I loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier so much that I fully expected to be disappointed by Captain America: Civil War. I wanted another Cap movie — particularly one where he pals around with Black Widow and Falcon again — not a movie overstuffed with Iron Man and a bunch of dudes from the Avengers.
Much to my surprise, I loved it.
The Good Stuff
The characters all acted in-character.
I was worried that in order to pit half the Avengers against the other half, some of them would have to behave stupidly or espouse opinions which would not normally be their own. For the most part, the writers avoided this pitfall brilliantly. I was especially fond of the moments of careful conversation when it seemed as if they were all rolling the ideas around in their minds, considering the ramifications of the accord and open to others’ opinions. As the sides began forming, they continued to treat each other carefully, trying to find nonviolent ways around conflict. (Another great reason to leave Hulk and Thor out of it — careful consideration and nonviolent conflict resolution are not part of their MCU vocabularies.)
Although Captain America seemed, at times, motivated by his love of Bucky, I felt strongly that he would have chosen the same side even if Bucky didn’t exist. His stance was consistent with why he was chosen for the super soldier program in the first place: he understood what it was like to be weak, and he understood bullies. After what happened in The Winter Soldier, how could he ever put his trust or faith in a government oversight agency again? No. His job is to protect those who cannot protect themselves, to always be on the side of the powerless. He can’t do that if he’s beholden to political agents with agendas.*
I could watch a whole movie of Falcon and Bucky needling each other inside a rusty VW Bug. (Roadtrip movie, anyone?) I loved every small moment, every tiny joy. Widow and Panther’s first conversation. Spider-Man meeting Stark. Spider-Man meeting everyone. Widow’s and Hawkeye’s brief exchange during a fight. Falcon’s defense of Redwing. Ant-Man’s self-effacing quips. There wasn’t a lot of dialogue in this movie, but the writers really tried to pack character into the tiny spaces they were allowed.
The cool factor.
After so many superhero movies, it’s rare to be wowed. Even so, this movie made me ooh and aah so many times. First, it was Falcon’s great new tech toys and maneuvers, then Black Widow’s glorious fighting style. The subtle double rings around Vision’s eyes. Scarlet Witch’s magic. Everything about Black Panther. The way Tony activates his suit. The way Bucky and Steve fight when they’re on the same side. Action can be so, so boring. Somehow, it wasn’t. Somehow they managed to keep my jaded self engaged with every moment.
No spoilers, but there was a moment when I teared up unexpectedly. If I’d known about the scene beforehand, I would have scoffed at the idea. And yet there it was, moisture forming in my eyes before I could even register it. Unexpected and welcome — the MCU leveraging its slow build in surprisingly effective ways.
More on Panther at the end — he deserves his own section.
The Bad Stuff
Oh, Marvel, where are your women? There are twelve superheroes in Civil War, six on each side, and only two of them are women. There was no Bechdel-Wallace pass in this. Of course there wasn’t. And no people who identified at LGBTQ+ at all. Three out of the 12 heroes were men of color. An improvement over the other Avengers movies, but still disappointing. There were many, many moments when this movie felt like it was all about white dudes, their egos, and their pain. (For the record, I don’t think Cap is motivated by ego, as I stated earlier. I think he’s genuinely all about doing the right thing regardless of what it means for him personally.)
In addition to the lack of women, there was a moment of stark (ha!) racism: Tony Stark uses the phrase “off the reservation.” I have no idea how such a horrid phrase made it through so many passes of the script and so many eyes on the final product, but I was shocked to hear it.
I really, really wanted to love this movie without caveats, but I cannot.
The Real Hero
Let’s get one thing straight: I absolutely love Captain America as he is represented in the MCU. I was thrilled that despite all the characters involved in Civil War, this still felt like Cap’s movie. (And thank you, whoever decided to include the glorious fanservice moment highlighting Steve’s amazing arms — it was so ludicrous that I burst into happy laughter.)
Cap does not change much in this movie. He has some deep convictions at the beginning of the movie that are only deepened during the course of events. He regrets some of the actions he takes and some of the sacrifices he makes, but he never doubts the direction he has chosen. Not even a little.
[SPOILER ALERT: Avoid this next part if you haven’t seen the movie!]
You know who does change? Black Panther. T’Challa starts out as prince of his nation, confident in his role as both son and representative of his people. He undergoes a great personal tragedy, altering his position in the world, and embarks on a quest of revenge. (He’s not alone in this as the destructive nature of revenge is one of the themes of the movie.) We see how revenge eats away at almost everyone in the film — the central villain, Tony Stark, everyone who hates Bucky, and Panther. At first Panther is blinded by his rage and grief, no better than the others. Later, as new information is revealed, he realizes he’s after the wrong person and switches targets — a sign that he’s capable of change. At the end, after witnessing Cap and Iron Man fighting each other for the umpteenth time, he has a chance to kill the man he’s been hunting and instead opts for justice.
I ask you, is that not the arc of the hero?
There is another version of this movie somewhere in a different world where white guys aren’t at the center of everything, and we get to see the whole thing through Black Panther’s eyes. I only hope that when we do get Panther’s solo movie in 2018, it gives him even more to work with.
For me, Black Panther is the standout character of Civil War.