Let the Spoilers Begins…
It’s Clearly a Captain America Movie: Many people (myself included) had a nagging feeling that this film would be Avengers 2.5 and that Captain America (Chris Evans) would be shoehorned into an ensemble cast. Fortunately, that is not the case. This is definitely Cap’s movie. He is the focal point of the story. He and Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) are the catalysts for most of what happens in this film. The Captain gets a lot of action sequences and he is shown as a hero to the other heroes.
The new Spider Man: The announcement of a third incarnation of Spider-Man might have been a Why-Are-They-Doing-This-Again-So-Soon situation, but the fact that Spidey # 3 (Tm Holland) would now be part of the MCU was greeted with unanimous cheers. The trailer got people psyched up for the latest appearance of the character. Does he deliver? For the most part—yes! He’s fun, his power level is accurate to the comics and he maintains the bantering/quipping aspect of character that Tobey MaGuire’s version never incorporated. (That was the biggest flaw in the Sam Rami films.) His youth is utilized for good comical effect, especially the Empire Strikes Back reference. A few quibbles, however…His being so dependent on Tony Stark may diminish the character. Peter’s scientific acumen was one of his prime characteristics, so Tony giving him all his gadgets is a possible red flag for the solo film, especially since Robert Downey is supposed to appear in his solo movie. Another small quibble is the sexy Aunt May (who Tony refers to as “Aunt Hottie”). It was not very long ago that Marissa Tomei was playing a stripper in The Wrestler and now she’s playing Aunt May! Think about this; if Aunt May was that good looking, I’d imagine that Peter would be a lot more popular. (“Hey guys. Let’s go hang out at that dork Parker’s place. I hate that little dweeb but his aunt is smoking hot!”)
Homecoming: Still on the subject of Spider-Man, his solo film will be called Homecoming. It’s interesting (and this may be all in my imagination) that one of the words used to activate the Winter Soldier here was “Homecoming”. In past interpretations of Spider-Man, his parents were spies involved in the cold war. Could there be a connection? (I may be reaching on this one.)
The Black Panther is a Scene Stealer: Speaking for myself, I am now psyched for a Black Panther solo film. This character was great and stole every scene he was in. His appearance, his fighting style and the performance by actor Chadwick Boseman are all perfect. The look of Wakanda with its giant Panther idol (which reminded me of Skull Mountain in King Kong) makes it another fun addition into the multiple worlds and locations that the MCU uses as it’s playground.
Giant Man: A very cool scene comes as a total surprise during the big airport battle, when Ant-Man (Who Falcon refers to as “Tic-Tac”) suddenly hits the Big-Guy button and balloons into Giant-Man, manhandling many of the other characters. (Spider-Man’s reaction is comically appropriate.) Paul Rudd’s appearance is relatively brief, probably having the least screen time of anyone, but he makes the most of his moments and leaves a mark. Let’s hope we see more of Giant-Man in Ant-Man and the Wasp.
The Villains—Frank Grillo makes a short but important appearance as Crossbones but it’s Daniel Bruhl as Zemo who supplies the main badness for this film. Others may differ on this but I think Zemo breaks the streak of under-developed, bland villains that has been a recurring problem in Marvel films. He doesn’t have a lot of screen time but he makes the most of what he does have and—best of all—he isn’t a corny comedian villain, like Ultron was in Age of Ultron or Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman. He’s a serious character, well played by Bruhl. It also helps that his plot actually makes sense. He’s not all-over-the-place like Luthor in Batman v. Superman, whose vague plan seemed to change scene-by-scene. Zemo has a clever but simple scheme to avenge his family using a ‘Divide & Conquer’ strategy. And if you think about it, you could say he won in the end. It’s true Cap’s “Secret Avengers” are still around at the end but since Zemo’s goal was to destroy the Avengers by tearing the team part, he succeeded pretty well.
The Civil War Cover Pose: It has to be pointed out that this film depicted the cover scene from the “Civil War” comic, where Iron Man is pushing against Cap’s shield while firing his repulsers, and Cap is pushing back with all his strength. It was a great cover and it made a terrific scene in live-action. It reminded me of the scene in Superman Returns when they recreated the cover of Action Comics # 1.
The Action Sequences: For the most part, the action sequences here were awesome but I have to take issue with the first few fight scenes in the early part of the film because of the damn Shaky-Cam. Why do directors still utilize this annoying method, since it obscures the whole fight! The first encounter between the Black Panther and the Winter Soldier was such a pivotal moment, yet the shakiness of the cinematography ruined it. Fortunately, this problem doesn’t extend to the latter-half of the film and the amazing airport fight is as good as advertised. It may be the best Big FX fight sequence ever done in a super hero movie (Although I personally prefer the lower budget, hand-to-hand fights in the Daredevil Netflix series.)
Motivations: What this film does very well is to make the character motivations clear, consistent and understandable. You understand both sides of the argument. Both Team Cap and Team Iron Man have valid points. Neither one is totally wrong and neither one is totally right. The writers do a good job of articulating both sides of the issue and you can sympathize with each team. It’s nice to see the characters try to talk and debate the issue, (Unlike the macho posturing of the two main heroes in Batman v Superman) hoping to avoid violence, although they ultimately fail at that. They all clearly make mistakes (Cap makes several decisions that escalate the chaos instead of relieving it) but they stay true to their essentially noble principles. Even Zemo has a clear motive to hate the Avengers and he remains consistent throughout the movie.
Evoking Emotions: The film does a great job of keeping the audience invested in the characters and caring about what happens to them. We’re saddened to see good friends fight and the team tearing itself apart. A film like this wouldn’t work if we weren’t so familiar with these characters from previous films and have developed a connection to them. A hero vs. hero film can’t work without the proper build-up to give the audience a rooting interest.
Everyone gets screen time: While it’s true that this movie focuses mostly on four main characters—Cap, Falcon, Iron-Man and Bucky—it does manage to give everyone a moment to shine. It doesn’t fall victim to the problem we saw in the first X-Men trilogy where some characters were shunted to the side (Poor Cyclops) to allow the spotlight to shine on Wolverine. Here, everyone gets something cool to do. While some, like Spider-Man and Ant-Man, don’t get a lot of screen time, they do make a lasting impression while they are present. Spider-Man does his bantering thing, while Ant-man (who also has his great Giant-Man moment) matches Spidey joke-for-joke, especially with his line to Tony “I’m your conscience. We haven’t spoken in a while.” (It figures Disney would sneak in a Pinocchio/Jiminy Cricket reference.)
No World Building: Civil War learned a lesson from previous films like Age of Ultron, Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Batman v. Superman. That lesson is…Don’t focus on setting up future films; focus on doing this one right! Unlike those films—which felt like a two-hour plus trailer for future movies—Civil War doesn’t get bogged down in multiple teaser subplots meant to segue into upcoming Marvel film. They didn’t mention Klaw, even though the Black Panther was there. They didn’t set up a villain for the Spider-Man solo film. Nor did Thanos appear. The only things designed to led into future films were the two post-credit scenes. Other than that, Civil War was much more ‘in-the-moment’ than Age of Ultron and other recent comic book films.
Overall, despite some minor quibbles and the annoying use of the shaky-cam in the first half of the film, this is an excellent super hero adventure and a respectful adaptation of the comic book source material.