Hi everybody! We here at DtHL wanted to try something new, which is actually something that many sites before us have done and we’re curious to try out. That something new is actually just a cool conversation between two (or more) individuals on a certain film or films. These will be spoiler-heavy pieces and sometimes work in tandem with our regular reviews. For our inaugural entry, Juan and Ross have selected Captain America: Civil War, which just hit theaters this month.
Juan: So Ross, we were both fond of the last Russo Brothers Marvel Cinematic Universe installment—Captain America: Winter Soldier—but both ended up with mixed feelings about Civil War. The most glaring issue for me lies in the fact that Civil War feels disjointed as a film; it wants to be a continuation of Winter Soldier while simultaneously being a continuation of Age of Ultron. And considering those are two thoroughly different films, those moods and narrative strings felt incredibly at odds with each other within this movie. One half basically amounts to The Continuing Adventures of Bucky and Cap, which works as a good action-packed drama that studies the residual effects of Bucky’s Cold War time period. The other half is this heavy-handed, and very loose, adaptation of Mark Millar’s Civil War comics that felt more like a lazy excuse to have characters continue to argue with each other, while introducing new folks for Infinity War (resulting in what is arguably the film’s best feature: its centerpiece twelve-man fight sequence). As for the way they’re tied together through Tony Stark’s emotional issues, I’m still not entirely sure if I think that worked or not.
Ross: One of the things I was really excited about going into this movie was how they were going to use Tony. It feels like his story concluded pretty neatly in Iron Man 3 and that he was ready for a bit of a shake-up. He continues the thread that was started in Age of Ultron, his conscience is getting the better of him. I half expected Stark to be something of a villain here and was totally game for that kind of re-invention but instead he’s the co-lead. I really like Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in this film—it might be his best in the MCU yet—but I am becoming bored with the filmmaker’s fear of doing something risky with him and their insistence at keeping him at the centre of it all, in a Captain America movie of all things! I completely agree that the film feels disjointed. It took me a long time to actually get settled into the movie because the focus was so scattershot. I feel like we’ve gotten to this dangerous point in the MCU now where the seed-planting for future movies is actually starting to damage the individual adventures.
This movie just feels so cluttered and busy! Characters are still being introduced two thirds of the way through. By the time we got to the actual royal rumble, I wasn’t as invested as I should have been. Plus it’s pretty pointless in the bigger scheme of things. The real conflict in this film seems to come from Daniel Brühl’s character. The big battle seemed very light-hearted to me, more akin to a bunch of buddies having a mild disagreement and sorting it out with a scrap rather than a serious conflict with consequences. I’ve never read Millar’s source comic book, but I assumed the event was rather cataclysmic and epic, no? Here we get a bunch of people in suits quipping and flinging each other around an empty air strip (also a very uninspired and anonymous backdrop, couldn’t they have destroyed Avengers headquarters or something?)
I’ve gotten to the point now where I really want to see one of these characters die a tragic death. Not because I dislike them, but because I think the MCU really needs to introduce some genuine stakes. They killed Coulson but brought him back on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. They killed Quicksilver a/k/a the least interesting character in Age of Ultron and the worst they can dish out here is dropping Rhodey out of the sky and putting him in some Stark-Tech crutches. Why not kill Tony? It feels like we’re ready for that now. This whole movie felt like a missed opportunity in dishing out some serious death. Am I just being cruel? Or do you feel like all of these characters are way too safe?
Juan: You’re absolutely not being cruel; someone major needs to die at this point in the MCU because it’s all so painfully boring. One of the first things that happens in the aftermath of Civil War is that Captain America/Steve is assassinated by a brainwashed Sharon Carter (which way later proves untrue) and Tony Stark becomes the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. I was fairly convinced the tables would be turned and Tony Stark would be killed her by Steve, as the way the scene was being framed seemed to imply that Steve would accidentally kill him by breaking his chest magnet. But nope. He just sidesteps it and does the same thing every modern blockbuster does: avoid death by showing the individual safe and sound and reassuring the audience with jokes, which led to arguably the worst Stan Lee cameo yet.
But, even if they did kill someone, I don’t actually think the people in charge here understand the weight of death within this universe. Quicksilver is only referred to in passing by Hawkeye (and I actually think this is the first time they nailed Clint’s personality), while Peggy’s death and funeral are sped through so the film can on Steve and Sharon’s relationship. Nothing about the funeral feels impacting because we haven’t seen Peggy and Steve together since 2011. They sort of co-opt a scene that should be tender to focus on the heavy-handed nature of guilt and accountability that Civil War spends forever trying to build to. So much of the first act of this movie is retreading what Ultron already said with regard to accountability for the sake of reinforcing the Civil War plotline. I almost screamed when that Alfre Woodard scene happened because she felt so shoved in and was really never mentioned again. It might have been more interesting if she’d had a tangible connection to a supporting character or had her be a relative of Miles Morales if he’d been including instead of Peter Parker (who we’ll get to in a moment).
Like you said, the real conflict comes from Brühl and I’d also toss in T’Challa, considering Chadwick Boseman’s performance alongside Brühl’s (once the campiness of the first half is left aside for his sort-of basic backstory) is the only moment I felt anyone on screen was really emotionally vulnerable. For all the focus on Tony Stark and his parents’ death, Boseman has such a presence and line-delivery that I don’t think Robert Downey Jr. does because of the fact that we’ve seen him so often already. But speaking of the performances, do you think everyone here is on the same wavelength? And who do you think gets the shortest end of the stick? I hate to slide back into complaining about the characterization of women in the MCU, but Wanda is basically a prisoner with little-to-do in this movie, Natasha is thankfully mostly reverted to being Steve’s best pal after her abysmal Ultron treatment, and Aunt May pretty much just exists because Marisa Tomei is gorgeous and with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) gone, Tony Stark needs to be gross and tacky again by talking to a teenager about how hot his aunt is.
Ross: I actually think one of the strengths of these movies is how, for better or worse, they always try to give every member of their packed ensembles a moment to shine. I never feel like the characters are massively underdeveloped or forgettable. It’s pretty amazing how well-rounded T’Challa and even Spider-Man are here considering they are shoe-horned into a movie that doesn’t belong to them. I do get frustrated at the actual characterization sometimes. It’s hard to tell the direction they’re going to take with Tomei’s Aunt May and Tony’s flirtation with her felt very in-character to me even if it is very leery (but then again it is Marisa Tomei, aren’t we all leering at her?). It’s an inspired bit of casting though and I’m sure there’s going to be some interesting stuff with her in the future.
I definitely agree that Wanda was done a disservice here. The entire crux of the movie begins with a mistake she makes and I would have liked for that to have had more of a significant through-line. Most of her scenes seem more anchored on a budding romance between her and Vision. Or maybe I was just reading them wrong? Are they a will they/won’t they item in the comics? Much has been said about Black Widow over the years and, like you, I’m glad she didn’t get pushed into a love-interest subplot this time around. She might be my favourite character in the MCU as much for the potential she holds as well as her actual on-screen track record. I mean, her flashbacks in Age of Ultron and the allusions to her backstory are fascinating to me (to beat a dead horse: where the hell is the Black Widow solo movie?). But yes, I thought she had a lot of the strongest moments in Civil War and manages them without being sexualised in the slightest. It’s a wonderful moment when the most sexualised character in a mainstream blockbuster is the male lead. The Russos/Kevin Feige love showing off Evans’ bod. That helicopter grab scene might be the most homoerotic moment in the MCU yet!
I think Brühl’s villain could have done with a bit more setting up. Again, for such a significant chapter in MCU’s history, it would have been nice for him to have been set-up or alluded to a few movies ago. He seemed to be a bit of a trojan horse to sneak in the big reveal regarding the Winter Soldier and Ma and Pa Stark. Speaking of which, how did you feel about that? It felt like one connection too many for me. I’m not sure the filmmakers needed to make the disagreement between Tony and Steve so personal in order push Tony over the edge. The “he killed my parents!” card just feels too easy.
Juan: See, here’s where we disagree a bit. I don’t think any of the characters are particularly well-rounded because of the fact that we’re stuck with so goddamn many of them. They’re all sort of reduced to face-value, to quips and personality traits that we’ve sort of seen elsewhere. I’m not sure I’m willing to trust May’s direction yet, but Sony has consistently gotten the best performances out of women in Spider-Man (Kirsten Dunst, Emma Stone, and Sally Field), so here’s hoping. As for Vision and Wanda, that’s totally a thing in the comics (they get married in the 70s), but it felt kind of uncomfortable and vaguely Stockholm syndrome-y to me. And we’re both totally on the same page about Natasha being the favorite character in the MCU.
As for the Russos and Feige, I’m so very tired of the way they are trying so hard to tie everything together neatly. It’s a shame because I actually think the Russo brothers are really talented filmmakers and their talent only half-shines here. There was a great Vulture piece published recently where they discussed how the auteur model was dead within Hollywood and I find myself more convinced of that with every single Marvel movie that releases. The filmmaking here is so… disjointed? The first two fight scenes, which overall I think are solid in pacing and execution, felt really poorly cut together. If you have such great fight choreography, you don’t just toss it aside for a lot of quick cuts that make everything feel like a blur. If I’m watching Black Widow fighting two men in a market, I want to see her fighting two men with as few interruptions as possible. Same with the scene in Bucky’s apartment building, which as riveting as it was, could have totally been a little more Raid-esque and all the better for it.
That said, I think the more the movie rolls along, the more comfortable the editing and the execution of the fight scenes becomes. I know you’re not totally here for the big battle, but outside of that stupid “we’re running toward each other” bit, I loved it. Yes, it’s super light and full of quips, but it worked for me. Same thing goes for the entire “Bucky gone rogue” sequence, which moves so fluidly and intensely and is arguably the closest we get to the same style of filmmaking that we experienced with Winter Soldier. That and the final fight, however half-assed its emotion were, as well. Actually, I think I can comfortably say that the action unfolding (with the exception of the first two fights) is my favorite thing about this movie. No, wait, that’s a lie. I’m jumping back to that gorgeous and completely gratuitous shot of Chris Evans’ muscles as Steve tries to hold onto a goddamn helicopter. As forced as the heterosexuality is in this movie (because Winter Soldier was drowning in deliciously implied bisexuality for Steve), that shot was too good to be true.
Ross: I keep coming back to Winter Soldier when thinking about Civil War too. It doesn’t have that movie’s assured sense of tone and genre. I think the MCU movies are at their strongest when they are allowed to stand-alone and have their own identity. My favorite ones are examples of this: Iron Man 3 is a Shane Black movie, Ant-Man is a heist movie, The Avengers is a Joss Whedon movie, Captain America: The First Avenger is a 30s action adventure serial and Winter Soldier is a paranoid 70s thriller. Civil War is much harder to identify because it’s so cluttered and reliant on the personalities of the characters rather than the filmmakers. It feels like the finale to a season of episodic TV rather than a proper movie. I really hope it’s not a sign of things to come: increasingly busy ensembles lacking tonal consistency in favor of seed-planting.
All that being said, it’s very entertaining and jam-packed with set-pieces. Unlike Batman v. Superman (how did we get this far without comparing the two?), it’s never boring, drab, or lifeless. I’m looking forward to seeing it a second time as I wonder if my inability to settle throughout the first half will have disappeared, allowing me to enjoy it more. I agree that the fight sequences could do with a bit more patience and confidence in the shot choices. I don’t think there’s anything here that comes close to the Nick Fury assassination attempt from Winter Soldier in terms of constant subverting of expectations but they’re good enough and most importantly, we care enough about the characters now and that counts for something. That instantly-iconic trailer shot of Steve and Bucky hammering Tony to the ground in the Iron Man suit packs a lot of punch and it’s a truly devastating image to sit through (in a good way) because of how brutal it is. I just wish, y’know, that they accidentally beat him to death to make it REALLY devastating. I’d definitely rank this movie higher than Age of Ultron, mainly because the Russos seem to have far more faith in the movie they’re making than Whedon did and their passion for the project is felt throughout, but it does carry over a lot of that film’s faults like you said. It’s far from my favorite MCU movie but judging from the consensus online I seem to be in the minority there. How about you, Juan? Final thoughts?
Juan: I think we’re pretty much on the same page about the film as a whole. It’s by no means a bad movie, but it’s not the great work of blockbuster art that everyone is hailing it to be. I realize Rotten Tomatoes is a flawed system, but this movie being at a 90% is so baffling to me. This is the kind of thing that should be comfortably seated at Ultron‘s 75% while that one ranks alongside BvS. But that’s me being nitpicky and I think we’ve made a strong enough case for what needs to happen in the future for the MCU to better itself. That said, I don’t think it’s something that’s going to happen considering the upcoming Russo installments are Infinity War, Part 1 and Infinity War, Part 2, which implies that it’ll probably feel even more episodic than this one. Bright side: we’ll always have the hope that Thor: Ragnarok (and some of the other vaguely “stand-alone” movies like Ant-Man and The Wasp starring the love of my life, and Civil War standout, Paul Rudd) will be awesome, solely because Mark Ruffalo described it as “Midnight Run with the Hulk and Thor.”
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo; written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely; starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, and Daniel Brühl; 147 minutes.