This post contains lots of SPOILERS for Captain America: Civil War (released May 6th in the U.S.). So here’s the poster and the trailer, go no further if you haven’t seen it yet!
Now that you’re still scrolling, on to Civil War, both recap and review, with some of my favorite quips.
I saw it on opening night, and had to go again to watch it, to be sure. Before I dig in, full disclosure: I’m team Iron Man all the way, but I also feel like this was the Avengers movie we wanted Age of Ultron to be. It was beautiful, it had great characterization, and the fight scenes were entertaining. So I’m going to critique some of this movie, but overall, I did love it.
There is a lot of fighting in this movie. A lot, even for a Marvel movie, and not that many explosions. In fact, if you trimmed out all fighting scenes, the rest of the movie cuts would probably be under 30 minutes of a two and a half hour movie. I hope you’re ready to see some punching. Some warnings if you’re bringing the kids: Look out for about 8 black eyes (that I counted), as well as a similar number of bloody lips/broken noses. There’s a gratuitous drowning scene where one bad guy kills another. Otherwise, this follows the usual MCU trend where anyone who dies dies off-scene or in an explosion.
The movie opens first with a Winter Soldier flashback of December 16, 1991. It follows it up with a fun, entertaining series of fight scenes chasing bad guys through Lagos, where we get to see a few new tricks the Avengers have set up, and fight a villain whose entire purpose is just to be beat up for a bit in the opening scenes. For some reason, all of these scenes are shot with a lot of camera shake, which might add to the urgency, but also distracts from the fights and makes it hard to see or enjoy the choreography. Of course, in the end, Wanda (Scarlet Witch) winds up accidentally sending an exploding man (Crossbones) flying toward a building and inconveniently killing some people. She’s distraught, the United Nations are pissed, and Wakanda (the mythical country where Vibranium and Black Panther come from) proposes the Sokovia Accords.
And here we come to the beginning of a very long, not-so-friendly argument, and one of the many themes threading through Civil War. We shift to Stark giving a talk at MIT, reliving the last time he saw his parents (foreshadowing). He’s confronted by a woman (Miriam Sharpe for the comic enthusiasts) who points out that the Avengers’ heroics in Sokovia cost a lot of lives, including that of her son. So Stark is already feeling guilty and sad when he meets up with the rest of the crew at the Avengers Compound to discuss options with Ross, the Secretary of State. Ross has an ultimatum: Sign these agreements to only fight when the UN tells you, or retire. And this is when the Avengers realize they have different approaches to what being a hero means. Arrogance, the god complex, a not-so-subtle blue vs red rises up from this discussion. And then Cap gets a phone call: Peggy is dead.
Cap meets up with Agent 13 to say goodbye, and confesses to Nat (Black Widow) that he feels like he’s lost everyone from his life. That’s an ongoing theme. The Avengers feel old, feel tired, feel like they’re losing all their closest friends and family and loved ones. It’s likely a lead-in to Avengers: Infinity Wars, when the younger generation is going to take over.
Now, I’m Team Iron Man (#teamstark) because I feel that there should be no power without accountability. It’s fair to say that Stark has gone through a lot of personal character growth since the original Iron Man, and he’s even kind enough to cover some of that for the viewers when he’s discussing options with Cap. Ultimately, he decides to go sign the accords, along with Black Widow, War Machine (Rhodey), and Vision (who doesn’t actually go, because he’s keeping Scarlet Witch under house arrest).
Insert a random moment where The Bad Guy meets another bad guy, asks him about December 16, 1991, kills him, and steals The Winter Soldier’s notebook.
At the Signing of the Accords, we first meet Chadwick Boseman’s character, T’Challa, as well as his father–who will be fridged momentarily. The term means a character who is a person of color, queer, or a woman exists and gets killed just to move the plot forward.
Fast forward a bit and, in a really unlikely scenario where 117 UN country representatives are all completely vulnerable and unprotected, a van explodes and somehow only impacts inward to destroy the side of the building and “kill 12, injure 70,” one of whom is King T’Chaka. Naturally, his son is both sad and angry.
Conveniently Bucky, the Winter Soldier, is blamed, because someone saw some blurry video. For the next 15 minutes, everyone is going to try to find this guy–but remember that Cap and Falcon did not sign the papers, so Black Widow asks them to stay out of it so they won’t be acting illegally.
They ignore her. It’s what Cap does.
The fight scenes that result are really rapid-paced and cool, including a moment where Bucky grabs a motorcycle from motion and swings it under himself, and another moment when they have to outrun a rolling van. But this segment is very shaky as well, and for some reason this is the only fight sequence where sound doesn’t make sense. Specifically, any time someone’s feet hit the ground, the impact is much quieter than it should be. Catlike reflexes might make sense for Black Panther, who is brilliant in this whole scene. But it simply doesn’t make sense for a guy like Bucky, with so much metal, or Cap, to land quietly–especially since they make plenty of noise landing during other segments.
Long story short, they bring in Bucky. He gets locked up in a miniature version of the Hulk enclosure tank. All the others are sanctioned and brought in to an office under house arrest. Stark and Cap argue about whether it’s OK to lock people up for their own protection. The bad guy cuts the power, activates The Winter Soldier, asks him about December 16, 1991, and a lot more fighting happens.
Keep your eyes peeled for the Gratuitous Arm Scene where Cap stops a helicopter from taking off with his arms. And then they plummet into the water, and he saves Bucky from drowning as a flashback to The Winter Soldier when Bucky saved him. Somehow they escape without anyone finding them, he puts Bucky in a vice, and Bucky informs him that The Bad Guy is going to go activate five more Winter Soldiers. They rush away and meet up with Agent 13, who gives them their gear from lockup and shares the weirdest, least chemistry-filled kiss I have ever seen in a super hero movie.
Also in this scene:
Bucky: “Can you move your seat up?”
Bucky scoots over.
So they need more pals, and Sam Wilson has an idea. He knows a guy. Hawkeye springs into action and rescues Wanda from her oversight by Vision. She gets one of the best character lines here:
Vision: “If you do this, they will never stop fearing you.”
Wanda: “I cannot control their fear. Only my own.”
He also picks up Antman.
And back at the UN headquarters or wherever they are bunkered down, Stark and Black Widow agree that they also need more assistance. So they call some folks. But they know Hulk wouldn’t be on their side. They don’t even discuss Thor (who is understandably busy, since Ragnarok comes out later this year). They need somebody really strong. Enter Spiderman, but from only a few months after he’s turned. He’s cute, young, naive, nerdy, and well done. Stark bribes him with a new suit.
Everyone meets at an airport which has fortunately been evacuated. That’s convenient, really.
And then they fight. Do they ever. Finally, the camera shake has stopped, and from here on out all of the action is played evenly. It’s almost like they had two different shooting (or editing) teams, because the movie changes from this point onward. They fight, throw everything they’ve got at it, and the fight is full of cute quips and one-liners from virtually everyone.
The battle is between Iron Man, Black Panther, Black Widow, War Machine, Spiderman, and Vision against Captain America, Falcon, Antman, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and Winter Soldier. It’s a mess, with most everyone “pulling their punches” and the best lines going to Black Widow and Hawkeye:
Black Widow: “We’re still friends, right?” as she’s holding him down
Hawkeye: “That depends on how hard you hit me.”
Runner up, when Spiderman is webbing both Winter Soldier and Falcon, and Falcon uses his flying drone to knock Spiderman out. They’re left webbed together on the ground.
Winter Soldier: “You couldn’t have done that before?”
Falcon: “I hate you.”
Cap’s team agrees to sacrifice themselves to get Cap and Bucky to the Quinjet so they can chase after The Bad Guy. Black Widow intercepts them, and then realizes that the only way this tragedy will stop is if she lets Cap go. She keeps Black Panther from following them, but War Machine and Iron Man give pursuit, with Falcon right behind them. Vision takes a shot at Falcon, who dodges, and it hits War Machine’s arc reactor. He plummets to the ground with both Iron Man and Falcon trying to catch him.
The thud when he hits the ground is sickening. For a few moments, you think they’re taking out Rhodey.
He lives. But the whole team is collected, most of them are locked up by Secretary Ross in a super security prison in the middle of the ocean.
On his way to visit them, Stark finds out that The Bad Guy faked being The Winter Soldier, that The Bad Guy is really Zemo, a special forces agent from Sokovia. He sends all the evidence to Ross, who doesn’t care. He visits the prison, knocks out the sound, talks to Falcon. Falcon sends him after Cap, but he “must go alone, and as a friend.”
This is a long synopsis because this is a long movie. We’re rounding the corner to the last leg.
Somehow, Zemo, Cap, and Iron Man (stealthily followed by Black Panther) all arrive at the Sekrit Base of Hydra in Syberia. Tony tells Cap he’s there to help and that he knows Bucky didn’t do it. They’re pretending to be pals again, until they find Zemo.
He tells them his plan, that a team destroyed from within is Dead Forever.
Zemo has killed the super soldiers, and it turns out he really just wanted to get them there for Iron Man to see this video where Bucky did a halfassed job of erasing evidence and just murdered Iron Man’s parents in 1991. On video.
Cap knows, at that moment, that hell has arrived. But hey, he still wants to defend his pal. So they fight A LOT.
Cap: “You know this won’t bring them back.”
Stark: “I don’t care. He killed my mom.”
BOOM, KERPOW, ZAP!
Stark: “Do you even remember them?”
Bucky: “I remember all of them.”
Meanwhile, Black Panther almost kills Zemo, but Zemo talks about his family dying and his whole plan to shake them apart. Black Panther decides not to be motivated by revenge, and takes Zemo prisoner.
Fortunately, this fight isn’t all shaky either, because it’s going round and round a long metal stairway. They beat the crap out of each other. Stark rips Bucky’s metal arm off.
Cap: “He’s my friend.”
Stark: “So was I.”
Stark analyzes Cap’s fight patterns and gets him on the ground.
Stark: “Stay down! Final warning.”
Cap: “I could do this all day.”
Cap ends the fight by jamming his shield down into the arc reactor, almost totally crippling Stark.
(Stark does not die at this time. The eels do not get him. I’m telling you because you look a little nervous.)
Cap starts to walk away, and Stark tells him he doesn’t deserve the shield that Tony’s father made. Cap leaves the shield.
And then we get to see the aftermath. Stark builds paralysis-overcoming leg adapters for Rhodey. Vision is lonely.
Zemo is being interrogated.
Ross (the one from the UN, played by Martin Short) asks Zemo “how it feels to fail so completely.”
“Did I?” Zemo asks. *Foreshadowing, dun dun dun*
Stark gets a letter from Cap, apologizing, but also telling him to call if he needs anything.
And then we see Cap break the rest of the team out of that floating prison.
This movie is a story of revenge, loss, sadness, that ironically kills fewer nameless people than any previous MCU movie. But despite having more female superheroes than any previous movie (with the addition of Agent 13), and even cases where the women speak at each other, it still doesn’t pass the Bechdel Wallace test. Would it have been so hard for 13 and BW to talk when they were standing next to each other? Or for BW to respond when she is challenged by T’Challa’s female body guard?
There are two ending-credit scenes. Both are clearly foreshadowing. In the first, Black Panther accepts the responsibility of looking after Bucky, who is going into stasis until they can find a way to clear up the Hydra training.
The second is the new Spiderman, playing with a computer upgrade Stark gave him.
In conclusion, this movie definitely improved on some of the MCU’s lazier tactics (NOT killing thousands/millions of usually-POC extras who exist only to run from danger, for example). Black Widow dodged weird relationship stuff and had incredible fight scenes. Agent 13 even got a decent fight, though she got stuck being a Peggy surrogate in a weird way. Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther was spot on, and I can’t wait for his own movie. The characters mostly didn’t act out of character, which is much improved over the way Age of Ultron turned them. I just hope the Russo brothers ditch that epilepsy-inducing camera shake. We did that in Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s not necessary in the MCU.
Kronda Seibert plays video games. If her social media is to be believed, she also absorbs all the superhero movies and occasionally leaves the house to go to work as a computer Systems Engineer/Architect.
Aside from writing for PopCultureBeast, Kronda splits her time between running the science fiction convention AnomalyCon, reading comics and SciFi/Fantasy novels, doing computer science, and blogging about intersectional representation in all things geek.