enough to do and say that he doesn’t overstay his welcome.
Everyone else turns in a good performance, and perhaps it is an issue with the writing, but it felt like there was a lack of warmth or charm from many of the characters that we have grown to love. The winking fun that Marvel is really known for didn’t seem to exist to the same degree that it has in previous films. Everyone seemed much more dower throughout the proceedings than happy and up beat. Upon further thought, it might just be that the material seems to favor the characters with less to do and allows them to be unburdened and charming, mainly because when there is a lot to do, it just doesn’t seem to make much sense. For example even after talking about it with all the crew on the Nerd Funnel podcast (shameless podcast link here!), I’m still not quite sure what the plan of the villain was. To say that it didn’t make sense is to be generous.
And I suppose that is ultimately the crux of the entire situation. The nonsensical plots within comic book movies just don’t fly anymore. As a fan of these movies and the comics medium, I expect more from these movies than to just be a series of fight scenes, crazy schemes that even Talia al Ghul would blush at, and just enough character development to keep the plot moving. Maybe that is asking too much, because after all these are comic book movies. They are escapist entertainment at their purist form. However, I saw the highs that Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy rose to when it handled the material seriously. I’ve seen the fun version of comics movies as well, executed very well in the Iron Man series and the first Avengers movie. I know that there is more that these movies are capable of than the vapid splash page driven narratives that we have been seeing as of late. However, if I am wrong, which audiences around the world who have been eating up Captain America: Civil War would clearly believe, then I believe we have lost a bit of what made the original movies in these franchises special.
I suppose for now, I will quietly watch, and hope that we can escape this Image Comics-esque flash without substance, and get back to stories that not only contain great action scenes, well written lines, and believable scenarios, but a little bit more heart and charm as well.