What did you see? Captain America: Civil War, in the theater.
Wow, Ken Burns finally got around to the part of Civil War with Cap, huh? Stop! I will try to keep the SPOILERS light.
Here’s the good: The Russo brothers are loved by all for the near-expertly made thriller Cap America 2 Winter Soldier Gives The Cold Shoulder. They are loved by me because of their contribution to two of my favorite TV comedies, Arrested Development and Community. Joss Whedon showed us all with Avengers 1 that you could overstuff a superhero movie with characters and it could come out really well. But then he got burned out by having to do it again with Avengers 2 (which I haven’t seen). Did he not like catering to the new Marvel method? Well, the Russos show that if the Marvels That Be say “add Spider-Man,” they can say “yessir” and shove in Spider-Man to their already filled-past-the-brim cup of cinematic coffee that is Captain America 3.
Cap 2 faltered, for me, with a big laser light show where Cap, Falcon, and Black Widow had to take down a SHIELD helicarrier that was going to kill off everyone in America who wasn’t part of a secret supremacist group. (By the way, way to stay underground for 60+ years, infiltrating every level of the government, and then one day you’re just going to unearth yourselves and blow up everyone.) Almost every moment prior to that was action movie spy thriller gold. These Marvel movies are so clever and well written and everyone is enjoying themselves making it, but the otherwise well-paced momentum, with few moments of boredom, gets bogged down by…big fights against big glowing things over the MCU equivalent of Lucky Charms. First 2/3rds of a Marvel movie? A zesty and fresh take of a character that gets brought to life by actors embracing the role. Last 1/3rd? Punch the shiny object while everything explodes around them.
In Cap 3, the action is pretty spectacular throughout, and the somewhat tiresome (but kinda exciting) Battle Between the Marvel Stars isn’t the final boss that Cap has to take on. Thankfully, there’s still a story left for Cap to continue down. But it definitely is an Avengers movie as opposed to a Cap movie because of the relationships explored between, say, Vision & Scarlet Witch, and Iron Man & his buddy War Machine…
What, introduce someone in Cap’s life as a love interest? (And maybe a love triangle with Black Widow, but I doubt the movie would go in that direction.) The risk Cap puts Falcon, one of the few people he met outside of The Avengers, into because of the decisions he makes? These ideas can’t be explored?
The road that Cap (as lead character in this Avengers story) goes down is to track down and protect his old chum, the tortured brainwashed Bucky aka Winter Soldier, and find out why Bucky is such a bad guy…before the Avengers and Black Panther and the UN get to Winter Soldier first, and kill him. Cap is doing a noble thing, giving Bucky the benefit of the doubt to get to the bottom of why Bucky would keep committing terrorist attacks, but I’m kind of on the side of law & order here: he might be misunderstood, and framed in one case, but he’s still a terrorist. Anyway, what follows from there are some wild action scenes. All of it is implausible, but some of it is amazing (Bucky’s apartment becomes a setpiece Jackie Chan would love) and some of it over the top (a car/on foot chase shortly after what I described). The big superhero fight that is promised is the shiny smackdown that would derail the momentum of this adventure (you could definitely have this movie, this Cap must rescue Bucky and get to the Bottom of It All, without most of the Avengers & Their Friends) if it wasn’t what was promised. And you were promised…Spider-Man. And it’s all fun, and pretty spectacular.
The Bad? Cap 2 is a better movie mostly because the talky parts in Cap 3 go on forever. I think you can remove some of the interplay between the Avengers, and really you can remove most of the Avengers anyway and call this movie something else, and you’d have a better story. Because you’d have a less BORING story.
Vision & Scarlet Witch drag this movie down to almost slumberland. Do they have a romantic relationship? Didn’t a friend of Cap’s just die? We cut to a funeral when he finds out, surely more script pages could have been written to show us how it affects him in that moment, as opposed to all that screentime of Vision cooking for Scarlet Witch.
How would Joseph Campbell map out this Hero’s Journey for Cap? Who am I supposed to identify with? Root for? Hope that their flaws can be overcome yet still accepted as part of who they are? Just having the movie about such a large group of characters called Captain America is misleading, just like naming a cartoon about teen mystery solvers after their dog.
And then SPOILER the Spider-Man part. I was worried that it would feel shoveled in. “We got the rights, get the cameras out of the truck and we’ll edit Spider-Man in post.” Hi Spidey, don’t you have something to say? “I must go now, my planet needs me.”
That’s not how it came off in the Civil War Airport scene. He was in a lot of it, interacting with many of the other characters in such a way that the advertised Civil War had to have been planned with him. It’s Peter Parker and his very hot, very young Aunt May and their blunt introduction that felt like a much different, interminably boring movie.
There were also title cards telling you what city you were in. Pretty dumb style choice and needless, and I don’t recall the device being used for The Raft prison or the last few locations where Bucky and Cap would find themselves. Did they forget? “This is a movie, they’re not here to READ.”
The Russo brothers are clearly the filmmakers that the Marvel Brain Trust want to shovel in all the ongoing threads of their Messy Cinematic Universe through their serials even if those threads aren’t resolved, because they did it so well with Cap 2 and, in a way, did that here. And most of the beatemups between superhumans and guys in armor feels real in the only way these movies would be allowed. But Cap 2 is a better movie. The well known trademarked characters were a bit more complex even though (or because) there were fewer of them. You might feel involved here, the advertising demands you choose sides after all, but it’s less enjoyable when you are forced to keep score.
Stray thoughts, with SPOILERS!
-For a guy who is a Captain in the armed services, Cap does a bad job of clearing a room.
-Spider-Man? Picked by Stark to join his team? To fight some rogue crazy people who have killed before? He’s SIXTEEN. He’s a minor, Tony Stark. “I’m gonna choose the law & order route, and I’ll do that by choosing child endangerment.”
-There’s no mention of Spidey whatsoever before Peter Parker is introduced. No stateside discussion of “oh, while we’re at it, have you heard about this guy in Queens who shot things out of his wrists and stopped a car from crashing into a bus?” Also: I thought Aunt May and Stark were making out just before Parker walked in the door.
-Dean Pelton of Community is now the dean at M.I.T. and I would watch a movie where he toadies up to Tony Stark.
-The backstory of Stark’s parents? Weird. Why would you make that your presentation? To college kids?
-The Russos make such insane action sequences that are acceptable (“realistic”) in the MCU movie realm. You believe it, seeing it. Yet they allow the “one security camera but from different angle” bits. Maybe it’s the movie piecing the scene together from other perspectives if you WERE there, if the people viewing that footage imagined it from different angles, but really, it’s one grainy security camera. That’s one of my least favorite movie tropes and I wish smart movies made by smart moviemakers would stop doing this.
-Hey kids, SPOILER. Agent Carter will live through her adventures on her TV show unless it jumps ahead to her years between Cap 2 and 3.
-Cap learns Peggy Carter dies. Cut to funeral, he’s a pallbearer. Cut to him sitting in the front row of the ceremony with Falcon, and HEY Peggy’s niece is the cute blonde agent from Cap2! And she gives a speech that’s less about what a great person Peggy was. Her eulogy might as well have been “Do the right thing, Cap. Yes, you, Steve Rogers.”
-“Also, we should start making out. There’s sexual tension, now that my aunt who you were falling in love with in Cap 1 died.”