Civil War gets closer than ever to the comic book movie I actually want, although we’re not quite there yet.
Let me get this out of the way first: I fucking hate the Civil War comic book. Not just because I don’t like the idea, which I don’t really, but mostly because I just thought that it was poorly executed. It was written by Mark Millar who I hate as a writer because his work so often has such clear contempt for the reader. Civil War is relatively benign as far as comic by him though, and at this point I do think there’s been good work around that story and in its aftermath. But that’s the comic that made me actively disinterested in Marvel’s stuff for years, basically until Dan Slott started writing Spider-Man.
That title carries a lot of baggage in my mind, but I’ve seen really good movies with the same name as Mark Millar comics that really work, so really I wasn’t that worried going in. I mean, this movie is inspired by the Civil War comic, but certainly not a retelling or full adaptation of it. It’s just taking the basics of Captain American arguing over politics spilling over into them actually fighting because of course.
Also, Marvel kind of needed to win me over again after the slog that was Avengers 2. Somehow Marvel had forgotten that the Avengers movies should be big and pull of action that pays off on the investment the audience has put in by seeing all their other movies. Instead it was half setup for future movies and spent a lot of time dicking around with pointless bullshit. It also just wasn’t that fun overall. It had its moments but overall it was just a bad movie.
So, now let me get this out of the way too: I really liked Captain America: Civil War. Like a lot.
But I still don’t love that plot. Any story that’s really about superheroes fighting is going to undermine one or both of the heroes involved. Either one of them becomes a villain, or they’re just idiots. Either you compromise the core of what defines the hero, or you end up eventually undermining the entire complicated situation you created to bring the heroes to blows in the first place. (Batman v Superman managed to do both) “The heroes fight and then team up” is goddam old trope and it’s generally just kinda boring because there are not real stakes. Other the other side, something like the Civil War comic is super damaging to the character of Iron Man (and everyone who stood with him), although that’s not even the first time Iron Man had been a villain.
The best superhero stories show you why the heroes involved are great, defining them through action. I don’t want John McClane sitting around arguing about the politics of the FBI playbook, I want him trapped in an office building with terrorists and no shoes.
I will say though the politics the movie is dealing with are much less fucked from jump street than what the comic was dealing with.
In the Civil War comic that superhuman registration act was such a clearly toxic piece of legislation. In fact that’s actually part of why I kind of like it ultimately as a thing that happened, because it makes the US government that the Avengers deal with as bad as the one that persecuted theX-Men for years and was a big first step in making those two parts of the Marvel universe actually feel connected. But every hero tied to supporting that thing is completely undermined as a hero from that point forward. Reading a story where half the cast is acting unreasonably out of character for the sake of the plot isn’t my idea of a good time.
Enough about the comic though.
In the movie the legislation presented is much more reasonable (It’s just about the UN having oversight on the Avengers); to the point where Captain America just seems kinda dumb and stubborn for at least not agreeing to it at first and then breaking it later. The movie puts an odd amount of value in Cap not signing a piece of paper even though, whether he signs it or not, he’s a criminal from then on if he acts on his own. This is a situation where the movie understands Cap correctly and doesn’t compromise him, but because it puts him in a situation where it makes him look stupid it’s still a mistake. It’s like using the wrong light to display a painting, it’s just poor presentation. It’s kind of a nit pick, but it’s this kind of stuff and the political plotline that drag the movie down and make it not as fun as it could have been.
Ultimately the story works because the political argument isn’t the thrust of Cap and Iron Man’s fight by the end of the movie. It’s much more personal and about their emotions, as it should be. This plot works about as well as can be expected; I think it’s executed fairly well, I’m just never going to be that into Iron Man and Cap fighting. At least not compared to how much fun it could be to see them working together against a greater enemy. (Something I kinda feel like the Marvel movies have yet to really deliver on honestly. They’ve never really had that great action scene where Heroes fight a supervillain together.)
But the most important thing about this movie is how good, crazy, and fun the big superhero fight actually is. The movie totally pays off on having a bunch of heroes around with various power sets working against each other. This is kind of the first full on superpower fight that one of these movies have had; instead of just pitting two characters with the same powers against each other or just fighting a shit ton of robots. This has powers working with and against each other and I love it.
For as dour as the plot can be, there is a lot of fun here. The banter is on point.
A lot of that does have to do with the inclusion of Spider-Man. You can tell he was thrown in at some point, but that just doesn’t matter because he’s so good. That might even be to the movie’s benefit as it doesn’t have the time to spend showing us Spider-Man’s origin. We don’t need to see Uncle Ben’s death again. We know who Spider-Man is.
And this is the best Spider-Man we’ve had in a movie. The fun and awkward nature of the character shines here. Every scene with Spider-Man in more fun, funny, and visually interesting because of his presence. Spider-Man is the best and this movie makes him the best in a way that the Spider-Man movies kinda failed at.
Black Panther gets introduced here, and is great. He’s quickly established and clearly awesome. Black Widow finally gets to do shit which is cool. Ant Man is also fun and awkward and it’s cool to see him fight something other than an evil version of himself. Scarlet Witch’s accent is still pretty terrible, but what’re you gonna do? They can’t all be winners.
This is Marvel getting back on track. Civil War is overstuffed and messy, but it’s still successful. It justifies being long and complicated because it feels big and exciting. It keeps mixing things up and stays compelling through its runtime.
Despite there kinda being an over saturation of superhero movies my bigger complaint has been that they’ve mostly just been pretty average movies. There’s been a safeness and a sameness to them since Marvel figured out a formula that worked with the first Iron Man. But for me, as someone who loves superhero comics, I’ve just been waiting for these movies to get crazier and to push farther. Captain America – Civil War reaches new heights on that front, but still points toward a better possible superhero movie and shows me that Marvel has the tools to pull it off, they just need to put it together and continue to push forward.
This is a movie worth seeing. I really enjoyed it.