This is part of a series of blog posts, discussing my rewatch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe FOLLOWING my viewing Avengers: Endgame on opening weekend. If you HAVE NOT seen Endgame, I suggest you wait to read these posts as I will be mentioning and referencing plot points from the most recent film(s) including Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame.
13. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The people who shoot at you usually wind up shooting at me. - Sam Wilson to Steve Rogers
The thing that was so special about The Winter Soldier was that it was a tight political thriller wrapped up in a superhero movie. When it was announced that the third Cap film would be the Civil War storyline (and that Robert Downey Jr. would be joining as Tony Stark) I was beyond excited, but quite worried that they would ruin the amazingly intimate paranoid nature feel that permeated the 2nd film. Maybe THAT was what made Cap work in the modern setting? Maybe this would all fall apart spectacularly?
But it didn’t. Tony melds in seamlessly to this story without ever making it feel like an Iron Man film. It does feel (especially in the 2nd act) like an Avengers sequel for a while, but the combination of the slightly reduced roster (Hulk and Thor are still MIA) and the storyline that sets the team against itself keeps that from overwhelming the central plot which is Steve Rogers trying to save his friend from his friends.
What a BRILLIANT adaptation of one of the greatest comic stories in decades. Brubaker’s original plot wouldn’t work in the MCU as its central point is secret identities, of which there are none until we meet Peter Parker in this film. The comics storyline ended with an assassination of Cap (as well as the murder of Goliath, a lesser-known Marvel hero), and an android replacement of Thor from Tony Stark. It was a crazy sprawling story that wouldn’t have made sense in one film, and would have necessitated dozens of new character introductions. Yet here, in 2 and half hours, we’re given a tightly constructed story based on the events we’ve already seen take place across these 12 previous films, one that nicely moves our characters forward, uses the same central themes from the comics run as well as a couple of direct moments/panels brought to life on screen. It isn’t as perfect a film as Winter Soldier, but it reaches for such heights that we hadn’t seen before that its triumphs are greater than the earlier film.
Civil War showed the world (and I’m betting the Marvel and Disney teams) that they were capable of this sort of giant crossover event. They could pay off multiple franchises and storylines while still making a good film, one that general audiences would attend, enjoy and praise to their general audience friends. That’s the takeaway from this experiment in the MCU. We can do BIG things. Things that traditional films would have avoided because the audience wouldn't keep up with it all. But our audience will. And our audience is actually everyone.
The Sakovia Accords as laid out aren’t nearly as onerous as the Superhuman Registration Act in the comics, but Cap is right that trusting a shadowy board of politicians (like the World Security Council that had decided to nuke NYC) sounds like a bad move to me. The weaving of Bucky into this thread through Zemo’s plot is what makes this such a personal fight. First for Steve, then eventually for Tony too.
I love that we get to see the “New Avengers” in action in the opening sequence. Especially as it compares to the Avengers mission to crush Strucker at the top of Age of Ultron. This team does have some hitters, as Cap says at the end of that film, but they’re clearly not as polished or familiar with one another as the original team was. This leads eventually to Crossbones explosion that is the precipitating incident. This brings us the returning Thunderbolt Ross from The Incredible Hulk. He makes a great government antagonist and I’m very thankful that they remembered they had him. We can hope that we see him turn big and red eventually.
After Bucky is reprogrammed by Zemo, when he and Cap and Sam are talking about what happened, Bucky says “Your Mom’s name is Sarah.” Reminded me so much of the moment on Voromir with Red Skull, “Clint, son of Edith!” It’s fun when you see all the echoes.
We should talk about the introduction of Black Panther. Chadwick Boseman is wonderful in the role, especially as there is so much emotional weight for him to carry in his small role here. The most interesting thing about the modern MCU is how characters like Black Panther are introduced fully by a different director and writer than the ones already tasked with fleshing this character out fully in his eventual debut. Civil War does it TWICE. First we meet T’Challa, then we meet Peter Parker. Both of them would go on to big opening weekends and Peter even has a sequel rolling out in just a few weeks. A lot of people would balk at having to do a first film in a franchise with someone else’s choice in the lead, especially when a bunch of character choices have been made. The MCU’s brain-trust is doing such a good job that instead of a burden, I think director’s like Coogler see it as a challenge. In his case, he fully lived up to it.