Movie Review: Captain America Civil War

18 Sep

Having (finally) watched Captain America: Civil War, I find myself with some pretty mixed feelings.


I should try to put this into some perspective. The Marvel Comics Civil War was a great idea destroyed by horrible execution. Basically, the US Government decided to pass a law demanding that superheroes register and train – if, of course, they wanted to be superheroes. Iron Man supported the SRA; Captain America flatly refused to support it. Both sides had some very good points, all of which were lost in the rush to actual combat. The pro-registration side ran around looking like jackbooted thugs; the anti-registration side acted like gadflies, rather than trying to put together a coherent response.

Part of the problem, of course, was that the writers were never clear on what the SRA actually said. Was it just superheroes who had to register? Or was it all superhumans? And what procedure were the superheroes to follow? As Law and the Multiverse points out, Luke Cage could have asked – quite reasonably – how he was supposed to register? If all superheroes were supposed to register, that’s one thing; if all superhumans, that’s quite another.

In the real world (yes, I know) policemen hate vigilantes. A man who decides to take the law into his own hands may not follow the law. Gaining a conviction of someone Spiderman drops off at the police station or Batman leaves hanging from a drain may be impossible in any reasonable court of law. Policemen are trained to do everything from tackle criminals to gather evidence that proves their guilt. Breaching procedure can cause all sorts of problems for later. Even Sherlock can cause problems for the police.

In short, if the basic idea is to regulate and train superheroes, I support it. Training may make the difference between life and death. But if the basic idea is to register superhumans merely for being superhumans, I am against it.

The movie rests on a rather shaky foundation. Wanda – the Scarlet Witch – accidentally causes a disaster during an attempt to stop a supervillain plot. The various world governments decide to put a collar on the Avengers, insisting that they submit to global oversight. Tony Stark supports it; Steve Rogers does not. At that point, matters become muddied by a bombing apparently carried out by Bucky Barns, aka The Winter Soldier. With a manhunt underway for Barns, Captain America is forced to choose between his friends and the accords. It isn’t a surprise that he chooses his friends.

As a movie, Civil War looks great. But it does have problems. The whole dispute that leads to the first major battle, dragging in almost every MCU hero (Thor and Hulk are the only major exceptions) could have been handled with a proper conversation between Stark and Rogers. And while it’s hard to blame Tony “I have daddy issues” Stark for being pissed at the Winter Soldier, it’s possible the whole tragedy could have been averted if everyone had just taken a breath and calmed down. The villain’s plot rested on correctly predicting how Captain America would react to his friend being framed.

Civil War also introduces two new characters; Spiderman and Black Panther. Spiderman is younger than I expected, but the actor makes the character work. His role in the film is smaller than the comic, for better or worse. I disliked the first set of Spiderman movies, so this is a definite improvement. On the downside, Spiderman doesn’t get as much screen time as I would have liked.

The jury is still out on Black Panther. I freely admit that I loathe the comic character with a passion. Unlike War Machine, Luke Cage (or Green Lantern John Stewart), Black Panther is not a well-rounded character, but a shameless piece of racial pandering that is, in many ways, strikingly racist. And sometimes not always in the way you’d expect. (The less said about the Storm miniseries the better.) The movie version is much better than the comic book version, but – again – we just don’t see enough of Black Panther to make any definite judgements. His flaws are not yet manifest.

People may ask why this is a Captain America movie, rather than Avengers III. I think, at heart, it is because the story revolves around Captain America. Having learned harsh lessons about being a good (and unquestioning) soldier in his previous movie, Cap is less inclined to bow the knee to any sort of government oversight. (And realistically, who would expect the UN, even with the best will in the world, to do a good job.) It is Steve Rogers who decides to resist the accords, then save Bucky even though he knows it will put him on the wrong side of the law.

But the movie also explores Steve’s flaws. Wanda was not under arrest in Stark Tower, merely grounded. What would have happened if Wanda, blamed for the first disaster, was seen on the streets? But Steve decides to break her out without thinking, allowing his emotions to steer his path. Rallying the troops to fight, despite the potential consequences, was a mistake. And then choosing to conceal the truth behind Howard Stark’s death until it was too late.

In this perspective, Iron Man serves as the foil to Captain America. Tony is not as cold and emotionless as his armour suggests, but he has strong reasons to support the Accords. (I don’t think it was mentioned, but Tony is the only one of the Avengers who can genuinely be blamed for causing a problem – Ultron.) Tony is fighting desperately to keep his sole remaining family together, while Captain America is breaking it up. He supports the Accords because he feels that accountability is important, but also because he worries that something worse will be on the way.

And, as in the comics, both sides have a point.

One can easily accuse Tony of crossing the line, well before War Machine’s near-death. I’m not sure how old Spiderman is in the MCU, but I’d put him at somewhere between 15-17 – a child-soldier, by any reasonable definition. And yet, the same could be said for Wanda. She isn’t much older than Peter Parker, with marginally more experience in the field. But she is treated as a front-line Avenger.

The lesser characters get some moments too, although they’re not always to their advantage. Wanda comes across as a petulant teenager at times, smarting under being grounded and unwilling to admit that it’s for her own safety. Vision, who clearly has feelings for Wanda, is making clumsy attempts to court her. Their relationship suffers before it truly begins when they wind up on opposing sides. Ant-Man (and Spiderman) fan-boy over Captain America, Falcon and Black Widow make hard choices (although Widow seems to get away with her decision to betray Iron Man.)

I was surprised to see General Ross return, let alone be the driving force behind the Accords. I thought he was the villain at first. But thinking about it, his attitude makes sense. Ross probably got into deep shit after The Incredible Hulk. He’s not going to be too happy at the Avengers seemingly getting away with far worse.

Overall, there are some great moments in the film. The confrontation between the two sides at the airport looks fantastic, with superpowers used to their best advantage. Anyone who thinks that Tony holds all the cards will be shocked by the battle. But, at the same time, the movie doesn’t make quite as much sense as the comic book.

But that’s just my inner critic. Overall, I liked the movie.

12 Responses to “Movie Review: Captain America Civil War”

  1. bexwhitt September 18, 2016 at 1:21 pm #

    I’m done with fantasy in all it’s genres, if the story does not have some basis in reality, I will give it a pass, that includes superhero movies and doctor who.

  2. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard September 18, 2016 at 2:04 pm #

    IMO the “Wearing The Cape” series handles the Law and Superhero activities quite well.

    In short, if you are going to “be a Superhero”, you have to be licensed which includes having knowledge of the proper procedures to follow and your “secret identity” has to known by the Federal Government.

    Off topic, but one aspect of “secret identities” in the “Wearing The Cape” world is that a hero’s “secret identity” may not be known by the public but it is almost impossible to hide “secret identities”.

    On the other hand, the “Bad Guys” aren’t likely to attack a hero’s family because they know that if they do, then some super would go full vigilante on them.

    IE Superheroes play by the rules but if a superhero’s family is attacked, one or more will forget about the rules and will completely destroy the “Bad Guys” involved.

    • PhilippeO September 18, 2016 at 2:12 pm #

      Seconded recommendation for Wearing the Cape, it’s good series.

      • Vapori September 18, 2016 at 3:23 pm #

        I’m third too that then I hope the next book comes soon. .
        But in all fairness I guess it all depends on the medium in use.
        A comic writer will hardly write more then a full side of text and even a Cinema blockbuster will not care to elaborate the law and how it was introduced for half an hour if 25 minutes of it could be action instead.
        A book like wearing the cape team omega and most other superhero books are way better in giving reason for the powers and the laws surrounding superheros then other mediums.

  3. kominek September 18, 2016 at 6:25 pm #

    I think the foundations of the movie are even shakier than you describe. Wanda doesn’t cause the disaster, as I recall she’s attempting to protect a crowd from the detonation of a bomb, and only manages to redirect the blast. There was no difference between her actions and those of a bomb disposal tech who, finding a bomb in a crowded area, attempts to ensure it harms no one, but fails. Moral and legal culpability lies with the bomber, not the good samaratin whose efforts are insufficient.

  4. gzolin September 18, 2016 at 6:34 pm #

    I think people are reading WAY to much into this movie. Your looking for deep nuance in a 2 – 3 hour adaptation of a comic book ‘event’ that lasted MONTHS.

  5. Jack Hudler September 19, 2016 at 6:47 am #

    I’m curious what your take on Deadpool?

    • chrishanger September 26, 2016 at 6:13 pm #

      I haven’t watched it. I got sick of Deadpool long before his movie. He’s in more comics than Wolverine.


      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard September 26, 2016 at 6:34 pm #

        Deadpool isn’t very everybody.

        Note, I don’t like him that much.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard September 26, 2016 at 6:35 pm #


        That should be “Deadpool isn’t for everybody”. [Embarrassed Grin]

  6. Ryan September 19, 2016 at 7:59 pm #

    I had a few problems with the movie as well, some of which you already touched on.

    1) The argument for oversight was based completely on a straw man argument; that the Avengers caused all kinds of problems and didn’t care about the fallout, but then they show a news clip of Wanda crying her eyes out in Lagos after the bomb detonated. Then Ross shows them pictures of Lagos, New York, DC, Sakovia as if those incidents were their fault. Crossbones was behind Lagos, aliens were behind New York, the US government was behind DC, and Ultron was behind Sakovia. They, the governments and media, are blaming the people that stopped those causing the real damage. Yes, there is always collateral, but oversights, particularly political, isn’t the right answers.

    2) The movie did a very poor job is explaining the SRA. In the graphic novel, all enhanced individuals were required to register. If they were found out and not registers, they were imprisoned. It was very analogous to the various gun control arguments over the years. The long and short of it was, people wants to stay anonymous to protect their loved ones. Spider-man eventually reveals his identity and ends up getting Aunt May in a coma because of it.

    3) It makes no sense for Stark or Natasha to be pro-registration. Stark makes several arguments against the government taking control of Ironman, mostly centered around their incompetence and corruptions. Natasha is a victim of an authoritarian government run amok a couple of times over. First with Russia and then with the Hydra-infiltrated American government. They want the UN to have oversight when the UN is FAR more corrupt than any single government? That makes no sense.

    4) What happened to a trial? Ross is able to throw Antman, Hawkeye, etc into a prison without a trial? Everyone is OK with this? Nobody has an issue with Ross stating openly he’d like to see them all in prison if they’re not under his direct control? The guy is a proven megalomaniac. Why in the hell is he still in government at all?

    5) They classify Wanda as a weapon instead of a person. WTF?!? I can understand having her lay low somewhere, but that should be by her own choice. She wasn’t “merely grounded.” She’s an adult forcibly detained against her will. If she’s not charged with a crime and detained, then it’s kidnapping.

    6) What really irked me is how the pro-registration group uses lethal force and then acts all self-righteous when that force bites them in the ass. They were perfectly OK with what would have proven to be a killing blow on The Falcon, but get angry when that blow his War Machine instead.

    • Kell September 21, 2016 at 2:22 am #

      I agree with most of your points except with black widow and iron man. Tony ha changed over the course of his movies at the begging of iron man2 he wouldn’t let the gov have control of iron man but by the end of the movie he had given the gov war machine. Avenger really evected him. Before he was a vigelant trying to fix the mess caused by his families weopans like in 1 and 2 but in the avengers he became a solder going to a much larger scale trying to protect the world. The constent fights plus paranoia chased him to create ultron. In a large way his actions. In cilval war are about his own mistakes he no longer trusts himself and pepper and him are on a the rocks so she is not there to calm him down. His actions make sense.
      Widows much more simple she doesn’t like the accords but she has been on the wrong side of the law her whole career and she didn’t want to go against the law again. She was actually the voice of reason wanting to calm everyone down and take a second to talk it out. When she saw it come to a fight she actually let Steve go.while both iron man and Steve were jumped up on testestron widow was trying to keep ever gone together until she saw how far the gov was going to push it.

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