Countdown to Infinity War: Revisiting Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Before I dive into Captain America: Civil War, allow me to provide some background about the source material. Civil War was one of Marvel Comics’ landmark events, one that had been carefully set up to reveal the US government wanted to begin registering those with superpowers and to have greater control over how heroes conducted themselves. Iron Man/Tony Stark didn’t necessarily support the move, but figured fighting it was useless. Captain America opposed the move on purely idealistic grounds and was resolved to resist it with every fiber of his being.

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The incident that allowed the Super-Human Registration Act to be passed into law was the super-villain Nitro using his powers of self-detonation near a grade school.

If you think maybe this was a little tasteless, well, that’s writer Mark Millar for you, a man who tries his damnedest to push the envelope whenever the editors let him. So lines were drawn and the entire Marvel Universe was now split into two camps, and while Millar tried to write Tony as a good guy, he just came across as an appeaser who was even willing to work with murderous super-villains enslaved by the federal government courtesy of the nanites in their blood. Oh, and then there was the Thor clone that Tony and Hank Pym Frankensteined together that got a little, well, out of hand…

On the other side, Steve Rogers/Captain America was portrayed as an idiot because he had no end game, and no means by which to beat what was now federal law. Mark Millar never seemed to get what makes superheroes work, and if you look at his material from that era, you might just shake your head and wonder what his appeal was. But Civil War sold like crazy, and led the way to an entire era of Big Events at Marvel, which have since proven to be an effective business model.

If you’re wondering why I’m bringing up the comic first, it’s because honestly, I didn’t see at the time how a motion picture adaptation could possibly work. Disney didn’t have the rights to the Fantastic Four or X-Men properties, so the number of superheroes and villains that had been introduced over the period of ten films was comparatively tiny. Leave it to the trailer to make a believer out of me.

I didn’t care what the logistical problems were; I so wanted to see Steve and Bucky beat the living shit out of Tony.

The plot: In the wake of years of Earth-shattering disasters, the world governments now want more control over Earth’s costumed vigilantes, seeing their actions as being partly responsible for the crises they try to prevent. Tony Stark, still haunted by the Ultron affair and the destruction of Sokovia, supports the measure, as he thinks the Avengers need oversight. Steve Rogers sees things differently, and thinks oversight means obstruction, and his distrust of modern authority makes him skeptical of the measure. What no one realizes is that another player, Sokovian survivor Helmut Zemo…

…wanting revenge on the Avengers for what happened to his country and his family, sets in motion a plot to destroy the team. To do this, he slays King T’Chaka of Wakanda, framing the Winter Soldier for the crime. This sets crown prince T’Challa, the new Black Panther…

…on a trail of vengeance to bring down the man who killed his father. With the stage set for disaster, and with Captain America trying to protect his friend while also trying to uncover the conspirator behind the scenes, and with Iron Man attempting to shut things down before things get out of hand and many of his friends are branded criminals, the battle lines are drawn.

This is about the most perfect superhero film made since The Dark Knight. You have amazing action, tremendous acting, and a spot-on script, all enhanced by Henry Jackman’s stellar soundtrack. What we have here is the culmination of eight years of motion pictures, and steady character development leading to this confrontation. On the face of it, you might think Tony should be the rebel and Steve the good soldier. After all, didn’t we see as far back as the second Iron Man movie that those in power had an inherent distrust of Tony, and saw him as a loose cannon? (An opinion which turned out to be justified when he hacked the helicarrier database in Avengers.) And as we’ve seen, Steve started out as the greatest soldier, and a man used to obeying orders.

But what happened over time? Iron Man got a glimpse of what’s waiting for Earth out there when he launched a nuclear missile to kill the Chitauri, which was a vision that haunted him throughout Iron Man 3. Also in Iron Man 3, Tony sees the consequences of his irresponsible actions from more than a decade ago and how it created Aldrich Killian. Finally, his inadvertent creation of Ultron was responsible for the deaths of hundreds and that’s no doubt weighing on him; by this point, Tony would love for someone else to be acting as a check to his impulses.

As for Steve, he slipped into the role of soldier but he worked for Nick Fury, a man who constantly used him as a tool in his Machiavellian plots, trying to justify questionable actions as being for “the greater good”. And then Steve discovered that SHIELD, Peggy Carter and Howard Stark’s legacy, was destroyed from within due to negligence and compromise. So it’s no surprise that Steve at this point finds modern authority less than trustworthy.

The roles have become reversed and this is handled masterfully, because at no point do we feel that any of Tony and Steve’s actions are out of character, based on what we’ve seen prior. Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. have some great scenes together, and they’re so comfortable in their roles that you can feel how their growing unease and frustration with one another culminates in violence.

Black Panther was one of those Marvel movies I had no desire to see in theaters. It’s not that I dislike the character, it’s just that, like Ant-Man, I have no emotional investment in the character. I never bought Black Panther comics, and as an Avenger he just seemed like that guy with the same power set as Captain America. Then I saw Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther in this movie.

Boseman has charisma and acting talent to spare, and I was blown away by his performance. On more than one occasion, he almost stole the movie right out from under Downey and Evans—that’s how much screen presence he has. This movie is as much an origin story for his character as it is about the destruction of the Avengers, and he makes the most of every scene. One of the best moments in the film is when he confronts Zemo, his father’s murderer, and decides not to kill him. T’Challa can’t be the vengeful son any longer; he’s the future king of Wakanda and must be a statesman bringing in a war criminal despite his feelings. But at the same time, you can see that despite how much he might hate Zemo, he understands him. On one level, grief and loss can make brothers and sisters of us all, as we’ll see later on. With Black Panther, we have a man who can empathize with an enemy, yet it doesn’t stop him from doing what must be done. It’s a theme we see in his own film, and it shows the strength of focused producers who have a clear idea of who these characters are and can ensure a consistent vision across films. (By the way, I eventually did see Black Panther in the theater, and I’m so glad I did.)

Daniel Brühl’s Helmut Zemo made the top of our least-worst Marvel villains list and deservedly so. Zemo is well justified in his rage, seeing these heroes as men and women who cause as much damage as they prevent. All he wants to know is, when will the Avengers be brought up on charges of war crimes for Sokovia’s destruction? Who’s there to give his family justice? I don’t condone Zemo’s actions, but his motives are the most realistic we’ve seen of any villain in the Marvel movie-verse.

But Zemo isn’t the man who destroyed the Avengers. You know who is?

Yeah, that’s right: Steve Rogers, Captain America, destroyed the Avengers. Think back on what I said about character development regarding Steve and Tony. For all of Stark’s faults, he’s remained true to trying to be a better person, and to protecting the planet. But what about Steve? Rogers was once a man who valued forthrightness, honesty, and trust. And what did Steve do with the knowledge that Bucky had killed Tony’s parents? Did he tell Tony? Did he confide in Tony at that party in Age of Ultron, or did he sit on the information, and keep that knowledge to himself while acting all high and mighty?

No wonder he couldn’t lift the hammer. Unworthy dick.

Steve proved he had changed, too. He had become what he hated: a man who compartmentalized information and trusted no one. There’s no telling what Tony would have done with the information, but he deserved to know. The moment that bombshell was dropped, I was oh-so-firmly on Tony’s side. That’s how effective writing, acting, and directing all meshed together perfectly.

Finally, if you’ve been reading these reviews, you know how much I’ve gotten tired of hero-vs-hero fights, so maybe you’re thinking I’m engaging in some Captain America levels of hypocrisy myself when I say I loved the hell out of the airport fight. Look, the movie was billed as a fight between heroes, and it delivered. It was a glorious spectacle, with Ant-Man having far and away the best moment.

But that wasn’t the only great moment, by far. I enjoyed the debut of Frank Grillo’s Brock Rumlow as Crossbones…

…and Tom Holland’s debut as Peter Parker/Spider Man was handled with perfection.

As for the comics at the time, Marvel went for a shameless cash-grab and released Civil War II, in which Iron Man was now facing off against Captain Marvel AKA Carol Danvers. Because for some time now Marvel has really been pushing Captain Marvel as the Next Big Thing, but judging by her comic sales they’ve failed miserably. Maybe it’s the terrible new look, or the mediocre art, or lackluster writing, but nothing has ever managed to keep Captain Marvel’s sales afloat.

In Civil War II, Carol is the good guy, because she’s using an Inhuman who can see the future to prevent potential disasters. This leads to James Rhodes dying, She-Hulk falling into a coma, Bruce Banner being shot in the eye by Hawkeye and killed (but you know, comics, and Bruce is back), and Carol herself putting Tony into a coma. And let’s not forget that at this point, Steve Rogers’ history had been altered by a sentient Cosmic Cube into Steve being a member of HYDRA all along. (Nothing says “hero” like having the backing of a died in the wool fascist.) So we as readers are supposed to believe Carol is the hero in this comedy of errors, because apparently if everybody had just let her do her Minority Report bit in the first place, everything would have turned out okay. Do I sound bitter? It’s because I am. Is this really the best that Marvel Comics, the so-called House of Ideas, can do?

Sigh.

Next time: We witness the rise of a certain master of the mystic arts.

Tag: Countdown to Infinity War

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  • David Klopotoski

    OK, I liked Civil War. Like actually liked it. But it can’t be a Marvel movie without me complaining about everything.

    First off, the big set piece was the showdown at the airport, right? Or should I say the showdown in that big green screen room? Because even though airports exist they didn’t bother to shoot any of those outdoor scenes at an actual airport, or even an abandoned lot somewhere with what vaguely looks like a hanger in the background.

    Not that it really matters where they filmed it, because I don’t know if I’ve ever been enamored with the action in Marvel movies. Civil War’s action scenes bored me to death. It’s probably because I feel like I can extract any action scene from any of these movies and drop it into another one without actually changing the movie all that much. There’s just too much sameness. I can only watch Captain America throw his shield and hear that metallic ‘thunk’ noise so many times.

    And Black Widow just really bothers me. Not her character or her personality, but the logic of her existence. In every action scene she’s either fighting a noticeably non-superhero character like Hawkeye or a background lackey, or she’s somehow going toe-to-toe with baddies that the other superheros are somehow having trouble defeating with their superpowers and superstrength. So does Black Widow have superpowers or not? Hawkeye I can at least justify because he uses a bow with magic arrows that do whatever he needs to do, but Black Widow mostly uses her fists or a gun.

    Can we all agree that Falcon’s jet-powered drone thingy is just stupid? First of all making it jet-powered as opposed to your traditional drone which uses rotors means it can’t hover. It has to be constantly flying to stay airborne. That takes away a huge chunk of its functionality. And two, rotor-powered drones are noisy as hell, which makes them really easy to find when they’re flying as low as Falcon’s drone needed to go. How easy would it be to spot Falcon’s jet-powered drone?

    Also, Spider-Man’s inclusion in the movie was superfluous as he didn’t really do a ton to help the cause, other than advertise the fact that Disney had some kind of rights to the character. But in universe it just looks like another dick move by Tony Stark. He feels like he needs another body on his side, so he recruits a 15-year-old boy? He didn’t even try to call Hawkeye and see if he was down. Black Widow was on team Iron Man, so there was a chance, right?

    I thought Ant-Man derived his strength from being really small thus making his muscles like hundreds of times as powerful due to density or something. So why doesn’t the opposite happen when he gets really big?

    Iron Man has been such a dick since the beginning of this series that I simply can’t buy his inner demons that supposedly haunt him so much that he’s suddenly willing to surrender to government control when a huge chunk of his character was thumbing his nose at the government trying to control him. If he honestly thought he should be kept in check he’d give up his freaking Iron Man suit like they asked him to do in Iron Man 2. Tony Stark is not such a special human that it has to be him inside the Iron Man suit. The first article of the Sokovia Accords should have been an assurance that Tony Stark would never be allowed to wear the Iron Man armor again. The second article would be that he’s never allowed to create an AI again, because he’s already created 3, and one of them tried to destroy the world at Sokovia, and the other has become a magic superandroid. Who knows what hell Stark would release on the world if he were allowed to “tinker” with AI programs for the rest of his life?

    Beyond that there was a throw-away moment in the middle of the movie that irked me. When War Machine was shot down and Stark was tending to him, Falcon came over to say he was sorry, and Tony blasted him in the fucking chest. Was he even sure Falcon’s wussy-ass armor could handle the blast? Or did he seriously try to murder Falcon for something that wasn’t really his fault? So yeah, I wanted to see Tony Stark get his ass beaten to hell. I had wanted that for 5 movies actually.

    And Captain America… yes, I think his character development has been excellent in the series and I completely buy why he wouldn’t want to be a good soldier by the time this movie started. I never bought his “friendship” with Tony Stark- my reading on the previous movies in the series was that they totally hated each other. In any case it’s a total shame that Cap’s third stand-alone movie essentially got turned into Avengers 3. This definitely didn’t feel like a Captain America movie. At least he got to beat Iron Man’s obnoxious ass into the ground.

    I guess I mostly like the movie because it’s about time someone made Tony Stark pay a little bit for being a dick. Also the villain was compelling and I honestly had no idea how the movie was going to end. But even with a tight and grounded villain plot the movie itself was still bloated with nonsense. Just not helicarrier-sized nonsense.

    • Thomas Stockel

      Look, I can tell you’re very passionate, but man I had a really hard time following what you were trying to say. Did you like the movie or not?

      (Quickly ducks out of the room)

      • David Klopotoski

        I said I liked it. Taken on it’s own the movie works. The conflict between the characters is plausible and grounded. The villain isn’t a random intergalactic warlord who wants to get/destroy something for reasons. And the movie ends with the douchebro character I’ve wanted see get wrecked for nearly a decade lying in a pool of blood. OK, that’s not literally true but it’s how I choose to remember it.

        But it’s not a standalone movie, it’s a sequel. I can’t just ignore that Tony Stark is such a massive hypocrite in Civil War by the standard he set in the previous movies. Since I already hate him that doesn’t really break the movie for me but it’s annoying these movies still tries to present him as a hero. That’s definitely my biggest problem with the MCU.

        The CGI also really annoys me. Is Robert Downey Jr. ever in costume as Iron Man? Or is it always CGI? I could go on, but I don’t want to pile on a movie I liked.

    • John

      The Black Widow thing has bugged me too. Mostly because I’m a big Hawkeye fan and he seems to be dismissed as the least useful Avenger in the movies, she definitely ranks lower but gets a pass because she’s the “chick” of the team. She has two pistols with no extra ammo and it seems the only reason she started using the stun baton things (since Age of Ultron) is to make her seem like a legitimate threat when going against robots and the like. That’s not something she uses in the comics, it was introduced in the movies.

      • David Klopotoski

        I think there are far more useless Avengers than Black Widow. Falcon for example seems to be Iron Man or War Machine with less armor. And as much as I give Hawkeye credit for having magic arrows, Black Widow’s espionage cred is much higher. I only really have a problem when she’s fighting and holding her own against the same enemies that are giving the actual super-powered Avengers difficulty. If she can knock them on their asses Thor should be vaporizing them.

        • John

          I would agree, but there isn’t a lot of spy work as an Avenger.

          • David Klopotoski

            Civil War started with a whole spy operation. Winter Soldier had plenty of espionage content. The first Avenger movie began with Black Widow undercover. The scripts for these movies could be written to make better use of her supposed character, but it’s easier just to have her do kung fu.

  • Too bad for Crossbones. He is now with Klaw in the afterlife of cool b-villains that would have been great in a Thunderbolts movie and now never will be.

    If I had to guess why Captain Marvel can’t pick up comic sales it has a lot to do with how broken comic books are now. They are really expensive continuity porn, they are not sold in places where new readers might find them, and they never retire any characters so no space on the shelf or pocket book can be found to spend on the more “out there” characters.

    Also, Captain Marvel was better as Ms. Marvel, when she had character traits and flaws having to do with dealing with her encounters with the brood, and finding a place back on earth when her life has been a congo line of bullshit and misery. Now she is just a no nonsense boring asshole (or maybe her appeal just faded with costume change).

    • Thomas Stockel

      The state of comics does play a part, but if you took a gander at the terrible art and the utterly lackluster writing you can see just how bad things have gotten. It’s sad to think that what Danvers needs is an A-list team on her book but they keep giving her to B-list talent.

      • PhysUnknown

        I liked the costume change and the rebranding as “Captain” initially, but I agree that over time the title just wasn’t all that engaging.

    • John

      Crossbones, Klaw, Strucker…They keep introducing villains and killing them off so quickly afterwards, its really a shame.

      • Could have been worse… Look at the Warriors Three.

        • John

          Man I know. At least Hogun got two minutes of fight out of it before getting killed.

          I bet Jamie Alexander is happy her show got in the way of filming Thor 3, she can at least return again.

  • Jonathan Campbell

    “Captain America opposed the move on purely idealistic grounds and was resolved to resist it with every fiber of his being.”

    No…In the comics he opposed it because SHIELD wanted him to hunt down those who didn’t sign up and attacked him when he refused. The Act had not even passed by this point either. Steve was understandably annoyed by and suspicious of this sort of thing.

  • Toby Clark

    This was a movie that I wanted to like a lot more than I ultimately did. As it is, my feelings are a lot closer to Jonathan Campbell’s review here, and I also have problems with it that I didn’t with the Civil War comic. Not many, of course, but right from the start I found myself comparing the outcome of the fight in Lagos to the analogous Stamford incident and feeling that the comic did a better job justifying why the superhero community would get the blame.