The tradition continues!Rick and Ben are back with independent reviews and analysis of Captain America: Civil War in another double blind, double shot!
You know the drill, soldier! Ben will be writing from Los Angeles, California, while Rick will be reporting in from the great state of New Mexico. We have not discussed the film or its production to ensure that our opinions remain our own. As is the intent of the blog, we will analyze the film from the perspectives of admirers of the works and the character of Captain America and about modern storytelling.
SPOILER ALERT - Please be advised that these reviews contain detailed descriptions of plot, character and dramatic conclusion of the film. - SPOILER ALERT
» Rick's Review
» Ben's Review
review by Rick Arthur
Civil War Heroes
This film was designed to be a blockbuster crowd pleaser, another in a growing line of movies made by Marvel Studios to support something called a “shared universe.” In this election year, there is no doubt that opening weekend crowds voted with their wallets and made a beeline toward theatres to watch the match-up of Team Cap versus Team Iron Man. This is a reminder that this review was done “blind.” I have no idea at all what Ben has written. I saw this film on opening weekend in regular format. I did not want this space to become a debate hall for 3D, IMAX, drive-in, etc. I encourage readers of this blog to post comments about points brought up in the reviews, the Marvel Cap movies, or Cap in the comics. Ben and I will both respond as time allows. Spoilers? Relax. This is ALL spoilers as it is a frank discussion of the ideas presented in the film and comics.
My overall opinion is very favorable and I give Captain America: Civil War forty-one stars out of fifty for being fun, fast paced, and packed with action. The stunt and fight coordinators really earned their keep creating sharp, interesting set pieces which are impressive in this film and also in Captain America: Winter Soldier. When I was a kid, Marvel comic characters were always sporadically appearing. The Hulk TV show was a favorite with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. We went around the house ripping our shirts off in slow motion and giving the Hulk growl. Barely animated FF and Spidey cartoons and not too much else. The Spidey theme song is unforgettable. I always longed for the day when comic books could be brought to the big screen. Fast-forward a few decades. Now, comic characters, particularly Marvel characters are everywhere. Special effects and camera work have caught up to our heroes allowing them to fly, jump, kick, punch, lift, throw, and spout cheesy dialogue just like in the comic books. These colorful characters have been turned into super big budget opening weekend popcorn movies with lots of action, thrills, and little plot. Captain America: Civil War is the kind of movie that would have absolutely wowed me as a ten-year old kid.
The story behind Civil War is simple. Set a situation up (some multi-nation accord) that makes heroes register with a United Nations oversight committee. This is an echo of the Mutant Registration Act from the X-Men movies. Iron Man says yes. Cap says no. Heroes take sides. There is your Civil War, the conflict that is supposed to drive the plot of the movie. Weighing in at two hours and twenty-six minutes, the filmmakers have plenty of time to tell any kind of story they choose. What needs to be remembered is that this is the third in the Captain America series of films. Astute blog readers will notice the review I gave Captain America: Winter Soldier and I am afraid that Marvel’s misuse of Cap as a character in his own movies is systemic. I want to note that I spoke with several moviegoers who thought this was an Avengers movie the same way that Winter Soldier was confused for a SHIELD movie. Cap does not carry his own film and is in effect a supporting character. Moviegoers, particular those just going to the theatre to get entertained have been easily misled into thinking this was another Avengers outing. They don’t understand or care about the character’s alliances in either the comics or other films.
The action sequences in Captain America: Civil War are crisp, fun, and feel new. I have broken the action down into a few categories: Car/motorcycle; Guns; Hand to hand combat; and Iron Man. The fight sequences are choppy, fast, and have thunderous impact. It gives a sense of speed, weight, and gravity to the undertakings. Serious fights make the audience want to root for the hero. There is a sense of consequence, of things changing which is a result of masterful fights. It feels like a comic book come to life. This action film more than succeeds and viewers should be thrilled to the edge of their seats.
While I won’t talk about the Zemo mess, as the third in the Cap series some emotional beats got the slightest of mentions. The death of Peggy Carter, Cap’s love from WWII, is poorly handled. First time moviegoers have no idea what is going on or why they should care. The same can be said of the Sharon Carter/Cap kiss. What was that all about? There is zero impact to what should have been emotional moments in the script. There are other misfires as well. At the end of the film, the Winter Soldier problem is laid to rest. Cap and Bucky/Winter Soldier talk about the old days in Brooklyn in what should have been a very satisfying emotional payoff. However, we only see the back of the characters and the scene feels eerily like it was added as an afterthought by using extra footage. That conversation and the conclusion of Bucky’s story are handled poorly. Also handled poorly is the end of the Civil War. Cap writes Iron Man a letter, after all the deadly combat, and we get the conclusion read to us as a voice over. There are many instances where this technique could be used effectively but not here. What is Tony Stark’s reaction to Steve Rogers? We will never really know. A more direct approach is required. So, to end the movie Cap uses a voiceover letter and to end the three-movie arc featuring the story of Cap and Bucky we get more warmed over voice work. Sounds like the filmmakers dropped the ball big time.
What are the driving ideas behind the story? Many plot questions are never addressed. Listen closely to how the characters talk to one another. They are all glib, even smarmy. I find it a weakness on the part of the script that all the characters: Vision, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Cap, and Iron Man have similar dialogue, at times interchangeable. There is no individuality except Spider-man. Why isn’t Thor or Hulk present in this film since it is clearly about the Avengers? The answer is weak especially since Hulk is animated. Captain America deals with conspiracies in this film while confronting Iron Man. While the tale of Bucky as the Winter Soldier drove the plot in the second movie, Winter Soldier’s abuse by Hydra competes with storylines involving the Civil War,
Marvel feels the need to roll out more characters from its vast empire. Black Panther has a great role in this film and creates a wonderful trailer for his stand-alone adventure. Spider-man has been borrowed from Sony and steals valuable screen time from the main players. Just in case we forgot he has a sequel coming out, Ant-man drops by for a few minutes of screen time too. Without all the cameos could this film be under two hours? While Black Panther was included as part of the story, both Ant-man and Spider-man tag along in order to sell themselves to audiences. This should not be surprising but it is disturbing. More seeds for later include a growing relationship between Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen). In the original comic books, they are married pretty early on (1975).
I found a few things in the film Captain America: Civil War to be coincidental, not to the degree that there is a conspiracy but just so you scratch your head. Captain America, the comic book character, was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1941. The fact that Cap was iconic while at the same time borrowing from other patriotic heroes in the comics near that time, did not take away from the many stunning new innovations Simon and Kirby cooked up. Later, during the revolution in comic books that came in the 60s at Marvel, once again, Jack Kirby had a hand in creating the Avengers. The original line-up was Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man/Goliath, Wasp, and the Hulk. Moving forward to the Civil War movie, Black Panther was also introduced in the film and was co-created by Jack Kirby back in FF#52. The character was the first mainstream black hero in comic books. Does anyone find it coincidental that Black Panther’s father dies at the United Nations by a bomb supposedly set by Winter Soldier? Then Winter Soldier killed Tony Stark’s mother and father? I was afraid they would try to pin Ben Parker’s death on Winter Soldier too.
I should take a minute to refresh your memory as to why Marvel even exist. The company went into a deep and serious bankruptcy under the leadership of corporate raider Ron Perelman (1996). In bankruptcy court for an unprecedented two years, Marvel was on the verge of being totally liquidated unless a plan could be formed to pay off their considerable debts. A last minute gamble to borrow even more money to make movies at Marvel Studios, which up until this time was merely producing films, turned to gold with the release of the Jon Favreau directed Iron Man. Robert Downey, Jr. stunned and charmed audiences with his portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man with a tight little script, an indie cast, and no big names. If Iron Man had failed, the odds for Marvel paying its debts and emerging from bankruptcy court would have been long indeed. That film was not heavily advertised and was not expected to do more than break even.
Captain America is a genuine hero. I feel pretty badly for Cap. Both his sequels barely involved him. The second film was all about SHIELD. The third film was all about the Avengers. I think Marvel missed an excellent opportunity to showcase Captain America. First and foremost, the character has all the virtues of a hero: strength, intelligence, courage, loyalty, honor, and a lot more. As skillfully played by Chris Evans (remember him as Johnny Storm?), Captain America embodies all that is good about American military strength and democracy. He should inspire. He should inspire by example. He should inspire by his words. Speeches from Cap will move men to action or tears. He is a natural leader yet humble. Instead of being picked on for being a fish out of water, Cap would lead…
I suppose that Stark, a control freak in the films, wouldn’t admit to it but he would want to follow Cap too. Instead of throwing mud at a man who fought in WWII and trying to disparage his wholesomeness as out of date in a world of spies and assassins, Stark should simply acknowledge that he wants to be like him but can’t. Captain America acts as a foil for Iron Man in these films but if that is his only role then all the rest of the character is left by the wayside. It might have been nice to see Cap and Iron Man engaged in an escalating battle of wits along with all the fisticuffs. Yet it really would have been great to see Cap do what he does best: be a hero; a legend; a symbol of the American spirit to fight against all odds for that which is right. Yeah, I would have liked to see that. Maybe next time.
Captain America: Civil War. Forty-one stars out of fifty. Strong action sequences. Little plot or characterization. Still fun.
Liberty for all,
Central New Mexico
May 9, 2016
review by Ben Alpi
The Man Who Planted Trees
I first have to say that I’m really glad to be back writing alongside Rick again. It’s been a long time and I’m glad we could do this. (Even though I have no idea what he’s writing!) I enjoyed watching Captain America: Civil War, the latest and likely the climax of the Captain America films. Differing from my normal avoidance of all news and trailers about a film I want to go see, I actually did see one trailer of the film last year, their first one, in front of Spectre. And I think it’s interesting. My wife liked that trailer and I actually didn’t. I said it made the film seem small in scope and like it was set in our normal world—not the world of superheroes. Interesting…
Overall, the film had some truly fantastic moments with some solid performances and great action. It was a very fast paced film which was great in some ways, but also meant a lack of depth. Being a Captain America film, I would figure we’d have a solid understanding of what he stands for and his motivations. I’m not certain that we did. I think the directors Anthony and Joe Russo did a great job of juggling such a large array of characters, but where the storytelling was sometimes very clear, at other times the logic and motivations were fuzzy. Although I haven’t read anything about it yet, I’m fairly certain this film was two, or even three, scripts blended together with a very late addition of a certain Web Head. But let’s get into the fray!
The film opens with a solid action scene that establishes the new Avengers team. I really liked the fully formed Falcon although, his programmable drone reminded me of the strange programmable Batarang from Batman Returns. The super-side of Black Widow was on full display and was perhaps the best action sequences of her using her Sting. Wow, Scarlet Witch is far more powerful than she seems in the comics! Cap has some really nice action with some great uses of his shield. As the heroes win the day however, the main bad guy (Crossbones) decides he’s going to blow himself up. That’s not good! But Scarlet Witch is able to contain the blast in the force field and flings it… into a building? This opening scene had a lot of very shaky/too-close camera work which made it a bit hard to follow the action. Perhaps it was that, but even though Scarlet Witch is the newest team member, her mistake felt off. I think if the directors wanted us to feel strangely, that’s great, but the camera shots and Scarlet Witch’s movements didn’t really seem to say she tossed the force field off to the side, instead of straight up as anyone with their feet planted would do. Magic and super powers, even The Force in Star Wars, can be difficult to balance in a story because you don’t want your heroes to be too powerful. So, sometimes they work as well or are as powerful as the storyteller wants. Spider-man’s popularity might be in part because his powers are so well defined and he has a built in foils, one of which being his mechanical web shooters often fail at crucial moments. Scarlet Witch doesn’t know the extent of her powers and I don’t really get any indication that she’s working on that. So, the Avengers have put a ticking time bomb on their squad and she eventually goes off as was to be expected. Seems pretty convenient.
Meanwhile, Iron Man is speaking at MIT and is then stopped short by the encounter with a lady who blames him for her son’s death in Sokovia, the city the Avengers evacuated in Avengers: Age of Ultron. This sets up the assumption that the Avengers are reckless despite showing in that film to what lengths the super team will go to try and keep people from harm; namely the small army of robots Tony sends down to clear the stage for his battle with the Hulk and the massive flying evacuation efforts at Sokovia. (Wait, Iron Man versus Hulk? How much in-fighting do the Avengers have anyhow? A lot. So much in fact, it spills into Cap’s movie.) Still, given Tony co-created Ultron, I could certainly see how Tony would blame himself even though that fact isn’t mentioned in this film. And, the fact that this film is not a sequel to that one, but of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. So, the woman’s blame makes sense but it seems like Tony would have had encounters like this several times throughout the years; especially given he was actually the object of blame in Iron Man 2 and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Why is it this time it really shakes him up? Given this is a crossover and not an Avengers sequel, I think if they had mentioned Ultron or established that Tony was already (still) blaming himself, this event would have tipped him over the edge and had much more weight. Perhaps I’m nit-picking here, but this is one of the cornerstones of the film and if the directors leave a portion of it to the assumptions of the audience, it will be at least a bit shaky.
A Tale of Two MoviesThe other thing about this second sequence of the film is Iron Man is given something we never really get with Cap, his very own scene which establishes where he is personally/emotionally and what he’s been up to. This scene replays Tony’s last evening with his parents giving us a powerful reminder of what drives him. Also in this one scene, we get to hear him speak about what he holds dear, helping people, the future, invention, and we find out he and Pepper are having relationship troubles again. In a single scene we get a full setup of Tony’s situation and that’s really good filmmaking. And, there are no other major characters featured, it’s fully Tony’s dramatic, dialog-heavy set of scenes. This is what first tipped me off that this film might have started out as two separate scripts. This is a scene from an Iron Man film, not a Captain America film.
In the next scene, the setup of the Sokovia Accords clearly frames the central argument of the film and the cause of the Avenger’s Civil War. I really liked how the directors took the time to establish the debate. I do have to mention though that Secretary of State Ross’ listing off of New York, Sokovia, and Wakanda is terribly laborious given we already are familiar with them. As far as the debate, I felt like Cap and Iron Man had been given each other’s lines. And, actually, Cap is completely right; the Accords are a slippery slope and would only shift the blame. I don’t see how ‘reigning in’ the Avengers, Iron Man’s side of the debate, will solve anything. Even as I turn it over in my mind now, perhaps the Accords would help with PR or politics, but they would do nothing in reality, certainly it wouldn’t do anything to stop other super beings, hero or villain. Although I’ve never read the original Civil War storyline in the comics, I know that it involved the entire Marvel universe and that makes much more sense. When you narrow the focus to just the Avengers, it reduces the scope of the film and the severity of the conflict. Unlike in the early 20th Century Fox X-Men films, I didn’t get the feeling that the media, the governments, and the people were all against the Avengers and certainly, I would think the world’s anger would apply to all super beings, not just the Avengers—and not just Bucky.
Ending the scene, Cap gets a text that someone has passed away. He leaves saying to his team, “I gotta go.” (The leader of the Avengers leaves as if he’s your pal at the college dorms? I know the Avengers are chummy, but Cap has responsibilities and he really should leave like a leader, not a college kid.) Where he goes is to the funeral of British super spy Peggy Carter and the only Cap-centric scene in the film. Instead of a tragic scene of Cap’s last conversation with Peggy, the woman he fell in love with, she had died while he was doing other things. This is a terribly tragic thing and I really felt bad for Cap missing the chance to say goodbye, but his regret is never really addressed. Instead, Cap learns that his hot CIA neighbor, Sharon Carter, is Peggy’s niece. (Hey, isn’t this from the 70’s Cap film?) In her eulogy Sharon quotes Peggy, “Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t… it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree… and say ‘No, YOU move’.” This is taken from a speech by Sam Clemens/Mark Twain and was quoted by Cap in an issue of Amazing Spider-man during the Civil War storyline in the comic books. It’s a very powerful quote but I feel that without context, it alone does not solidify Cap’s resolve to go against the Accords. Certainly, I’m afraid I don’t think he has reason enough to put the beat-down on his friends and fellow soldiers, and certainly not to put their lives at risk. I get the distinct feeling that the writers don’t really know what soldiers are like and they certainly don’t know how the British handle the death of one of their fallen heroes. Dang nab it, I could easily see a scene where in her death bed, Peggy comforts Cap, a mere boy to her years, telling him that she has lived her life and was lucky enough to become old. So many of her comrades and friends were not so lucky. Cap confesses that he wishes that he had the chance to grow old with her. She raises his head by the chin and looks him in the eye. Although there was no way she could have known that this is how their lives would turn out, it’s no excuse for him to not live his life. To not use his gifts. To not stand up for what he believes in. And then she would quote from Churchill, Shakespeare, or Kipling and her extended family would gather around them, and she would say her goodbyes and peacefully pass away. A dignified death for a woman of distinction. Very British.
In the actual film, after the funeral Cap is hanging around in the empty church. I don’t know if he has gone to the burial or if Peggy is to be buried at a later date so, finding Cap simply standing around is a bit jarring. So, why is he there? Is he talking to God? Let’s hear it! Let’s find now what he’s thinking, where he’s at in his life, what he wants the future to hold. By definition, the main character of a film is the character we spend the most time with, it’s the one we get to know the best, we get to see the world the way he or she sees it. But we’re held at arm’s length away from Cap through the entire film. Sharon enters and they talk. Now, I know these two are soldiers and death comes with the territory, but what they don’t talk about is Cap’s regret, perhaps even guilt, about not being there when Peggy passed. I have to say that I think there is another trend in Hollywood, a lack of understanding of emotions. This is an obvious opportunity: Cap has just lost someone who is the embodiment of the life he missed, of the friends and family he suddenly lost in a wink of an eye. Isn’t this when it would all come down on him like a ton of bricks? And Sharon is someone with a connection to that past, someone outside of the Avengers, someone who won’t judge him. A real friend. Shouldn’t we be teaching or reminding people how to handle grief? What real friendship looks like? In Cap’s generation, a person would drop whatever they were doing to help a friend. We should show that. And we should give Sharon’s character more meaning in the film.
After the funeral, there is a meeting at the UN to sign the accords. King T'Chaka is so wonderful. And his son, T'Challa/Black Panther is really great as well. In one scene we get introduced to the Prince, we get a sense of his feelings and the pain he feels for those lives lost in his country. As a result, we feel for him deeply when his father dies and we totally understand he wants revenge. There was some really good digital double work with Panther that helped show off his abilities. Bucky is implicated in the attack by a photograph of him in the area. This sets Black Panther on his very clear mission. Cap then finds Bucky who says that he doesn’t remember being the bomber. So Cap assumes Bucky’s been mind-controlled and helps him escape… although near the end of the film, Bucky says he remembers every assassination he’s been sent on. (Gads.) Still, we get a great display of Cap’s strength as he pulls down a helicopter Bucky tries to escape in. It was real reminder that he isn’t just a Batman-like character, he actually is superhuman.
But why is Cap doing this? One might say that Bucky is the embodiment of Cap’s side of the argument. Even if that’s the case, I’m not sure if Bucky himself wants to be included. Saving Bucky makes total sense, but Cap is dragging him whether he likes it or not. Why would Cap do that? Why not bring Bucky in and give him a trial date the same as anyone? Cap, above all, trusts in the Constitution and in due process. Sure, the German police could have killed Bucky, but Cap can bring The Winter Soldier straight to the President of the United States and demand he gets a fair trial. Certainly, there could be some tampering with evidence or the prosecution could use some unsavory tactics to get a conviction, but even if Cap can’t stop that, there is an appeals process. (Or he can break him out at that point.) And I don’t know if Bucky would mind being in jail, or back on ice, until he can be deprogrammed. How great of a scene would that have been, Bucky revealing to Cap that he killed Tony’s parents? And then a scene where it’s revealed to Tony? We would have known Cap was holding back that information and would have constituted a true betrayal. That’s a real reason for Iron Man to start blindly lashing out. But, these are two schools of thought in writing: withhold information to create a ‘twist’ later –or– give information to particular characters, or just the audience, and withhold it from other characters in order to create tension.
After another action scene, Cap and Bucky are ultimately captured and the true villain of the film,
A Spidey-Shaped ShoehornThis is of course the introduction of Spider-man, one of the most beloved comic book characters, to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Somehow Disney was able to borrow the license from Sony, perhaps that company driving the property straight into the ground had something to do with it, and Marvel wastes no time in finding a spot to wedge Your Friendly Neighbor: in Captain America’s film. Tony tracks down Peter Parker, meeting the high schooler and his no-longer-elderly Aunt, “Aunt Hottie” better known as Aunt May. Unfortunately, this follows the strange trend in Hollywood to make all characters younger—and whether it’s ageism or not, it certainly doesn’t reflect reality. And when this film is trying so hard to be Batman Begins-level realistic, that’s tough to swallow. Besides that however, Peter is brought in as another weapon in this war with no motivation except that Tony’s a sweet talker and Peter’s a big Stark fan. So, the accident in Wakanda was supposedly caused by a rookie Avenger and so Tony’s answer is to bring in someone who’s only had his powers for six months? Spidey is another one of my all-time favorite characters, but his inclusion is really just to show him off. To the degree that he gets an additional scene after the credits followed by “Spider-man will return.” Wasn’t this a Captain America movie?
So, the stage is set for what may be the biggest super hero battle ever put on film. It’s an amazing battle, pitting Cap’s bandits versus Iron Man’s lawpersons. The fight is superbly shot allowing the audience to follow every step. Spidey and Ant-Man continue to stand out with their humor and smart use of powers—even if I don’t think either of them could go toe-to-toe with Earths Mightiest Heroes so effectively at this point. Neither of them have reason to pick a side. I think Hawkeye was just bored at home. Not even Scarlet Witch has a strong motivation besides being under house arrest for… several days? (The horror.) On Iron Man’s side, they even state that they’re pulling their punches. Then why are you fighting at all? I would think that Cap would exhaust any option he can think of before risking the lives of his friends, let alone strangers. When given the opportunity to stop mindlessly punching people, does Cap do what you expect a man of his stature and history to do-- and lead? No. He does not convince his friends that they should not be fighting, but should join forces against an evil bigger than them all. He instead says “We fight.” Certainly, by statement and by deed Cap is determined not to sign the Accords and he’s dedicated to protecting Bucky, but I really don’t understand why he’s willing to go to the lengths he, and Tony for that matter, is willing to go. I commend Cap on his dedication, but for someone who is supposed to have a tactical mind, isn’t he really just being a battering ram?
They continue their battle which results in the severe injury of Rhodey. In other words, finally, in all this silliness there is finally a consequence. It is then discovered that Bucky was actually framed and Tony goes to help Cap and Bucky stop Zemo from waking up the other Winter Soldiers. They arrive and the soldiers have been murdered. That’s a pretty big twist. I’m not sure I liked it, but did we want another fight scene with a group of super soldiers? This was all a rouse to get Cap, Bucky, and Tony together so Zemo could exact his revenge for his family dying in Sokovia. And that is to reveal that The Winter Soldier killed Tony’s parents. That is to say that for the first time in this film, the good guys have a reason to be fighting. Assassination has been a cause for war, in fact. However, I have to believe that somewhere in Tony’s mind, he must know that he’s lashing out. He must know that Bucky wasn’t to blame. And for that reason, I would think that he and Cap would not have such a deadly fight. I think the makers wanted us to see this as the culmination of the Civil War, but it really didn’t have anything to do with it. It had to do with the murder of Tony’s parents. Plain and simple. There is no ideology, no encroachment of freedoms, it is the very personal pain of one individual. And it’s not even the pain of the main character. With everything that happened throughout this film, I wish this event had been much sooner so we could see how Tony and Steve recovered and how they reconciled. That would be the real reason for an olive branch.
Thinking back, this film seems to require that you have seen the other Marvel films but it also wants us to forget some of the events. Given Tony was against government controlling his actions in Iron Man 2, it makes more sense that he doesn’t get the hint at first—that instead of him totally going to the ‘reign in’ side, that his encounter with the woman plants the seed. That would be the start his character arc. Same with Cap; certainly, he would be against any government limiting the freedom of its citizens and he was right to be suspicious of SHIELD’s giant gunships and Tony’s security experiments, but I don’t see why he would be so willing to go against the wishes of the world’s governments, and ostensibly the people, and be so totally willing to attack his friends and those he’s supposed to be leading. He’s totally abusing his power and position and that is more an Iron Man move. And we don’t really see the fallout of the decisions of either side, we just get the predictable outcome—they were both sort of right and both sort of wrong. By the time we get to Cap's betrayal of Tony (by not telling him), the real central conflict of the story and something worth fighting about, it’s the end of the film. Bucky goes on ice, problem solved. If that’s the case, shouldn’t we have stopped to think about this earlier? This makes me wonder about the tidal forces behind-the-scenes of the film's production. Maybe this film never had a chance to be refined and formed into what it really should have been. There are so many Marvel properties involved, so much money, there must be a lot of pressure to change the film and, especially, add more properties. Perhaps if there had been time, the directors could have made a great Captain America film and worked in some of these added bits better. Perhaps with more perspective, they would have seen that broadening the conflict to be about all super beings and flipping the opinions of Steve and Tony just makes more sense. If it was Cap that recruited Spidey because the web-slinger was being persecuted like all super folks, it really brings the conflict home and raises the stakes. It also would have created a proxy character to bring the audience into the story. It also means Spidey gets to develop on his own, not through his new sugar daddy, which has always been one of the cool things about his more homespun, down-to-Earth character. If Cap’s film has to be the pad that launches Spidey, at least let Cap be the one to send him up.
In the end, I enjoyed this film in the theater far more than I’ve enjoyed thinking about it after the fact. And that’s something that has been happening to me more and more over the last decade. It used to be you would jump out of the theater after a film and be energized or be humbled by the immensity of what you have just seen. Filmmakers were tasked with wrapping up as many story threads as possible so the film, much shorter than a novel, feels complete and satisfying. This no longer seems to be the case. It’s rapid-fire editing, action, and done. There are moments in films past that I’ll never forget. Films today are flashes in the pan. ‘Thanks for your patronage. Next!’ What stands out most in this film? Spider-man. Did I mention Spider-man? It was Spider-man.
I don’t know why Marvel decided to make Winter Soldier and this film ensemble casts instead of stories about Cap. Even more than the last film, Cap is relegated to a co-star in what is actually an Avengers film. Why not call it what it is? And I would wager if you added up all the screen time and dialog of Iron Man and Cap, Iron Man would win hands down. That’s just wrong. Cap should have been the one solving problems and leading everyone in more than battle. I think the most tragic thing about the Captain America trilogy of films is that the makers were so afraid of the character not being popular, that Cap would come off as a boring, one-dimensional ‘Boy Scout’, that they ended up making him exactly that. Through all the Avengers and Cap films, how many times did Iron Man mention Cap was “perfect”? Is he? In the first film, instead of treating Cap like an elite soldier, they sent him out as living propaganda. Why? Steve wanted to fight Nazis. Did he ever get to? No. He finally fought Hydra because in the field, no one could say no. And even then, he really only got a montage of fighting because there wasn’t enough depth in the writing for him to do anything else. So, instead of embedding Cap into WWII history, a living example of the Greatest Generation, we made him fight a small group of terrorists. Already the gravitas of the character is compromised. In the second film, it had some great character development, but Cap was still reactionary. I really liked Falcon, Black Widow, and Nick Fury, but I still didn’t feel like we got inside Cap’s head, that we got to know the real Cap, and that we got to face his demons with him. Civil War was even worse in that regard with more characters and even less time with Cap. This is a man from a different time and a different perspective, why not use it? Indeed, what makes Captain America unique and worthy of a film about him? Those are the kinds of questions a writer or director should be asking when considering putting years of their life into a project. I know the business folks want to keep the money machine rolling, but we cannot make filmmaking into rinse-and-repeat. We need to put time into the writing, into the production, and let the characters have their defining moments. Captain America would expect no less.
Thanks for reading. I hope you do go see the film and share your opinions!
For a more perfect union,
Los Angeles, California
May 10, 2016
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