Jun 04 2016

Captain America: Civil War Review

Published by at 6:21 pm under Writing Articles

1. I think the movie is overrated at 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’d put it at 60-70% (notably less awful than the year’s other superhero-vs-superhero movie, Batman vs. Superman, but probably the worst-written MCU movie not starring the Hulk).


2. My biggest complaint against the movie is that it guts well-established character development for no readily obvious reason.

  • Iron Man’s the biggest offender. He spent most of his first 3 movies and Avengers 1 establishing himself as a refreshingly cocky genius notably unwilling to cooperate with soulless authority figures even when it was easy to do so (e.g. refusing to falsely deny he was Iron Man and refusing to give his technology to Congress and the military). In this movie, that not only gets completely obliterated, but he becomes the soulless authority figure, which is insult on injury. For example, when a faceless State Department employee blames him for her son getting killed while building homes in the generically Eastern European place that got annihilated during Avengers 2, is there anything in he’s done in earlier movies that suggests that he’d be on board with submitting the Avengers to faceless UN bureaucrats that he doesn’t know and has no reason to trust? I think he’d probably point out that the Avengers successfully saved the world. Hell, if he were going for something more distinctly Stark-esque, he might ask her for a thank you, seeing as they managed to save 99.99% of the people on the planet including everybody else she knew. Stark had a much more memorable response the last time someone tried guilt-tripping him.

  • In Ant-Man’s first movie, he gets arrested for an idealistic/altruistic crime and it costs him his family. His ex-wife was quite pissed that he wasn’t able to support their daughter while behind bars. When Falcon asks AM for help on an idealistic/altruistic crime, AM helps because he’s met Falcon before, and is impressed by Captain America. Okay, but isn’t his daughter a bigger deal to him than that? Also, given the circumstances of how he met Falcon before (getting sort of attacked by Falcon in the first AM movie) why would he rush to help Falcon when Falcon asks?)

  • Spider-Man’s motivation for joining Tony’s team against Captain America is exceptionally weak. Okay, he’s a high schooler impressed by Tony Stark’s star-power. Okay, but he’s also a New Yorker that was alive when Captain America helped defeat an alien invasion of NY in Avengers 1, and also when Captain America helped save the world in Avengers 2. And, also, Peter Parker might have been on the Hydra kill-list aborted by Captain America in Winter Soldier. It probably would have helped giving SM some bigger reason to want to get involved than just idolizing Tony Stark. Maybe Tony convinces Spider-Man that they’re only really interested in arresting superpowered hitman Bucky, and that they need to subdue anyone interfering as cleanly as possible. Spider-Man is much better qualified for a nonlethal takedown than almost anyone else Tony could have asked (e.g. compare to Hulk, Thor, War Machine, etc). “Hey, you probably aren’t very excited about fighting Captain America – I doubt any New Yorker would be – but you’re our best chance of arresting a super-assassin without any Avengers getting seriously hurt. You in?” I think this would have helped SM look a lot less flaky/childish than he actually did.
  • Secondarily: Vision unintentionally shooting War Machine. I see two main possibilities. One is that an android just happened to miss a shot that badly because the writers needed him to miss, which would be helluva lazy writing. I feel the only plausible in-story explanation is if Vision meant to hit WM (possibly because of mind control, maybe from Thanos’ influence over the gem), which would probably be much more interesting than “I lost focus.”
  • Maybe Captain America interfering with attempts to arrest Bucky? He doesn’t appear to consider any alternatives “let Bucky be arrested” and “defeat anyone attempting to arrest Bucky”. E.g. spending a line or two talking with Wanda and/or Vision about whether it’d be possible for them to remove Bucky’s mind control?
  • I like the villain’s goal, but it all hinges on Captain America being so fanatically loyal to Bucky that framing Bucky for another murder will create a lethal confrontation between Captain America and other Avengers. Given that this didn’t happen after Bucky committed actual murders in Winter Soldier, that seems unlikely.


3. Out of all the people that could really benefit from financial assistance, the MIT student body is probably pretty low on the list.


4. The cast was probably unnecessarily large. Hawkeye, definitely unnecessary. Black Panther, more on him later. This version of Spider-Man was not written well enough to earn his time/space in the movie. Wanda, arguable. Falcon, probably unnecessary. Of the five, I feel like Falcon was the biggest disappointment, not because I had terribly high expectations for the character (I think his main contribution is that he can eventually replace Chris Evans when he hangs up the shield), but because if he ever were going to establish himself as a character different than CA in any way, this probably would have been his best chance. (“Umm, hey, we know that you’re very close to your WWII teammate, who happens to have been mind-controlled into a superpowered serial killer, but maybe there’s a better way to help him than punching out 20+ police officers?”)


5. The writing for Spider-Man was sort of an odd choice. E.g. bending over backwards to make him annoying, and emasculating him with the scene where Iron-Man pulls him out of the fight. (Over the last 60 superhero movies I’ve seen, when a superhero gets taken out of a fight, typically he either gets knocked unconscious or his combatants withdraw or maybe he faces superior odds and withdraws himself). If you hate a protagonist you’re writing this badly, I’d recommend writing him out of the script. Maybe see Turtles Forever for another example here?) If this was the best they could do with the character, why work him into a movie that already has 10 superheroes in it?


6. Waukanda felt goofy. It’s not the first time a fictional country has been introduced into the MCU (Sokovia in Avengers 2 was a fairly generic setting that mainly showed up to get blown up, and blowing up an actual country might have been too dark). The mix of Waukanda’s 19th century government (king as actual head of state) and very advanced technology might have felt less goofy if it had been established in a separate Black Panther movie rather than in an ensemble movie. Also, I think Thor/Asgard has already covered a lot of this ground, but Thor actually has the fantasy background to make it work.

6.1. Black Panther is a martial artist, a billionaire heir, randomly a jet pilot, apparently a master investigator (he found Bucky quite easily), and driven to revenge by the murder of a parent. If the writing for a character rips off Batman that badly, I’d strongly suggest not making him look like this.
Black Panther's costume: also a Batman ripoff

6.2. Unfortunately, they didn’t rip off the stellar lines that Batman typically gets, and personality and character development were sort of missing. With so many characters fighting for time, this probably wasn’t the best opportunity to introduce him. I hope his standalone movie in 2018 will be much better.

6.3. In Marvel’s defense, it wasn’t the worst Batman movie this year.


7. Tony Stark’s creative contributions have been waning over time. I think he had maybe 3 very clever lines in the movie. Weariness doesn’t seem to help him very much.


8. Ant-Man was probably the MVP of the movie in terms of personality and writing, though his role in the plot was negligible. Also, I had previously been skeptical that his powers would allow him to contribute much in combat in a superhero ensemble movie, but he actually contributed more to the fight scenes than most of the other characters.


9. Bucky is hard to care about – he’s less of a character than a mind-control plot device to be fought over. I think Manchurian Candidate, Jessica Jones, and even the pilot episode of Alphas handled mind-control much more effectively, generally from the victim’s perspective. Here’s the introductory scene of Manchurian Candidate.

10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Captain America: Civil War Review”

  1. InnocentBystanderon 05 Jun 2016 at 9:27 am

    If I may give my thoughts?

    1) Might be personal opinion, but while this is certainly not the best MCU film, I still think it’s leagues above the Thor movies, Ultron, and Iron Man 2 and 3.
    2) i. While I understand where you’re coming from with Tony, I think the part with the woman talking about her deceased son was different from an authority figure telling him “don’t do this.” It was more personal — especially since he ended up learning a lot about the kid, humanizing said-kid rather than him being a faceless victim — and it’s harder to retort to someone who’s grieving, especially when they make a good point. I also think that the events of the Iron Man movies and Ultron — where he’s responsible for essentially making all the villains — humbled him and made him realize he could do serious harm. And that, in turn, means the others can do harm.
    ii. Got nothing on Ant-Man, though maybe it’s because he learned about the Accords and is leery about them given what happened in his film.
    iii. Spidey struck me as someone who hasn’t been informed of the whole situation and joined because Tony Stark said “I need your help.” He even says in the film that he’s trying to impress Stark and has no hard feelings against the others (he also most likely doesn’t know the specifics of about what happened in Winter Soldier). I also think him being recruited was supposed to show that Tony is going to far, in that he recruited a minor and put him in a potentially dangerous situation even with the orders to stay on the edges rather than go right into the fray, as well as not informing him of the whole situation.
    iv. I think this was because Vision was worried about Wanda, whom he was cradling and trying to aid before he shot at Falcon. Not as good as your theory, but that’s what I think the filmmakers were going for.
    v and vi. To be fair, the authorities had a “shoot on sight” order, so Steve was trying not to let Bucky get killed. And while he could’ve asked Wanda at the end of the film, he was more preoccupied in the middle trying to stop Zemo/fighting Tony.
    3. Agreed.
    4. I think Wanda was needed since she is likely not getting her own movie any time soon and this was a good place to develop her character (“I can’t control their fear. Only my own.”). And while the other characters were probably kinda pointless, those established as part of the Avengers (like Falcon) were likely included if only because people would be wondering why they weren’t around for something like this.
    5. I do think Spidey was kinda pointless in this film, aside from a missed-opportunity for someone to call out Tony on endangering a kid when he went pro-registration because another one was killed. As for personality; to be fair, he’s supposed to be younger (freshman) than McGuire (senior to college freshman) and Garfield (senior to graduate). It’s also most likely his first time fighting super-powered individuals rather than common criminals, so I didn’t mind the inexperience.
    6. Okay, I kinda agree about Waukanda, though I admittedly don’t know a lot of comic lore.
    i. Yeah, I see where you’re coming from, though I still liked him. Though I think how open he is about his identity sets him apart from Batman.
    ii. Really? I thought that part at the end where he confronts the villain showed a lot of development. Rather than going for vengeance like he initally planned, he recognizes how destructive it is both with the villain and with Tony and decides to end the cycle instead of continuing it. He also stops the villain from comitting suicide so he can face justice, which for him marks a step forward into being a leader. And his “the living are not yet done with you” line was pretty good.
    7. Agreed.
    8. Disagreeing here; Black Panther was the most compelling character for me and I’m looking more forward to his stand-alone film (which is sadly too far away) than any other stand-alone in the MCU coming out, aside from possibly Black Widow (which has only just been announced).
    9. Okay, yes. Fair enough.

    Again, overall, I don’t think the movie should be at 60-70%. 90% is still high, but I’d personally rate it at 75-80%.

  2. B. McKenzieon 05 Jun 2016 at 11:13 am

    “aside from a missed-opportunity for someone to call out Tony on endangering a kid when he went pro-registration because another one was killed.” That could have been very promising (though it might further undercut Spider-Man further as a superhero).

    “The living are not yet done with you.” I feel like a king is probably the worst person on Earth to make the argument for justice by the books? 😀

    Also, I would contrast the difficulty with which Bruce Wayne inherits his company in Gotham (against massive opposition from highly competent criminal conspiracies) or even Thor overcoming family intrigue vs. the ease with which BP takes the throne. I think BW’s setup is a bit more interesting than just getting born to the right people. Also, BW is an anomaly pursuing many choices which in context are extremely unusual, whereas the Black Panther is treading a path many BPs have walked before him. Relatively unusual paths tend to make for more interesting character development, I think.

    I feel vengeance -> justice is a kind of predictable development arc. In particular, given the demographics, I think it would have been genuinely shocking if BP actually had ended on a highly vengeful note, especially in a PG-13 movie.

  3. Yuuki991on 05 Jun 2016 at 1:46 pm

    I think you’re being too harsh. Normally, I’m one to agree with you, but I vehemently disagree. So I’ll rebuttal your argument: piece by piece.

    1) Your complaint on Stark is rather hollow. On one hand, I do agree that his turn to support the registration act was a bit sudden. But on the other hand, his guilt is justified. Iron Man one demonstrated how frivolous he was with his weapons and how it cost him. Iron Man two very much showcased his arrogance and allowing that to get to his head. And Iron Man 3 very much showcased the repercussions of his arrogance and disregard for anyone but himself. Taken within the totality of his own franchise and the MCU, it makes a ton of sense that Tony would feel guilty. This with the added loss of Pepper would no doubt want him to make things right.

    Especially, given the events of Age of Ultron. So as such, it makes sense that Stark would go with the government. He’s not thinking logically. Tony has always held his emotions on his sleeve. We saw this during the third and final act!

    2) Your point on Ant-man is a valid one. I won’t deny it seems rather odd he’d sacrifice his entire family. Heck, Tony brings this up to Clint. However, how I see it is that Lang is such a fanboy of Captain America and he genuinely wants to do the right thing. Especially, after being known as a criminal/failure.

    As for the ramifications of this, I would like to see this in his sequel movie perhaps, given the ending. But needless to say, in my view, it made sense that Ant-man was in this movie.

    3) Vision’s missing I always took it as him not being focused due to Wanda being in the conflict. While I was puzzled, rewatching the movie, the scenes with Vision and Wanda very much setup to that aspect and how the two of them are alike in that they are powerful beings, connected via the mind stone and how Vision manages to reign himself in via logic.

    To me this strikes me as brilliant because it showcased how Vision was becoming slightly more human. Whether or not it should have been clarified more is another debate. But in my view, it is NOT lazy writing.

    4) Hawkeye I can see your point and perhaps we needed some explanation. Black Panther, I vehemently disagree. I think he’s the single best part of the movie. Spider-man, while I do felt he was a bit shoehorned in, was executed very well. The performance was well and the characterization for him, limited as it was, was successful.

    As for your complaints about the large cast, I disagree. I was nervous as well, but seeing the movie the directors handled it very well.

    5) Spider-man appearance was literally due to Marvel and Sony striking a deal for joint agreement. So my question would be where do you fit him? He’s got his own solo film, but the agreement stated he’d needed to mark his first appearance in an MCU film.

    Dr. Strange would have felt even more shoehorned in, despite being in New York. And Black Panther and Captain Marvel? I’d doubt that would been more forced. This is a case of studio politics nothing more or less.

    I understand you may not follow this, but anyone who didn’t know, now do. You can agree or disagree about the stipulations put forth. But needless to say, Marvel was stuck in a bind when they’d grabbed Spider-man. As such, I think they made an excellent decision of putting him in Civil War.

    6) Wakanda I’ll admit I wished we saw more of in Age of Ultron. But for what it is worth, I’m glad we got it. As for T’Challa being a clone of Batman that I strongly disagree with. The dialogue as brief as it was, established T’Challa’s impatience and lack of foresight.

    When his father died, he wanted vengeance. To me, this works. Characters with backgrounds of royalty are often hard to work with. As such, you need to be smart as to how you handle them. T’Challa’s arc, while not from the comics, makes sense because in my view he was a king all but in the emotional side.

    His actions were clearly motivated by grief. However, T’Challa wasn’t stupid as he pragmatically aligned himself with Stark. Now, you could argue that we should have seen more of T’Challa coping with the loss of his father and the dangers associated with being so grief stricken/consumed.

    But my simple response is that this movie would further push itself away from a Captain America film. Plus, one could argue we kind of get that with Baron Zemo, being exactly like T’Challa was. You mentioned in a comment how you felt the arc was predictable.

    I’ll agree, but to me, the development was well executed. T’Challa became the king of Wakanda the moment he saw himself into Zemo. And that’s what’s so brilliant about it.

    7) I disagree. This is perhaps RDJ’s best performance since Iron Man. With all due respect, Stark has been nothing but a quip machine. While funny, they don’t add much to his character. Even Age of Ultron which I like a lot more than most people had a problem of Stark’s arc being rather hollow and not well fleshed out.

    At least in Civil War, we see a much different Tony Stark than the first Iron Man. And that to me is brilliant. One could argue that Stark’s character could remain consistent due to how incredibly competent he is and prior bits of development from the prior. But what makes it brilliant is that this Tony Stark is a very different one.

    The figure who distrusted authority and went on his own accord is gone. Stripped away due to the events of his own movies and Ultron. Cap, in contrast, his trust towards larger figures is gone as a result of the Winter Soldier. This reversal of character is absolutely brilliant in that regards. Because to me, it could have been so much easier for Stark to remain as he was and have barely any advancement in his character.

    8) Agreed. Paul Rudd brought his A game and I loved every bit. Though, I felt that airport sequence, amazing as it was.

    9) Once more I strongly disagree. While I do feel like Bucky would have benefitted if the third cap movie wasn’t Civil War, there was enough plot threads from the Winter Soldier to continue his development. That said, I do wish we got some more scenes of him and Cap talking. For instance, during the third act where they’d reminisced about the past.

    This was lacking in the Winter Soldier and I was hoping for more of that in Civil War. But to me the scene towards the third act and the apartment scene were enough. Plus, the mid-credit scene did solidify this relationship.

    Overall, if anyone got through my rebuttal, some may paint me as being blinded by this film. If I had only seen this movie one time, then sure; that criticism could be warranted.

    But after seeing this film three times, taking notes and watching the other MCU movies in comparison, I can understand why it is well regarded.

    It could have been better. No film is perfect. But for what the subject matter was, the directors did a great job.

    Is it 90% Rotten Tomatoes worthy? Maybe not. I’d settle for more 85% if anything. I do argue the film, while completing the Cap trilogy does at times feel more like a sequel to Age of Ultron.

    But I guess that’s a consequence of a shared cinematic universe. Something that Marvel no doubt will have to acknowledge in the future.

  4. Milanon 05 Jun 2016 at 6:28 pm

    I did feel the plot was created somewhat in isolation to the characters who were then shoe-horned in. Perhaps that makes sense as a deus ex Zemo. Stark’s manipulation of events all the way through, while eventually deduced was never well explained (having only seen the movie once with interruptions). Why did Stark suddenly go completely cloak and dagger when his usual M.O. is ostentatious? Captain America communicated guilt much better than Stark at Ross’ meeting. I felt at the end that Stark had further ulterior motives that have not yet been revealed.

    I had to break immersion a couple of times to explain Ant-Man and Black Panther to my wife. At least Spider-Man needed no introduction.

    Complexity is inevitable in sequels but I do miss the heart of the first Avengers.

  5. B. McKenzieon 05 Jun 2016 at 7:13 pm

    “I do argue the film, while completing the Cap trilogy does at times feel more like a sequel to Age of Ultron.” If they were dead-set on having that many characters, I think avoiding a relatively small role for CA would be challenging. His role was much bigger, though, than Superman’s ~cameo role in Batman Vs. Superman, where he only got ~400 words of dialogue* in the movie and pretty much his only contributions to the plot were superpowers and his fight with Zod in the previous movie. At least CA didn’t get upstaged by the villain and his own side-characters. :-/

    *There actually have been some cameo roles that are bigger speaking roles than this. E.g. Alec Baldwin had ~800 words in Glengarry Glen Ross and he was only in a ~7 minute scene.

  6. Vixis Shiar'Deluson 07 Jun 2016 at 10:05 am

    I wouldn’t say it’s the strangest thing in the world that Tony feels the need to find a form of accountability. The purpose of the Iron Legion and then Ultron was to act as a sort of safeguard in the event that the Avengers couldn’t handle a threat or if they weren’t around to do so. Though it isn’t completely transparent, he’s slowly shifted from where he was in Iron Man to a hero more closely kin to Doctor Doom, where he kinda wants to increase his or other entities control so that he can ensure other’s safety. In a trend of personality development, it makes sense that after the events of AoU and Scarlet Witch’s field op, he might feel that the Avengers need some form of control too.

  7. Vixis Shiar'Deluson 07 Jun 2016 at 10:08 am

    Also, the biggest reason that Pete helped out Tony was because Tony was blackmailing him with his own secret identity. Peter only agrees to help when Tony says that he’s going to tell Aunt May about his superheroics.

  8. B. McKenzieon 07 Jun 2016 at 11:00 am

    I’ll rewatch the scene, but my vague recollection is that Tony threatens to tell Aunt May if Spider-Man mentions homework. However, if you’re right that Spider-Man is mainly motivated by blackmail, that would have been very promising, but it’d be a pretty big missed opportunity to have Spider-Man take no conflicting action (e.g. sabotage, resistance, counter-blackmail, anything suggesting that he has a pulse, etc).

  9. Nickon 28 Jun 2016 at 9:01 am

    Regarding Ant-Man, I don’t see why your complaint is really relevant at all. Yes, Lang lost his family due to an ‘altruistic crime’ at the beginning of a movie, but he also regained his family due to another altruistic crime at the end of the movie. The assumption that Lang’s ex-wife will automatically turn on him for this makes no sense to me at all. If she can accept him being Ant-Man in the first place, then there is a very good possibility she can accept this (unless she has very strong pro-registration feelings).

    It perhaps could’ve been better to show that he worried at least a bit about the possibility, but it’s certainly not something that ruins his motivation to participate. He’s a superhero because of his daughter – becoming Ant-man is basically his coming of age/discovery of his true purpose – so when someone says they need his help to do the right thing, he’s probably going to do it. Anything else would be letting his daughter down.

  10. B. McKenzieon 28 Jun 2016 at 7:36 pm

    From Ant-Man’s script:

    SCOTT/ANT-MAN: You could marry anyone you want, and you have to get engaged to a cop?
    MAGGIE: At least he’s not a crook.
    SCOTT: I’m trying, okay? I’ve changed. I’m straight. I had a job and I wanna provide. I had a lot of time to think about it and I love her. So much. I’ve missed so much time and I wanna be a part of her life. What do I do?
    MAGGIE: Get an apartment, get a job, pay child support. And then we will talk about visitation, I promise. You’re her hero, Scott. Just be the person that she already thinks you are.
    [end scene]

    She calls him a crook after he commits a purely altruistic, nonviolent crime. If she treats that as grounds for a divorce*, how could you sell her on Ant-Man getting violent with cops and/or superheroes to prevent a superpowered serial killer from getting arrested? (Especially after he had told her that he had changed?)

    I feel like the amount of hardship about to fall on his family probably calls for a bigger justification than being a Captain America fan.

    *The movie doesn’t explicitly mention why they got divorced, but the only explicit points of conflict between them are his criminal past, her marrying a cop, and him being a nonprovider for the family.

    “he also regained his family due to another altruistic crime at the end of the movie.” He’s still divorced, and has visitation (rather than, say, joint custody), and AFAIK he hasn’t even been shown getting a solo visit with Cassie without Maggie or the cop in the house. She hasn’t even apologized to him for calling for a crook. He’s regained a tiny portion of his family life, but at the end of the Ant-Man movie, his relationship with his ex-wife is not very close to where he was before the first altruistic crime. She’s pretty clear about wanting a stable provider for Cassie, and I’m guessing she wouldn’t be thrilled if he became a fugitive.

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