That all changed when I saw Captain America: Winter Soldier. With tense action sequences, a healthy dose of espionage, a palpable sense of danger, a deliciously entertaining supervillain, and deft handling of moral/political themes, Winter Soldier rocked my socks off. My wife and I wanted to watch the film again even before it had finished.
The announcement of Civil War thrilled me with the possibility of watching another Cap-centric Avengers film. At the same time, I knew the bar had been set quite high. Could Cap (the superhero) entertain Cap (the moviegoer) as much as he did the last time around? That’s the question I’m here to answer today.
As a reminder, I rate movies based on three criteria: potentially objectionable content (C), artistry (A), and my personal opinions (P).
CONTENT (C): 7 out of 10
Of the recent Avengers movies, Cap’s films tend to be cleaner in the areas of sexual innuendo and profanity. True to form, Civil War steers clear of the pointless innuendo that tarnished the last Avengers ensemble (i.e., Age of Ultron). The profanity is about what we’ve come to expect from a Marvel movie.
With all the action set pieces, there is a heavy amount of violence—including one scene late in the game that ended up being more disturbing than I’d have anticipated. Then again, maybe it was just me. Whatever the case, the movie definitely isn’t for younger audiences.
ARTISTRY (A): 8 out of 10
After watching the trailers, I was concerned about character motivations: would Steve “All About Authority” Rogers fighting against his chain of command and Tony “Do Whatever I Want” Stark fighting for greater government oversight work? Thankfully, it did. In fact, the filmmakers respected audiences enough to give plausible reasons for both superheroes’ positions. We genuinely empathize with both Steve and Tony, as they each have solid rhetorical points to make.
With superheroes numbering in the double digits, Civil War handles all the characters, and the introduction of a few new ones, adeptly. I can understand how some people might complain about the new heroes having little setup involved in their introductions. At the same time, Marvel has spent years setting up the main Avengers, and if they had standalone films for every single Avenger before moving forward, we’d all probably be complaining about how the studio was taking forever to get things going. Besides, more standalone films are on their way, which will give even more depth to characters about which we don’t know a lot (yet).
Probably the film’s biggest weakness is related to the movie’s villain. While his motives (once we learn what they are) are perfectly understandable, his methods are questionable. They remind me somewhat of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and the needlessly elaborate gymnastics [*SPOILER ALERT*] involving the antagonist’s desire to get Harry to touch a portkey. In Civil War, too many elements need to fall into place in order for the villain’s plans to succeed. By the end of the film, the suspension of disbelief has stretched too thin to hold incredulity at bay.
PREFERENCE (P): 9 out of 10
The suspension of disbelief mentioned above isn’t enough to ruin the movie for me, but it does weaken the impact of the ending. I have trouble feeling the supposed gravity of the situation after learning just exactly how the villain expected to pull off his grand scheme.
Even so, I still find Civil War to be like Winter Soldier in that it is a genuine thrill ride. The character interactions, moral dilemmas, and numerous action set pieces—not the least of which is the battle for which the movie gets its name—all combine into a flat-out entertaining experience.
Captain America’s films handle their political themes well. I especially appreciated one character’s exhortation about how sometimes you need to do what’s right even when the entire world (or so it seems) is telling you you’re wrong. The religious symbolism accompanying the scene is genuinely appreciated.
It also doesn’t hurt that my least two favorite Avengers are MIA in this film. Yes, I’m talking about Thor “The Mighty Bore” and Bruce “What the Heck is My Motivation” Banner. I’m sorry, but I feel nothing for these characters, and their exclusion in Civil War works strongly in the story’s favor.
One thing all the Avengers movies do is blend gravitas and humor exceptionally well, and this is no exception. We’ve grown with these characters over the years, so it feels like watching friends laugh and fight together. The same goes for the new recruits as well—especially Spider-Man. Even though we’ve seen the web-slinger in two separate franchises in the last several years, it is this Spiderman who takes the cake (and I mean that in a good way). Simply put, I loved the experience of watching these friends, new and old, duke it out on the big screen.
CAP grade: 80%