Well, my friends. The time has come.
CIVIL WAR IS UPON US.
There will be no spoilers for Civil War until the aptly named and easily avoidable Spoiler Section. However, there will be SPOILERS throughout the review for previous movies in the Marvel franchise, particularly Age of Ultron and The Winter Soldier.
The Sokovia Accords are created to ensure superheroes work solely for the UN, rather than as vigilantes with no oversight. The Avengers are divided on whether to sign the Accords, with half the team agreeing with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) that it’s the responsible thing to do, and half following Steve Roger’s (Chris Evans) lead when he refuses to sign. Things become further complicated when a manhunt begins for Cap’s BFF and wanted fugitive, Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).
1. I’m not going to lie, folks. I was a little worried going into this movie. I know I probably shouldn’t have been. I adore The Winter Soldier, which the Russo brothers also directed, and the early reviews of Civil War were glowing so hard that they were basically radioactive. (Well, Hollywood radioactive anyway. It’s a very specific shade of bright neon green.) But I worried anyway, due to some combo of these factors:
1A) I really wanted to like this movie, and expectations are a bitch.
1B) Especially taking Age of Ultron into consideration, which genuinely has some good stuff going for it but did ultimately disappoint me.
1C) There are a lot of players in Civil War, and the more you’ve got to juggle, the more likely everything’s gonna come crashing down.
1D) If I didn’t understand where both Captain America and Iron Man were coming from, I was going to have serious problems. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’ll forgive a lot if I’m having a good time watching something, but if I don’t buy character motivation, you will lose me entirely, and that goes double for the characters I actually like. If this movie was so hell bent on making Tony the antagonist that it turned him into an insanely idiotic jackass (the way he was in the Civil War comics, apparently), I was not going to be happy and you were all going to suffer for it.
Thankfully, that is (mostly) not the case.
2. In truth, Civil War is a lot of fun. It effortlessly juggles its ridiculously large band of superheroes like you would not believe; more ensemble casts (looking at you, Star Trek) could stand to take a cue from this film. Almost everyone gets something pretty memorable to do; even the smaller roles that are basically just glorified cameos are exciting to watch. It’s fairly impressive.
The movie also manages to strike a pretty perfect balance between Funny As Hell and Angsty As Shit, which, of course, is just my favorite thing in the world. All the Laughter, All the Feels should basically be my fan motto.
And, of course, the action scenes and battle sequences are just spectacular.
The One Scene That Everyone’s Talking About with, like, eighteen different superheroes? (Okay, actually twelve.) You guys. It’s so good. Like, okay, there’s this spot inside my soul where all my impossible childhood dreams live, right, and one of those dreams comes from being a huge X-Men: The Animated Series fan as a kid. In the opening titles, there’s a shot of all the good mutants and all the evil mutants running at each other in some big, epic battle, and I’ve always wanted to watch that scene–but, unfortunately, it was never a real scene, just something they made to look cool for the opener. This disappointment has lingered in my childish heart for YEARS . . . but now, it’s been lifted because the giant ass battle in the middle of Civil War pretty much just gave me the best live-action version of that scene (albeit with different heroes) that I could have ever imagined. For that alone, I have to love this movie.
3. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t have some problems with the film . . . because I’m me, yes, but also because as awesome as this film is, there are certain things that could have been handled better (or, in some cases, just eliminated entirely). I can’t get into too many details outside the Spoiler Section, of course, but here are a few vague allusions to my problems with the film:
3A. In matters of the heart, I take some issue with how two different relationships are handled. By no means do they ruin the movie for me, but . . . I also wouldn’t call them small issues.
3B. A particular element of the denouement feels pretty anticlimactic to me and almost a bit . . . convenient? It’s a minor problem, but I was annoyed by it.
3C. For the most part, the Team Cap vs Team Tony stuff is handled really well. There aren’t a lot of easy answers, and I can see where both sides are coming from . . . except at one point, where I think Captain America makes a crucial error in judgment that, frankly, slides me just a little to Team Tony’s side. (Should it be Team Iron Man? Probably, but I like the alliteration of Team Tony.) Now, I wouldn’t consider this a problem, necessarily, except that I didn’t get the impression that the writers felt Cap made a mistake here, and since I absolutely did . . . it bugged me. (It’s also a plot convenience issues. Oh, the things characters choose to do or not do in order to serve the plot.)
4. The truth, though, is that whether you were Team Tony or Team Cap (or Team Can’t We All Just Get Along) before this movie started, your allegiance probably changed to Team T’Challa or Team Spider-Man by the time the movie ended. Because hot damn, are they both awesome.
I liked Black Panther well enough while watching Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but I must admit to being a little worried about how T’Challa and Wakanda itself were going to play out in a live-action movie. I mean, I don’t know why I worried–Hollywood having that stellar reputation for its careful depictions of other cultures, countries, and continents that it does—-but still. I was a bit concerned.
But Chadwick Boseman just hits it out of the park. He has such presence as T’Challa, I’m not even quite sure how to describe it. He is equal parts dignity, regality, and BADASSERY, and I am all on board for a Black Panther movie now.
Meanwhile, I have to admit that for all my doubts about a third Peter Parker in under fifteen years, Tom Holland does a pretty great job with the role.
His Spider-Man is nerdy, hyper, hilarious, and kind of adorable, and his presence brightens up the whole movie. I also have a weird amount of feels about the interactions between him and Tony. They’re kind of the best. And while I wasn’t surprised to find out that Holland was British–he just has a British sort of look to him?–I also don’t remember hearing his accent at all. So, kudos, kid. You’re what, 19? Yeah, don’t mind me as I collapse, weeping, as I consider the wide range of nothing I’d managed to accomplish by 19.
5. Unfortunately, most everything else I want to talk about includes spoilers, so I’m going to wrap this section up pretty early with a quick note about our antagonist, Zemo (Daniel Brühl).
What I can say about Zemo is limited, but I will note that, while not going on my list of Most Awesome Cinematic Villains Ever or anything, Zemo isn’t bad, especially by Marvel’s standards. He’s a little different than the usual Annihilate Everyone on the Planet for Evil Reasons of Evil bad guy, and I liked Brühl’s performance, especially in one scene near the end.
I am, of course, obviously disappointed that Marvel chose not to go with Baron Zemo’s costume from EMH, but I guess we can’t have everything we want in life. (For shame, Marvel. For shame. Think of what we could have had: ostentatious gold belt! Dalmatian fur shoulders! Matching Dalmation fur-lined boots! Purple EVERYWHERE! This is the pinnacle of supervillain fashion right here, Marvel, and you missed out big time. Go sit in a corner and think about what you’ve done.)
So, we begin our story back in 1990, when Bucky Barnes was still the Winter Solider. The bad guys use a set of particularly random words to trigger Bucky’s Killing Mode, and I’m absolutely sure those words won’t be relevant again. Bucky’s mission, it appears, is to crash some dude’s car so he can steal some blue junk out of the trunk. (Er, not a euphemism? Honestly, I don’t even know what that would be a euphemism for. It just sounds vaguely wrong. Please don’t offer suggestions.)
We don’t see the occupants of the car, but even before we get to Hilariously Young Tony Stark reminding us that his parents died on the way to the airport, I was like, “Oh yeah, Bucky totally just murdered Iron Man’s Mom and Dad. Shit be going DOWN tonight.” And then I was like, “Wait, 1990? Isn’t that math a little . . . off?” But I decided to trust my understanding of narrative over my incredibly limited abilities to do math in my head. This is always the right call.
(Also, can I just say: thank God CGI has advanced some since the days of X-Men: The Last Stand. 20-year-old CGI RDJ is weird because, like, your brain knows it’s wrong, but his face didn’t actually look bad, or at least not to me. This is a far cry from the attempt at Young Patrick Stewart and Young Ian McKellan in the worst X-Men movie of all time.)
Anyway. We’re now brought to the present, where Cap, Black Widow, Falcon, and Scarlet Witch stop Brock Rumlow (last seen on fire in The Winter Soldier) from stealing some weapon or other. Unfortunately, Rumlow also manages to distract Cap long enough to trigger a bomb, and when Scarlet Witch tries to levitate it into the sky to save Cap, it detonates too soon, destroying a building and killing a number of people inside.
This, along with what happened to Sokovia in Age of Ultron, prompts something of an outcry. Which, by the way, I do understand. There’s always the debate on whether superheroes should be held accountable for the civilian deaths that happen while they’re busy saving the world, which I think is an interesting one. On one hand, if the superheroes weren’t there, maybe–even likely–everyone dies. It’s not fair to blame them for an inability to save everyone. On the other hand, it really depends on how those civilian deaths occur, doesn’t it? Because I think there’s a difference between, say, these two different scenarios:
Scenario A: A cop is unable to evacuate two of the ten hostages in a building before the bad guys set off a bomb.
Scenario B: A cop sets off a small bomb to kill the bad guys holding ten people hostage, but the same blast which kills the bad guys also takes out two of the hostages.
As applied to superheroes . . . well, it’s complicated. Think the first Avengers movies with the Chitauri invasion: if Hulk tosses one of the Chitauri’s flying sea turtles into a building, and it crashes into six people, killing them, is that more Scenario B than A? Or do you think that Scenario A and B can’t be applied to extra-powered people? I’m just saying, I find the whole thing interesting. I think there’s more nuance in the debate than some people give it credit for.
But I’ve gotten off track again. Okay, so, the UN creates the Sokovia Accords, which honestly seem fairly reasonable, all things considered, although you’ve got to seriously side eye any plan that has General Ross (now Secretary of State Ross, apparently) on board. Anyway, The Avengers (current and retired) divide pretty squarely in half:
Cap votes NAY. He does not trust any government, even a collection of governments, to send the team on missions that are morally right. He also believes that the UN will keep the Avengers from helping people who need help purely due to political reasons, and he’s almost certainly not wrong about that. Cap definitely has cause not to trust the upper-ups (kids, can we say HAIL HYDRA?), and his journey over the last few movies from a dude who just wants to fight for his country to a guy who doesn’t really trust his country is actually kind of awesome. Still, it’s worth pointing out that his philosophical stand against the Accords rather quickly become almost entirely about saving Bucky.
Iron Man votes YAY. It’s a weird vote if you’ve recently watched Iron Man 2, where Tony’s absolutely refusing to give the government control of his suits, but since Age of Ultron, Tony’s got mad remorse like whoa, especially after grieving mother Alfre Woodard appears to guilt the holy living shit out of him. Tony thinks the Avengers need accountability, and I don’t think he’s wrong about that. Some of the moves he makes, though, start getting a little sketch, despite the best of intentions.
Black Widow votes YAY, mostly because she reads the political landscape and figures this is happening whether she likes it or not.
Vision votes YAY because statistical analysis suggests that there may be a causation between superheroes trying to save the world and supervillains trying to destroy the holy hell out of it.
Scarlet Witch ABSTAINS but then switches to NAY when Vision, acting under Tony’s orders, keeps her confined against her will to Avengers Headquarters. (See what I mean about sketch? Tony’s trying to keep Wanda safe, but imprisoning anyone against their will when they haven’t broken any laws is pretty much never a good idea.)
Hawkeye ABSTAINS because he’s retired but then switches to NAY when he goes to break out Scarlet Witch. I’m guessing that it’s her imprisonment which causes Hawkeye to get into the game? He’s really the only one in the whole film whose motivation seems a little bit shaky. Maybe it’s the fangirl in me, but I kind of assumed he’d pick whatever side Nat was on unless he had strong motivation not to, which I’m not sure the Sokovia Accords alone provides, not for him.
Falcon votes NAY because he’s Captain America’s bestie.
War Machine votes YAY because he’s Iron Man’s bestie, but also because he genuinely believes in the Sokovia Accords, which is entirely consistent with his character throughout the Iron Man movies.
And in the midst of this debate, something deeply upsetting happens: Peggy Carter dies, and I am Jack’s total despair.
Yes, yes, Peggy lived a full, happy life, and I had a few months to make my peace with the likelihood of her death, as my sister correctly predicted she would bite it from the trailer, but . . . ugh. I’m just so bummed now. Peggy Carter was the best. Word is that Season Three of Agent Carter is looking less and less likely–oh, no, it just got cancelled? AS I WAS EDITING THIS?! Motherfucker. We have now killed and cancelled Peggy Carter. Now I’m just depressed.
Especially because we’ve hit upon my first semi-serious problem with the movie:
WHERE HAVE ALL THE GOOD LOVE INTERESTS GONE?
I want to be 100% clear about this: I do not ship Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) at ALL.
Look, I never thought Sharon had much in the way of personality. VanCamp and Evans barely have even a thimble of chemistry between them, and I was deeply unenthused when I found out that Steve’s new love interest was Peggy’s great niece. Like, that’s taking “dumping the old ball and chain for the hot, younger model” thing to a whole new level of squick, you know? But not only is Sharon an incredibly lackluster replacement for Peggy, I seriously object to the timing of Steve and Sharon’s smoochies. Like, okay, clearly I love Peggy, but even I didn’t expect Steve to stick with Peg when she’s, like, 90-years-old. I figured he’d move on, and I was fine with that, especially if he moves on with Tony Stark because COME ON YOU KNOW YOU SHIP IT. (Unless you’re a Bucky/Steve shipper, of course, in which case I can’t help you because I’m just not. I know, Half of the Internet: I’m letting you down right now. I can’t help it. I just dig this too much.)
So, yeah, moving on? I’m cool with that. What I’m less cool with is Steve and Sharon macking on each other, what, later that very same day? Or is it supposed to be the next day? Either way, I’m sorry, it’s gross. Peggy’s supposed to be the big love of Steve’s life. She is barely in the ground, and he’s already giving tongue to Peggy’s great-niece? Well, that’s romantic. I mean, the whole thing is so rushed. I can’t help but feel like Peggy kicked the bucket just to pave the way for these two to get together, and really, who’s actually invested in Agent 13 and Cap anyway? (Well, other than Bucky and Sam, who, admittedly, have pretty hilarious matching “Go Steve, it’s your birthday” faces while watching The Kiss. I did laugh pretty hard at that.) Sharon and Steve have had a couple of scenes in two movies where they kinda/sorta half-ass flirt, and that’s about it. Do they even have a ship name? (Is it Agent America, because it should be.) I know romance in the Marvel movies can be kind of hit-or-miss, but this one is such a miss for me it’s not even funny.
And while we’re on the subject of problematic romance stories in this movie . . .
Apparently, Tony and Pepper broke up sometime off screen, presumably because Tony couldn’t quit being Iron Man, but really because . . . I don’t know, the Russo Brothers wanted to make sure Tony was super, super isolated and depressed? (Or maybe because Gwyneth Paltrow couldn’t appear? But I’m pretty sure they could have written around that.) And it’s just like, come on, dudes. I like that you at least acknowledge the end of Iron Man 3 (the way Age of Ultron totally failed to do), but seriously, Tony Stark has enough angst in this film as is. He has, like, four previous movies worth of guilt, plus his BFF gets badly hurt, plus he finds out that his parents were murdered. You know? Did you really need to give him a breakup too? (I know it’s never going to happen, but I’ve got to say: I’m kind of ready to see a Tony Stark story which doesn’t go like this: Tony fucks up, Tony has guilt, Tony tries to fix his mistake which leads to Tony fucking up again, Tony having more guilt, Tony trying to fix his mistake, etc. Maybe we could just have a lot less fucking up and guilt the next time around?)
Plus, while I’m not particularly interested in watching Tony and Pepper’s unnecessary romantic melodrama, their relationship is easily the biggest, most well-liked canon relationship in the MCU. (It certainly helps that, unlike Evans and VanCamp, Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow have mad chemistry.) We’ve been following their romance since 2008. Breaking them up off screen is bullshit. If they were going to breakup, we deserved to actually, you know, see it. Instead, the Russo brothers cast Pepper aside like she was just some extra, a minor part in a past film, and between that and the Peggy/Sharon Carter fiasco, I’m left with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Love interests seem awfully replaceable in Civil War, which might not frustrate me so much in a film that had a better female-to-male ratio, but, yeah. This is what we’ve got:
Important Male Characters: Steve, Bucky, Tony, Rhodey, Sam, Vision, Clint, T’Challa, Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Zemo, and Thaddeus Ross.
Important Female Characters: Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Sharon Carter.
And truthfully, I still don’t find Scarlet Witch much more compelling than Sharon Carter. She seems to have more potential, at least, and her powers remain cool. Still, her whole story (people are scared of me!) feels more like an outline of a character arc than an actual character arc. And while her hint at a romance with Vision (who also doesn’t interest me much) is probably my favorite romance in the movie, I still was kind of like “Must we? We must? Fine.” I will freely admit to being amused by the paprika bit, but still, no amount of cute floundering with yummy spices will make up for imprisoning your would-be girlfriend, so I find I’m having trouble being excited by their possible romance. Although it’s worth pointing out that Scarlet Witch and Vision manage about 80 times more burgeoning chemistry in their forty-second cooking lesson than Cap and Sharon have managed in two movies.
Time to get back to the main plot? Okay. World leaders meet to sign and implement the Sokovia Accords, but it goes badly when Zemo (pretending to be the Winter Soldier) assassinates T’Challa’s father, the King of Wakanda.
Even if I’d known nothing about Black Panther going into this movie, I like to think I would’ve figured out that the poor former king of Wakanda was a dead man walking. He might as well have worn a shirt that said DOOMED FOR PLOT PURPOSES. (I should like to own such a shirt. It would go nicely with my red one that has EXPENDABLE written across it.) Naturally, T’Challa goes into Badass Revenge Mode, and the official manhunt for Bucky begins with orders to kill on sight. Naturally, Steve takes issue with that, so he and Sam try to get to Bucky first. Much action ensues, but the takeaway is that Steve, Sam, and Bucky are all arrested.
Before I go any further, it occurs to me that I have not yet discussed Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), not to be confused with Secretary of State Ross. I didn’t know anything about Ross, so I looked him up, and apparently he’s an ally to Black Panther in the comics, which, honestly, surprises me quite a bit because all I really got from Freeman’s performance was a) a surprisingly decent American accent, and b) the impression of a schmucky little G-man who thinks he’s a bigger deal than he is. Like, that whole speech daring whoever to misbehave? (I can no longer remember if he’s talking to Bucky or Zemo here.) I was flat out rolling my eyes at his idiocy. Maybe this will change with the Black Panther movie, but right now Everett K. Ross strikes me as a minor villain, not a superhero’s ally.
But back to the story: Bucky meets is a psychologist (well, supposedly). The session goes poorly.
The psychologist, of course, is Zemo, who uses those random trigger words we heard in the beginning of the movie to activate the Winter Soldier. Bucky escapes, causing destruction and death as he goes, but he’s more or less back to normal by the time Steve and Sam (who have also escaped) catch up to him. Bucky explains about the trigger words and what he believes is Zemo’s Master Plan of Evil: to release the five bigger, badder Winter Soldiers (who we’ve never heard of before) because they have the capability of DESTROYING THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT.
This turns out not to be Zemo’s plan, which, thank God. On one hand, it makes sense that if you can brainwash one dude and turn him into a human weapon, why not brainwash some more dudes? More bang for your Buck, so to speak. (No, I’m not sorry for the pun.) On the other hand, revealing that the ultimate evil is a handful of miscellaneous assassins on ice (Disney’s best figure skating show yet!) is pretty underwhelming, like, is this really the threat that’s going to bring Captain America and Iron Man back together again?
Well, kind of. But before we get there, let’s get to my next problem with the film.
LEARN TO SHARE WITH THE FUCKING CLASS, CHILDREN.
Here are the things that Steve knows:
A) Bucky didn’t kill T’Challa’s father.
B) Bucky was purposefully triggered by a fake psychologist.
C) The same fake psychologist (supposedly) hopes to control five SUPER ASSASSINS.
Now, it’s true that Steve can’t prove any of these things yet. And I wouldn’t expect him to try and reason with Ross (who clearly can’t be reasoned with) or, say, T’Challa (who’s unlikely to hear much while in Full-On Vengeance Mode). But instead of reaching out and telling these not-insignificant things to Tony or Natasha (you know, people he’s saved the world with and trusted to have his back), Steve just says something like, “Tony will never believe it,” and moves on. Which is a huge fucking mistake.
Look, Tony probably wouldn’t have believed Steve without proof, or at least, wouldn’t have trusted Steve to be objective about his BFF’s innocence. I doubt Tony would have stopped trying to bring Cap and his cohorts in. He might, however, have put some resources into investigating Steve’s claims, you know, as happens much later in the film when the real psychologist is found dead. And if Tony had made that discovery before, say, the Big Awesome Battle at the Airfield? Here’s how the story would have played out:
Instead of a Big Awesome Battle at the Airfield, Team Tony and Team Cap warily call a truce to investigate Bucky’s new lead into Zemo’s whereabouts. Because there’s no battle, Rhodey isn’t paralyzed, nor are Hawkeye, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, and Ant-Man captured and imprisoned. All twelve superheroes head out to the Ice Fortress, where Zemo probably still breaks Tony’s heart by revealing the truth about his parents, but the fight doesn’t last nearly as long since he’ll have eleven people trying to keep him from outright murdering Bucky Barnes. So, it’s still sad, but not, like, quite so much catastrophe, right?
Instead of making sense, Steve only tells Tony about the fake psychologist when they’re duking it out at the airfield, and obviously, that’s just a half-assed effort that comes way too late in the game. It actually reminds me a little of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (if you’ve seen it, you probably know which scene), and honestly, this might actually be a little worse because there’s a way better chance that Tony would be receptive to what Steve is saying, considering they’re, you know, friends, and no one’s actually trying to kill one another.
And what really annoys me about Cap’s decision is not just that it’s made for clearly plot-related reasons, but because nobody calls it out as a mistake. After the Big Awesome Battle at the Airfield, Natasha tells Tony that they played this wrong, and I’m just like, “No, no you didn’t! Before this scene, no one has bothered to tell you anything like ‘Bucky didn’t do this’ or ‘Bucky was set up.’ Your reactions and responses to the information you had at your disposal were completely logical. It’s Captain America who played this wrong, damn it!” But nobody listens to me.
Moving on. Both teams feel like they’re the underdog, so they each recruit some ringers. Team Cap gets Ant-Man, who’s very enthusiastic about the prospect. Meanwhile, Tony goes to recruit Spider-Man, and these two teaming up might be my very favorite part of the whole movie.
Other than the fact that they’re just hilarious together, Tony finding this kid, giving him costume upgrades, and looking out for him in the big fight ties in pretty well thematically, given both his philanthropy in past films and his introduction at the beginning of this movie, donating a bunch of dough to college kids in financial need. I’m happy that Tony’s going to appear in the next Spider-Man movie. Shit, I can’t believe I even want to see the next Spider-Man movie. (I never loved the Tobey Maguire films the way other people seemed to, and I never saw Andrew Garfield’s at all.) I even enjoyed Tony flirting with Marisa Tomei, although that does not at all negate my annoyance about the unceremonious disappearance of Pepper Potts.
Then we get to Big Awesome Battle at the Airfield, which is just . . . well, awesome.
There isn’t much I can say about it here that hasn’t already been said, but a couple of highlights:
A. Hawkeye and Black Widow have an amusing “are we still friends” moment, which I was very grateful for. I was going to be very unhappy if the film refused to acknowledge their relationship.
B. Falcon, to Winter Soldier: “I hate you.”
I love that Cap’s two BFFs are decidedly unimpressed with one another.
C. Ant-Man becomes Giant-Man, and it’s pretty awesome. I probably should have been expecting it, but wasn’t. Iron Man’s reaction is pretty priceless, too.
D. Natasha betrays Team Iron Man, which despite my annoyance with Cap’s reticence above, does actually work for me because if anyone’s going to play both sides, it’s obviously going to be Natasha, who continues to be the best. Stop screwing with me, Marvel. I want a firm commitment to a Black Widow movie NOW.
E. Vision attempts to take down Falcon but, instead, hits War Machine, who plummets to the ground and hits it hard, despite both Falcon and Iron Man trying to save him.
I have slightly mixed feelings about Rhodey’s fall. On one hand, it’s such a great scene, and it’s good to see actual physical consequences come from such a huge superhero confrontation. (How often does the superhero actually fail to catch someone, especially someone who matters to both the superhero and the audience?) On the other hand, I just finished writing an essay on the trope of Throwing Off the Disability, so I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at the pretty quick transition from “Rhodey’s probable permanent paralysis” to “Rhodey using a Stark exoskeleton to walk (with, admittedly, some difficulty).” I think I’ll reserve judgment for now and see how it plays out in future films. I’d like this experience to be an important part of his character development going forward (and not just another rung on Tony’s Ever-Growing Guilt Ladder), but I have a sneaking suspicion that this will not be the case. Would be lovely to be wrong, though.
So, everyone on Team Cap (other than Bucky and Cap himself) are thrown into Ross’s Floating Prison, which is clearly not quite what Tony had in mind when he signed the Accords. Hawkeye is fairly derisive, which is fair: Tony keeps trying to prevent bad things from happening, but also keeps failing to visualize the potential ramifications of his preventative measures. On the other hand, I also agree with Tony: he didn’t make Hawkeye or anyone else break the law. Whether they were right or wrong, Team Cap’s actions got them where they are.
Meanwhile, Bucky and Cap make it to the Secret Ice Fortress. Tony also arrives, offering a truce after realizing that Bucky’s been framed. T’challa, covertly, follows Tony and watches from the shadows. It turns out that Zemo killed all the Random Winter Soldiers; his real agenda was always to destroy the Avengers from the inside. To do this, he reveals that Bucky is the one who killed Tony’s parents, and despite the fact that I already knew this, I somehow never put it together that this big secret was Zemo’s Master Plan all along. I just figured it would come out somehow.
I liked this turn, though. It’s sort of nice, having a villain whose motive isn’t just RULE THE WORLD or DESTROY THE WORLD or something of that nature. Also, it nicely fulfills the not-so-subtle foreshadowing: Natasha and Clint separately tell Tony to watch his back within about three minutes of each other, so I’m sitting there in the theater thinking, Okay, I get it, I see your foreshadow, guys. I just don’t know who’s betraying Tony here.
Well, turns out it’s Steve, of all people. Because when Tony, devastated and furious, asks if Cap knew, and Cap has to admit that he did . . . I mean, I was like, oh, SHIT. For some reason, I just assumed that Steve had no idea Tony’s parents were murdered. This just makes everything so much worse.
Tony, not shockingly, attacks, and the whole fight sequence is so good because it’s fueled by such actual emotion. Seriously, the moment where Tony’s like, “I don’t care. He killed my mom,” just kicks me right in the feels, you know? Everyone gets the upper hand at one point or another, but in the end, Steve uses his shield to break the arc reactor in Tony’s suit. The symbolism of this is not subtle, but it’s effective as hell. Steve Rogers breaks Tony Stark’s heart. Come, shippers, weep with me.
Steve and Bucky take off, leaving the shield behind. Meanwhile, T’Challa chooses not to kill Zemo after all (and prevents Zemo from killing himself), which is sort of a stereotypical superhero choice that, in this case, really works well for me, something I mostly credit to Boseman’s dignified performance. (And when I say stereotypical, I’m not trying to suggest that I wanted to see the alternative. It’s just that vengeful superhero choosing justice over revenge at the eleventh hour is a pretty standard story.)
We then move into the denouement, where we hit my last and probably least serious problem:
THIS ISN’T THE ASSASSINS ON ICE SHOW I WAS LOOKING FOR, DISNEY.
After all this shit, Bucky decides to hibernate in a refrigerator again until they can find a way to keep him from being triggered. I’m not sure how likely it is that anyone else will learn his weird Brainwashing Grocery List, nor am I sure how they plan to come up with any cure to brainwashing solutions while their primary test subject is asleep, but whatever, fine.
While I’m sure that Marvel is setting Bucky up to return at some critical juncture, right now it really feels like Bucky was just inconvenient, so they shoved him in a fridge. While it’s sort of nice to see that kind of thing happen to a man for once, it does feel like a serious lack of payoff to me. Bucky’s finally at a stage where he seems to know who he is, who he was, and what he’s done. There’s a lot of really interesting character stuff that could come from him and Steve being on the run together. Instead, Bucky decides to temporarily martyr himself, and we’re just supposed to call it “peace” because T’Challa says it? Sorry, guys, I’m not buying that, even from Awesome Sauce T’Challa.
Meanwhile, Steve rescues the rest of Team Cap from the Floating Jail and sends a letter to Tony, apologizing for not telling him about his parents’ murder. I suspect Tony won’t be all, “Well, that’s okay, I totally understand now!” the next time he sees Steve, but nonetheless there’s a hint that these two might eventually be able to move forward
into a loving embrace. At the very least, Tony seems happy that the other Avengers have been rescued, as he gleefully puts Ross on hold with no intention of picking up when the Secretary calls to yell about the escape.
And . . . well, I guess that’s about it.
Captain America: “This doesn’t have to end in a fight, Buck.”
Bucky: “It always ends in a fight.”
Hawkeye: “We haven’t met. I’m Clint.”
Black Panther: “I don’t care.”
Iron Man: “Who’s that? Who’s speaking?”
Ant-Man: “It’s your conscience. We don’t talk a lot these days.”
Peter: “I can’t go to Germany.”
Tony: “Why not?”
Peter: “Because I have homework.”
Bucky: “Can you move your seat up?”
Falcon: “Tiny dude is big now!”
Spider-Man: “Holy shit.”
Spider-Man: “You have a metal arm? That’s AWESOME, dude.”
Tony: “So, you’re the . . . Spiderling. Crime Fighting Spider? You’re Spider Boy?”
Tony: “Not in that onesie, you’re not.”
Peter: “It’s not a onesie.”
Black Widow: “Are we still friends?”
Hawkeye: “That depends on how hard you hit me.”
Iron Man: “Okay, anybody on our side hiding any shocking or fantastic abilities they’d like to disclose, I’m open to suggestion.”
Scott Lang: “Hank Pym did say never to trust a Stark.”
Tony: “Who are you?”
Scott: “Come on, man.”
Spider-Man: “Did you guys ever see that really old movie, Empire Strikes Back?”
War Machine: “Jesus, Tony, how old is this guy?”
Iron Man: “I don’t know. I didn’t carbon date him. He’s on the young side.”
Bucky: “Couldn’t you have done that earlier?”
Falcon: “I hate you.”
Falcon: “I don’t know how many fights you’ve been in, but there’s not usually this much talking.”
Captain America: “He’s my friend.”
Iron Man: “So was I.”
Sam: “Bird costume? Come on.”
Iron Man: “All right, I’ve run out of patience. Underoos!”
Iron Man: “Clearly retirement doesn’t suit you. Get tired of playing golf?”
Hawkeye: “Well, I played 18. I shot 18.”
Steve: “You know, I’m glad Howard got married. I only knew him when he was young and single.”
Tony: “Oh really? You two knew each other? He never mentioned that. Maybe only a thousand times. God, I hated you.”
Steve: “I don’t mean to make things difficult.”
Tony: “I know. Because you’re a very polite person.”
Tony: “Sometimes I wanna punch you in your perfect teeth.”
Wanda: “Is that paprika?”
Vision: “I thought it might lift your spirits.”
Wanda: “Spirits . . . lifted.”
Vision: “In my defense, I’ve never actually . . . eaten anything.”
Natasha: “Tony, you’re being uncharacteristically non-hyperverbal.”
Iron Man: “Manchurian Candidate, you’re killing me here. We’re on a truce. Put the gun down.”
Black Widow: “Looking over your shoulder should be second nature.”
Falcon: “Anyone ever tell you that you’re a little paranoid?”
Black Widow: “Not to my face. Why, did you hear something?”
Sam: “So. You like cats?”
Sam: “What? Dude shows up dressed like a cat, and you don’t want to know more?”
T’Challa: “The Black Panther has been a protector of Wakanda for generations. A mantle passed from warrior to warrior. Now because your friend murdered my father, I also wear the mantle of king. So I ask you, as both warrior and king, how long do you think you can keep your friend safe from me?”
Clint: “I retire for like, what, five minutes, and it all goes to shit?”
Friday: “Multiple contusions detected.”
Iron Man: “Yeah, I detected that too.”
Spider-Man (about Cap’s shield): “That thing doesn’t obey the laws of physics at all!”
Scarlet Witch: “What are you doing here?”
Hawkeye: “Disappointing my kids.”
Captain America: “This isn’t going to change what happened.”
Iron Man: “I don’t care. He killed my mom.”
Overall, pretty great. Awesome action, wonderful character beats, mostly believable motivations. Tying the whole story together with a personal (rather than an idealogical) conflict was a great call. Would be happier if Black Widow wasn’t the only female character in the whole franchise that I actually gave a damn about, though, and if Steve had at least tried to explain things to the other side.
Chadwick Boseman, I think. There was just something magnetic about him. But Tom Holland was a lot of fun, too, and Robert Downey Jr. effectively punched me in the heartstrings.
Communication is important. You hear that, Captain America? You have a perfectly functioning larynx. Use it.