The Greatest Conservative Films: Captain America: Civil War (2016)
By Eric M. Blake and Ronald A. Rowe
Team Iron Man: “There’s no decision-making process here. We need to be put in check! …If we can’t accept limitations—if we’re boundary-less—then we’re no better than the bad guys.”
Team Cap: “What if this panel sends us somewhere we don’t think we should go? What if there’s somewhere we need to go, and they don’t let us? We may not be perfect, but the safest hands are still our own.”
All right folks. As promised. And as promised, this article’s going to get…complicated.
My esteemed colleague, Ronald Rowe—long-time friend and co-worker of mine, from my time at the now-defunct sites Camp Campaign and FlickRev—is my co-author for this one. The reason why is simple: He loves this movie a heck of a lot more than I do—and about as much as most people do. He does view Captain America: Civil War as excellent—and as such, he’ll handle the “Why It’s A Great Film” section.
To be clear, while I stand by everything I’ve said and written about Civil War, I don’t hate this film—at all. I don’t even particularly dislike it.
I think it’s okay.
There are a lot of things to like about it. I just think there are a lot of things holding it back. And for a variety of reasons, a lot of people tend to downplay those flaws—often while playing up the flaws of, say, Batman v. Superman. I happen to love that film (Ultimate Cut, of course), and I just might give it the spotlight, soon.
That’s my disclaimer, then. Now, why even include this film on my list at all, if I don’t think it’s particularly “great”?
First, I’m all too aware that I’m in the vast minority on this. And as respected online film critic John Campea often says, “All film is subjective.” Fans of Civil War just happen to think its good qualities outweigh the flaws—and I understand that. I feel the same way about BvS. In this case, I accept, it’s all a matter of perspective.
As such, I’m not necessarily going to shun a film from this series just because I think it’s “overrated”. (If I think a film stinks, that’s another issue…but as I said, I don’t hate Civil War.) I will promote films I think are underrated, but I’m far less likely to do the reverse.
Second—and more importantly—the politics of this film are so prominent that I just have to talk about them.
Before Ron’s section, I’ll give my critique, where I’ll lay out exactly what my problems are with the film. His part comes last, as I tend to prefer when reviews end on a high note. I ask that our readers take in the whole thing—both perspectives—and come to their own conclusions. Maybe even, in the comments section, let us know where you lean.
Besides…I’d like to think this special approach is all too appropriate, considering the film’s subject matter.
One last thing—SPOILER ALERT for this film, for Avengers: Age of Ultron, and in a way for Spiderman: Homecoming. You’ve been warned.
And so, dear readers—without further ado…
WHY IT’S A CONSERVATIVE FILM:
Some things happen at such an unbelievably perfect time, it becomes proof that not only does God exist, but He’s got a real flair for the dramatic.
2016 had at least three films come out that beautifully conveyed exactly what was going down, politically. (Four, if you count Hell Or High Water, said to dramatically depict the plight of working Americans who, feeling ignored by Obama, would soon vote for Trump. But then, I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t seen that movie, yet. I hear it’s a masterpiece.)
13 Hours kicked off the year with a searing indictment of whoever it was in our government that prevented our military apparatus from providing the support our boys at Benghazi needed.
When the other two movies—both superhero films—came out, they perfectly paralleled a certain feud raging on in our politics. Of course…they came out during the heat of Primary Season. And frankly, the Democrat side was pretty placid and quiet—at least compared to the stuff going down on our end.
The two films, of course, were Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Captain America: Civil War.
Just to be clear: the Trumpist vs. Cruzer clash that reverberated throughout the Conservative movement wasn’t a point for point parallel to those cinematic clashes, per se. But the issues raised in those films—more blatantly in Civil War—point to a rift long simmering in Conservatism, beginning roughly in the Bush era. Tensions simmered, then—more-or-less settling down in the Obama years, the Tea Party serving to reconcile things…for the time being.
It took the clashes of 2016 for the tensions to erupt once again—albeit for somewhat different reasons, though they arguably do connect.
But the “original” rift’s the biggest theme, for this one.
The Reason For The Accords:
The trouble starts after Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch, tries to disable a suicide bomb to save Captain America—inadvertently causing collateral damage in the process. And as former General—now Secretary of State—“Thunderbolt” Ross notes, it isn’t the first time. In general, despite the many debts the world owes the Avengers…there are issues:
“What would you call a group of U.S.-based enhanced individuals who routinely ignore sovereign borders and inflict their will wherever they choose—and who, frankly, seem unconcerned about what they leave behind?”
He shows the team images and recordings of the collateral damage done in the final battles of Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Avengers: Age Of Ultron, concluding:
“For the past four years, you’ve operated with unlimited power and no supervision. That’s an arrangement the governments of the world can no longer tolerate.”
All well and good…except the solution involves supervision by a U.N. panel that would decide when and when not the Avengers can act.
Bit of an overreaction…especially when the issue clearly parallels U.N. opinion about American interventionism and “imperialism”.
Still, collateral damage is collateral damage—and the Avengers have to acknowledge that people have died in that damage. The Sokovia Accords may overreach and need amendments, as even Tony comes to admit…but could oversight in itself actually be necessary?
And so, the Avengers sit down and talk it over:
Team Iron Man—Law & Order:
Vision notes that, amid all the escalation—supervillains and other threats rising to “challenge” the heroes—“Oversight is not an idea that can be dismissed out of hand.” And having proven worthy enough to hold Thor’s hammer, Vision certainly has the credibility to speak with moral authority.
Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, makes sure to put a face on this side of the argument—a face given to him by a grieving mother, whose son perished in the final battle against Ultron, because “we dropped a building on him while we were kicking a—.”
Even Black Widow, who in The Winter Soldier stuck it to a government panel, notes that “We have made some very public mistakes. We need to win their trust back.” And as Tony adds, if the Avengers don’t agree to the Accords, the world will instead impose oversight on them—almost certainly even more limiting.
Checks & Balances—oversight in the name of security and safety. Such is the Neoconservative philosophy, flourishing under the Bush era and promoted by Nick Fury and the “good” SHIELD sans HYDRA. And considering how valid the concerns are of unencumbered actions sans the “reining in” of law and order…Team Iron Man does have a point.
Of course, so does the other team.
Team Cap—Agency & Freedom:
Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, doesn’t see the Accords as the heroes taking responsibility—just the opposite: He sees it as shifting the burdens onto others. Further, he’s got a very understandable problem with having the U.N. overseeing them, as “it’s run by people with agendas—and agendas change.”
And remember, in The Winter Soldier, we already saw how HYDRA took SHIELD’s noble agenda of security…and corrupted it into tyranny—just as Obama took the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld security apparatus and corrupted it into the Deep State we know today…forcing us to make strange bedfellows with Julian Assange, and maybe even Edward Snowden.
After Bucky’s first captured, Cap even notes he’s willing to relent, provided the Accords get amended. But then he quickly changes his mind, once he hears that Tony’s keeping Wanda under house arrest.
Such is the Libertarian perspective—that “They that give up essential Liberty for temporary Security deserve neither Liberty nor Security.” The question, of course, is what is “essential”.
The Clash—And What It Means:
It’s Good vs. Good—Right vs. Right, in both senses of the word. HYDRA was the Left, of course, and it’s all but wiped off the map. In the meantime, those on the Right have to realize that they only thing that can destroy us is…ourselves.
In a way, it’s a tension that’s existed since our founding. The “Team Iron Man” of the day were the Federalists—John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. The “Team Cap” were the Democratic-Republicans—Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Both teams instrumental in the formation of our Founding Principles. Both sides heroic, noble, and American. One side just emphasized security and stability a bit more, and the other centered on liberty and autonomy.
The Left, as we know it today, only really showed up near the end of the 19th Century, with the “Progressives”. A parasite infesting our nation. “Hail HYDRA.”
But despite a common enemy, the rift still existed on the side of good—and still exists, to this day.
For Bonus Points:
Way back in the last presidential election cycle, as I noted in my The Dark Knight Rises article, the comic writers who created Bane praised Mitt Romney as a real-life Bruce Wayne.
Frankly, if Romney’s Bruce Wayne…I would say Donald Trump is Tony Stark—the brilliant billionaire with a flamboyant personality, love of dominating a room, and “playboy” persona. And ultimately a dealmaker who wants to settle disputes whenever possible—to be pragmatic about it, so as to get things done.
So would Ted Cruz be Steve Rogers? Well…I’d think so. He’s idealistic and stubborn enough, with the principles of freedom as his driving force. He’s far from a pragmatist—that’s Trump’s end, as with Stark. But Cruz knows his philosophy, holding true to values and principles—and he’s the one who plants his feet like a tree beside the River of Truth and says, “No…you move.”
As I said…an appropriate film to come out in 2016. And again, they were both right.
WHAT HOLDS THE FILM BACK:
I still remember how deeply powerful the first trailer for Civil War was—how it fully captured everything I wanted the movie to be—a haunting, tragic drama, where Cap’s devotion to Bucky leads him to defy the law…leading to the tearing apart of the Avengers, and the destruction of his friendship with Tony.
“He’s my friend.” “…So was I.” Powerful.
That was the movie we were promised. That was the movie I expected. And if that had been the movie we got, I’d be the first one praising it to the hilt—no “complications”, nothing.
But it wasn’t the movie we got.
Baron Zemo—His Presence:
There are two issues I have with the villain of this film—and they’re big ones.
First of all, I’m not too convinced Zemo’s presence was even necessary. The character wasn’t even in any of the publicity for this film—the way the film was sold, it appeared there wasn’t a “true” villain in the film. The conflict seemed purely between Team Cap and Team Iron Man, with Bucky’s instability as simply the spark lighting the powder keg. Cap wants to protect his friend and help him—Tony’s crew is sent by the authorities to take the Winter Soldier down. Liberty vs. Law-&-Order. Good vs. Good.
That’s precisely what I wanted Civil War to be—a powerful tragedy where the two sides—Team Iron Man and Team Cap—were both, in their own way, right. And that’s precisely what was promised.
See, when handled well, Good vs. Good can be far more dramatic, far more compelling, and far more intense than “straight” Good vs. Evil. Having a bad guy show up as the manipulator of the conflict effectively delegitimizes the clash between the heroes. Suddenly it’s not a thought-provoking conflict, anymore.
Mind you, if the “point” of the heroes clashing is that they’re both wrong…then revealing that a villain’s pulling the strings arguably helps the tragedy. That’s why I’m fine with Lex Luthor’s presence in Batman v. Superman. More on that another time.
But when the “point” is that the heroes are both right—well, a villain manipulating things just takes away from the effectiveness of that point.
Baron Zemo—How He Was Handled:
The MCU has a reputation, nowadays, about making its villains…less than compelling. Recently, that’s started to change, with Guardians 2 and Spiderman: Homecoming. But before that, besides Red Skull and Loki, there’ve been…issues.
Ultron had beautiful characterization—but he didn’t come across nearly as threatening as he could have been…i.e. as threatening as the trailers for Avengers 2 actually promised. Meanwhile, most of the other baddies have been…pretty much “faceless”.
To be perfectly blunt, I feel Baron Zemo in Civil War is the low point of this trend. For in this film, they took one of Captain America’s toughest and most compelling villains…and made him Just Some Guy.
Yes, plot-wise, he’s a threat—and as defenders of the film eagerly point out, he’s the one MCU villain besides Loki so far who at least partially succeeds in getting his way. He pretty much wins in the end. I grant that.
It still doesn’t change the fact that, as a character, there’s barely anything memorable about Zemo. He’s a small figure going in and out of things—an unimpressive type, with no charisma or appeal. He’s mildly creepy…and that’s pretty much it.
Yes, he’s got a backstory as a family man—and yes, his family died and he blames the Avengers, instead of Ultron. And yet, I just don’t feel anything about that. I do feel for Loki—and I do feel for Vulture. The intended sympathy for them is crafted well, and channeled well.
Baron Zemo has a recording of a phone message from his wife that he plays over and over, implied to be the last time he ever heard her voice. It could’ve been channeled well…had it been, well, channeled well.
In my opinion, it wasn’t. It felt…cold. Forced. Manipulative.
The “New Guys”:
I’m very torn over the inclusion of Spiderman in this movie. To be clear: Peter Parker’s introduction sequence, as he opens up to Tony, is excellent. I love that scene. And I love how Spidey’s characterized in the film.
I just really felt they put it in the wrong movie.
Having Spidey—and Ant-Man, while we’re at it—brought into the fold in this movie, frankly, hurts the emotional impact of the film, for one simple reason:
The whole “point”, emotionally, of this rift amongst the Avengers is that it’s the tragic clash of friends—people who know each other, trusted each other, and fought alongside each other, thick and thin. And bringing these two new guys into the fold takes away from that.
Ant-Man and Spidey don’t have a dog in this fight. They don’t have a clue about the emotional stakes involved. They don’t know anybody on the other side—certainly not as friends.
As Tony himself notes to Scott Lang aka Ant-Man at one point, “Who are you?”
Here’s the thing, though: Marvel had just gotten the rights to use Spiderman back. In a perfect world, I’d have much preferred Spidey been introduced in, say, Avengers: Age Of Ultron. But it’s not a perfect world.
I’ll be honest, though: Were I Kevin Feige—were I in charge of the MCU—I wouldn’t have put Civil War JUST after the introduction film for someone we were going to bring into the conflict (Ant-Man). I probably would’ve put off Civil War until all the heroes I wanted to use were already integrated into the team.
Except, perhaps, for Black Panther. His intro was handled beautifully—precisely because there’s an emotional connection with his introduction to the central conflict.
I just can’t say the same for Spiderman and Ant-Man.
When we last saw Clint “Hawkeye” Barton, in Age Of Ultron, we learned he had a family, and had every intention of retiring so he could stay with them—and never again risk abandoning them to death…or maybe long-term imprisonment.
We hear literally no stated reason in Civil War for why he joins the fight, besides “I owe Wanda.” I suppose I understand helping Wanda break out of custody—but what about the rest of it? Staying on to fight? He basically acts like his emotional arc in Ultron essentially didn’t happen. He’s just there for the team…or something.
After the airport battle, he’s imprisoned with the others. Tony chews him out—and rightfully so!—for basically abandoning his family. Clint doesn’t bother with an answer.
And then, at the end of the movie, Cap breaks his team out—and Hawkeye’s presumably on the run with the rest of them.
To be blunt, Cap easily comes across as rather selfish, with all this in mind. Sure, he notes that “I wouldn’t have called you if I had any other choice”—but…really, that’s all we get?
One would think we’d at least get something like, “Look, Clint…this might get ugly. And your family needs you, too—I don’t ever want to take you away from them, all right? So if you’re not absolutely sure you want to do this…”
Something like that—with Barton giving more of a reason for choosing to stay.
Alas, we don’t get it.
On the flip side…
Character Issues—Nick Fury:
Where the heck is Nick Fury?! He showed up in Age of Ultron, precisely to get the team to shape up. You would think he’d pop up when they need him most—now, more than ever! So where is he?
It seems the writers may have felt that he had to be absent, so they could have the conflict go on without a roadblock. And so, he’s not even acknowledged or mentioned—as far as the movie’s concerned, he doesn’t even exist…even though he does.
There is a storytelling term for that, dear readers. The formal name is “plot contrivance”. The informal name is “idiot plot”.
I apologize for saying it—believe me, I don’t want to come across as mean about this. But that is the term.
(Incidentally: Someone on the internet recently debated with me on this issue—and they actually said that the writers leaving out Nick Fury, for that precise reason of “the plot wouldn’t work otherwise”…was an example of “good screenwriting”.
Yes. They actually said that.)
Near the beginning of the film, Cap leads the Avengers against former SHIELD agent Rumlow—long since exposed as a HYDRA operative. Now in his full regalia as Crossbones, Rumlow leads a heist for a biological weapon, and Cap and crew have to use all their skill to stop him. And it may not be enough, as a split-second decision by Scarlet Witch to save Cap is tragically not without consequences.
That shocking ending is excellent. As for the fight itself…well, it would’ve been a spectacular sequence, except…
This might be a pet peeve of mine, but it admittedly irks me when the footage of an action scene is clearly sped up—in addition to shaky-cam and rapid editing. Putting all that together, the result is…dizzying.
For the life of me, I can’t understand why so many modern action films do this. I suppose the idea is to make it “exciting”. All I can say is, if I have to strain to figure out what’s going on in the fight, “excited” isn’t exactly the word for it.
Sadly, this goes on throughout the film.
The Problem In The Airport Scene:
Fortunately, this fight doesn’t have the ADD editing. From what I’ve heard, we can thank the choreographers of John Wick for how good it looks.
That’s almost an issue, though—that it “looks good”. We have a very stylish fight, with everyone showing their stuff—without any notion whatsoever of any actual stakes involved.
Ironically, the issue actually gets highlighted when Black Widow (of Team Iron Man) ends up pinned down by Hawkeye (of Team Cap)—after we hear that the teams no longer intend to go easy on each other:
“We’re still friends, right?”
“Depends on how hard you hit me.”
He says it with a smile and a twinkle in his eye.
Everyone’s holding back. The whole thing frankly comes across as an exhibition match—so the members of the audience who picked a side can root for their respective teams.
And then Rodey, aka War Machine, gets shot down—and he crashes, out cold. Of course, he doesn’t die (via the miracle of “apparent-upcoming-plot” armor), and at the end of the movie we see him building back his strength in a hospital. It was as if the movie’s trying to reassure us that it hasn’t forgotten the need for drama in this sort of situation.
It’s just downplaying it, to boost the “fun” factor.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with having humor in “tragic” dramas—if it’s handled properly. The problem is, when jokes get dropped at the wrong moments, it can ruin the emotions of the scene. And the airport fight, alas, has that issue in spades.
Now, defenders contend that the film saves the tragedy and drama for the last fight—the raw, no-holds-barred brawl with Iron Man against Cap and Winter Soldier. Unfortunately, that fight has a problem all its own.
Civil War’s “Martha”:
It’s the main thing that irks me about the reaction to Civil War…versus Batman v. Superman.
For those who don’t know, “Martha” refers to a lot of people’s apparent main “beef” with BvS. It’s the main target of mockery, with that film.
I’ll go into that scene, and why it doesn’t deserve that derision, another time. Here, my point is: How on Earth do people have such a problem with “Martha”…and yet seem perfectly okay with the frankly forced and contrived reason for the final clash in Civil War?
To clarify: Tony has pieced together how Bucky’s been framed. He tracks Steve and Bucky heading off to foil Zemo’s evil apparent-plot. Catching up to them, Tony makes it clear that he knows that Bucky had been the victim of severe brainwashing—even calling him “Manchurian Candidate”.
Tony knows that Bucky’s crimes were not his fault.
Then Zemo reveals a recording of Bucky killing Tony’s parents. Tony flips out, snaps…and cue the final fight.
Defenders of this scene have typically challenged me to put myself in Tony’s shoes. I can only respond: “Well, I already know Bucky was under mind control, and therefore isn’t responsible for those actions. Honestly, folks…I see no reason at all why I would focus my anger on him!”
In Tony’s shoes, I’m pretty sure I’d focus my anger on those responsible for brainwashing him—whatever’s left of HYDRA.
As for the other issue—that Cap kept from Tony the truth about his parent’s death, for some weird “it-was-never-the-right-time” reason…well, if anything, I’d have given Cap a tongue-lashing about him constantly putting his judgment above everyone else’s needs. And then say, “This isn’t over”…and focus on dealing with Zemo.
Alas, Tony went berserk instead. And I lost a lot of respect for him, until Spiderman.
Near the end of the final fight, Tony tells Steve to stay down. Cap picks himself up, gets into a boxing pose, and says, “I could do this all day.” It’s a reference, of course, to the first movie—where he says it to a bully and to Red Skull. Whom he clearly sees, rightfully, as another bully.
So…are we to take that he’s linking Tony—his friend—to them? Is he calling Tony a bully?
I sincerely doubt it…which makes the choice of line—pose and everything—all the more unfortunate.
For Tony’s part, that powerful exchange from the trailers—“Bucky’s my friend.” “So was I”—sadly gets stripped of all its promised emotion by the context of the fight itself—and Tony’s emotionally-unstable “motivations”.
Again, the original trailer implies it’s said when Steve and Bucky nearly have Tony on the ropes—a tragic and haunting moment, where Cap and Iron Man essentially wonder how it all came to this.
Alas, as it turns out, it’s the other way around—Tony has Steve on the ropes, Bucky knocked out, and the exchange seems…colder, somehow. And Cap’s lines allegedly said beforehand (“I’m sorry, Tony; you know I wouldn’t do this if I had any other choice”) actually happen elsewhere in the film—some of it directed at Hawkeye, not Iron Man.
It isn’t that the trailers lied, per se. It’s that they implied a much different movie.
Frankly…a better one.
In The End:
It can be very difficult to pull off a “Good vs. Good” storyline—especially one supposed to convey “In a way, they’re both right.” There, one must make darn sure both sides come across noble, sympathetic, and heroic. In short, both sides have to be “right”, in their own way.
“Right vs. Wrong” is easy. It’s easy to pick a side, and show the would-be heroes on the other side as ignorant, manipulated, and/or corrupted. But if you’re selling the story as “Right vs. Right”, you’d better deliver “Right vs. Right”.
For about the first half of the movie, it really seems like Civil War is, in fact, delivering. We see both sides—and while we feel for Cap and want him to help Bucky without letting the authorities take him down…we also understand the other side: we just can’t be sure Winter Soldier’s no longer a threat.
And then Zemo shows up, sets off Bucky, and so on. Cap and Falcon catch and pacify Bucky, learning from him about Zemo’s destination. They form Team Cap, and set off—
Only to be confronted by Team Iron Man…who won’t hear any of it. From this point on, the movie directs our sympathies towards Team Cap, because we “know” of a danger—and one team’s keeping the other from heading off to thwart it.
By the time we learn Zemo’s true intentions…well, he sets Tony off the deep end. And the film again clearly directed our sympathies towards Steve and Bucky, because Tony’s behaving like a madman.
In the end, perhaps, the symbol of this film’s main problems lies in the title. It’s not Avengers: Civil War. It’s Captain America: Civil War. In the end, Cap’s the one central character. The movie picks a side.
Steve’s the hero…and Tony isn’t.
By The Way…
On the subject of “Martha”, Crossbones triggers Cap at the end of their fight, by mentioning Bucky. As Steve later confesses to Wanda, hearing the name affected his judgment, so he didn’t see Crossbones’s suicide bomb until too late.
To wit: “WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME?!?” Cap doesn’t shout it…but still.
Some trivia notes: “Thunderbolt” Ross is a major character in the Hulk comics, and of course his first MCU appearance was in The Incredible Hulk. You may remember Tony showing up at the end to 1) chide Ross about screwing up Abomination, and 2) get help in putting together “a team”, presumably to recruit Bruce Banner (or Abomination, depending on whether you believe the Marvel short films).
Sharon—the pretty blonde SHIELD agent who helped Cap out a bit in The Winter Soldier—reveals herself here as Peggy Carter’s niece. In the comics, Sharon Carter is Cap’s primary love interest.
Her quote of Peggy about planting yourself like a tree and saying “No—you move” comes from the Civil War comic crossover event—only it’s Cap saying it there, to Spiderman. The original exchange between the two heroes is much more dramatic, actually—and powerful. The film strips it down to the final point—and obviously they couldn’t keep the original context, if Spidey’s introduced in this film….
Everett Ross, played by Martin Freeman (aka Bilbo Baggins and Dr. John Watson), is a character from the Black Panther comics. We’ll see more of him, in that film.
Of all the people to play Just Some Guy—aka Zemo—it’s Daniel Brühl, best known as Private Zoller of Inglourious Basterds.
All right, folks. As I said, there are a lot of good qualities to this film. And so, ladies and gentleman, my esteemed colleague, Ronald Rowe, lays out…
WHY IT’S A GREAT FILM:
I’m always amazed that two people with similar tastes can have such different opinions on a film. Eric Blake and I have not been so diametrically opposed since my decisive victory in the great Star Trek – Star Wars debate of 2009. But here we are seeing the same two films (Batman vs Superman and Captain America: Civil War) through very different eyes.
Before I even begin, a quick background note. Superman is my all-time favorite fictional character, bar none. I’ve loved him since I was a toddler. Yet Batman vs. Superman left me completely flat. To my eyes and ears, the infamous “Martha Scene” that my esteemed college defends so assiduously was a crime against cinema. Jesse Eisenberg’s characterization of Lex Luthor was laughable (and not in a good way). And let’s not even get started on Batman’s wonton murder spree early on in the film. But I am not here to disparage BvS. My job here is to defend the excellent Captain America: Civil War from the flaming arrows of Mr. Blake’s scorn.
I would not argue that Civil War is without flaw. This isn’t The Empire Strikes Back. Zemo’s plot is so convoluted and depended on such precise timing and specific reactions that it should have been doomed to fail before it started. Tony’s reaction to learning that Bucky was the mind-controlled trigger man behind his parents’ murder was… odd. Though not as odd as dressing up as a bat and declaring war on all criminals…and Kryptonians, so there is that.
Why is Civil War a great film (politics aside)? Here are five reasons.
It isn’t The Avengers 2.5:
I think many moviegoers saw the trailers with more superheroes than they could name and thought that this was the next installment in the Avengers franchise. Captain America! Iron Man! Spider-Man! Black Widow! Hawkeye! Ant-Man! Black Panther! Vision! Scarlet Witch! War Machine! Winter Soldier! Falcon! So many heroes; this is clearly an ensemble cast like The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy.
Except it isn’t.
Civil War isn’t a team movie. It is squarely and surely Captain America’s film. And he shines through. The filmmakers managed to squeeze in no fewer than a dozen heroes from the cape and tights set without losing focus on the main man. Captain America is a shining example of patriotism, resolve, and old-fashioned goodness. He’s a man among men; a hero among heroes; a superhuman among superhumans. It doesn’t matter how many other characters you throw into a Captain America story, he will (or at least should) stand apart and above. This is a lesson that Marvel’s esteemed cross-town rivals lost when adding Batman and Wonder Woman into a Superman film. It became a pale image of Nolan’s beautiful Dark Knight trilogy with Superman thrown in…but we’re not talking about the problems with Batman vs. Superman so I will try to leave that thread alone.
Civil War was the fulfillment of Marvel’s promise of a true shared universe. Everyone who is anyone (with the previously noted exception of one Colonel Nicholas J. Fury—along with, of course, Thor and Hulk, for reasons to be revealed in Thor: Ragnarok) was there. The immersive interconnectedness of the MCU is groundbreaking and Civil War is the pinnacle of that achievement (So far – Infinity War is coming).
Disney / Marvel moved worlds to integrate Spider-Man into the MCU. If you don’t live and breathe movie / comic book industry news, you could be forgiven if you underestimate the importance of transaction. A quick primer – Disney owns the movie rights to most Marvel characters. Sony holds the rights to Spider-Man and the characters most closely affiliated with him. Fox owns the X-Men and associated characters. (The lines can sometimes be blurry, which is why there were two different big screen versions of Quicksilver.)
The deal between Disney and Sony to effectively share Spider-Man is Yuuuge on several fronts. First, it opened the door to bring Spider-Man into the MCU. Second, the door swings both ways, allowing for Iron Man, Happy Hogan, Pepper Potts, and Captain America to enter into Sony’s Spider-verse in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Third, it wiped clean the residual stain from the two Andrew Garfield Spider-Man films.
Spider-Man’s introduction to the MCU consisted of two scenes in Civil War. First, Tony and Peter met and talked at the apartment Peter shares with his aunt. That scene included three things that will improve any film: great characterization, smart dialogue, and Marissa Tomei. The second time we see Spider-Man he is charging into battle on Team Iron Man, starting off with a bang by stealing Captain America’s shield. Peter’s self-conscious, ain’t-this-cool voice makes him the perfect point of view character for the biggest scene of the film (more on that in a bit).
The Heart of a Hero:
I confess: I love Hawkeye. He’s been one of my favorite characters for years – long before Matt Faction made it cool to like Hawkeye. There is something so appealing about the idea of a mortal man with bow and arrow and an inferiority complex running in the same circles as a Norse god, a living legend, and the strongest there is. I like the MCU version (modeled in large part on the Ultimate Comics character) having a wife and children and managing to balance that idyllic life with his adventures as a globe-trotting superhero. His graceful exit at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron was handled beautifully.
But, to paraphrase the only good line in the odious Godfather III: they keep pulling him back in. He retired. He was done with the dangerous, thankless, all-consuming life of a costumed do-gooder. Until the moment that Captain America needed him. No explanation necessary; no conditions attached. Cap needed him so he came running. We didn’t need to see a scene with Clint getting the call or discussing it with his wife. We didn’t need to feel the conflict between the two worlds. Hawkeye is a hero and he did what heroes do. He sacrificed his personal happiness for the greater good. The choice to leave so much unsaid, rather than bludgeoning us over the head with it, eloquently told us a great deal about Clint, Steve, and their relationship.
The Big Fight Scene:
I could really begin and end my list of reasons why Civil War is a great movie with this one entry. This one scene had enough bright, shiny popcorn moments to justify the price of admission. So many great moments and memorable lines:
“I wouldn’t stress about it.”
“You have a metal arm? That is awesome, dude.”
“I don’t know if you’ve been in a fight before but there’s usually not this much talking.”
“We’re still friends, right?”
“That thing does not obey the laws of physics at all,”
“It’s your conscience. We don’t talk a lot these days.”
“Hey guys, you ever see that really old movie, Empire Strikes Back?”
“I do it all the time. I mean once. In a lab. And I passed out.”
I, personally, am generally not a fan of the good vs. good concept. It has been done to death in the comics and we were treated to not one, but two, superhero vs. superhero movies in 2016. In Civil War, the two sides had legitimate points of view. I felt the weight of guilt pushing Tony Stark to accept the accords. I empathized with Steve’s devotion to his ideals and loyalty to his friend. When the situation finally came to blows, it felt organic and real. And they each brought a few friends. Enough to make the most glorious on-screen superhero battle ever to grace the silver screen.
Contrast that with the other hero vs. hero film of 2016, in which one character was motivated by an innate desire to do good and a desperate need to save his mother while the other “good guy” was motivated by fear, pettiness, and envy. Instead of a battle between equally-matched teams, it was a grumpy man with a magic rock against a virtual god. And the grumpy man with the magic rock won, no less…
Sorry, I did it again. Back to Civil War.
The airport battle scene had humor. It had pathos. It had heart. And it had more action that the eye could follow. Captain America vs. Black Panther. Ant-Man vs Black Widow. Spider-Man vs. Falcon and Winter Soldier. Iron Man vs. Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch. Captain America vs. Black Panther AND War Machine. 6 vs 6 melee. Cap vs. Iron Man. Black Widow vs. Hawkeye. Black Panther vs. Bucky. Scarlet Witch vs. Scarlett Johansson. Scarlet Witch vs. Black Panther. Spider-Man vs. Captain America. Ant Man vs. Iron Man. Hawkeye vs. Iron Man. Giant Man vs. War Machine. Black Panther vs. Hawkeye. Giant Man vs. Everybody. Widow vs. Panther. Vision vs. his own guilt. War Machine vs. friendly fire. On and on it goes. In one scene Civil War delivered more fun than the entire bloated 182 minute extended edition of a certain other superhero movie could muster.
The Little Touches:
As a fan of the comics, I really appreciated the little touches in Civil War. There is a certain art to doling out winks to the fanboys without creating confusion among the uninitiated. Rumlow in full Crossbones gear was a nice touch. Vision and Scarlet Witch’s growing affection brought a bit of nostalgia for long-time comic fans. Stan Lee’s wonderful cameo was one of his very best. The Winter Soldier’s trigger words brought a smile to my face. Martin Freeman’s brief role as Everett (no relation to Thunderbolt) Ross nicely set up another key piece for the Black Panther solo film. Even Redwing got a little screen time.
William Hurt’s return as Thunderbolt Ross was a welcome one, and there may be more there than meets the eye. This is just a guess, but I doubt that Marvel brought in such an esteemed actor for that bit part without plans for more. And with the amazing work in digital de-aging that they have done for flashback scenes with Robert Downey Jr. and Michael Douglas, I don’t think it would be a stretch to see a young Thunderbolt in the upcoming Captain Marvel film (set in the 1990’s) and a follow-up with an older Ross in the next phase. In fact, the fact that the shape-shifting Skrulls are reported to be the main antagonists of Captain Marvel makes me think that Ross could play a very important role in connecting Captain Marvel and the post-Infinity War MCU.
And then there is the matter of the other five Winter Soldiers. Why would Marvel include five characters with backstories and powers similar to Bucky’s only to unceremoniously kill them off screen? I think there is more to this story. I could be wrong but I don’t think this was incidental. If you are a cynical, Batman-type person, you may chalk this up to lazy writing. If you are a more optimistic Superman-type, you are more likely to think that Marvel has a plan to follow up on this in the future – plans that will make us all look back on the seeds planted in Civil War and say “Oh, now I get it”.
That’s my top 5 reasons why Captain America: Civil War is a great film. Thanks to Eric Blake for allowing me to participate. And in the words of the smartest movie guy I know: stay film-friendly, my friends.
(And thanks to Ronald Rowe for participating. For the record, his “victory” in the aforementioned Trek vs. Wars debate is a highly dubious concept….)
Buy the movie here. And stay—ah, you know….
THE SERIES SO FAR:
Rio Bravo (1959)
Man of Steel (2013)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Fight Club (1999)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Jackie Brown (1997)
Apocalypse Now (1979/2001)
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Dirty Harry (1971)
Magnum Force (1973)
The Enforcer (1976)
Bridge Of Spies (2015)
Any recommendations for films to make this series? Read the rules, here, and let us know!
Eric was raised by Conservative Christian parents, but first became especially passionate about politics in high school, through reading up on economic theory. He also first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged around this time, for the ARI's essay contests. He now owns a great deal of Ayn Rand's work. Also included in his library are the collected works of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, etc.
Eric is no stranger to writing commentary, as the writer of the Conservative Considerations column on CampCampaign.com, and as a film critic and commentator on FlickRev.com. He has also carried on the Conservative tradition of talk radio commentary, as the host of "Avengers of America" for the USF student radio station, Bulls Radio. In the meantime, he is practicing what he preaches: Striving to enter the professional realm of Hollywood, he has already written and directed short films for the Campus MovieFest, which can be found on his YouTube channel, Hard Boiled Entertainment.
Latest posts by Eric Blake (see all)
- The Greatest Conservative Films: Enchanted (2007) - January 9, 2018
- Critic v. Critic – Star Wars: The Last Jedi (with Christian Toto!) - January 1, 2018
- The Greatest Conservative Films: It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) - December 28, 2017