So I saw Civil War last week and have been stewing over it ever since, so some spoilery thoughts.
First off, I couldn't help but compare Civil War to Age of Ultron. AoU was a flawed movie to be sure; the action felt gratuitous at points and a lot of the story telling seemed to be focusing on a different movie's story. The Hulk battle in the middle was a great example of this. There was no reason it had to take place in the city, it could have been just as good a fight scene if Tony spent his time trying to herd Hulk away from the city and I think Bruce would have felt shaken regardless at his loss of control. Instead it took place in the city with casualties so there could be a mid-movie low where they talked about how public approval for the Avengers was tanking as a set up for Civil War. It was unnecessary; what happened in Sokovia was more than enough. But if they had the line about low public confidence at the end of the movie, it couldn't have ended on a high note, so instead they shoved it in the middle. Thor's side adventure was entirely an advertisement for Thor: Ragnorok and felt very out of place. The only introduction that felt natural was the establishing Wakandian vibranium.
By contrast, Civil War was able to do what AoU attempted to do (namely bring lots of action and advertise for other movies in the franchise) in a much smoother and effective way. The fight scenes almost never felt gratuitous, and I'm really looking forward to the next Spider-Man movie when I was ambivalent before. And while I was always excited about the Black Panther movie, god, do I need it now.
But despite the fact that Civil War is a better, less clunky movie, when I left AoU I was excited and full of feels, when I left Civil War I wasn't. I didn't really know how to feel, but it wasn't excitement or enjoyment over the movie. Maybe it's because AoU was able to end on a high note, while this movie certainly did not but I don't think that's it. Mostly I left wishing that they had made a different movie.
As someone who loves comics Steve/Tony, I had a lot of feelings about the Civil War story line which I knew were going to leave me disappointed in this movie. The movie 'verse has developed in a different direction and isn't well established enough to tell the Civil War story of the comics. The MCU is old hand at taking concepts from the comics and presenting them as something entirely different in the movies, so I knew this wasn't going to be the story I’d read. But I still wanted a movie about how politics, politics fueled to extremes by fear, can tear friends apart, how people can agree 90% of the time but that 10% difference can tear them apart. That's not the movie I got.
Instead it became a movie about (not really unreasonable) politics that Tony and his team supported or felt their best interests would be served by supporting, that Steve didn't really support but didn't have time to engage in because he was distracted. It became a story of Steve stubbornly pigheadedly trying to save a man who may or may not still be his friend, dragging some of his friends along for the ride while the rest of his friend tried to work out their future in the world.
And like, I can't even be angry at Steve, because that's who he is. I accept that this kind of behaviour is one of his flaws and love him despite it. But it turned the movie away from the politics, which should be at its core, to Steve's personal goals, and I think the movie suffered for it. Steve is incredibly invested in Bucky, because that's just who he is, but as a member of the audience, I don't have Steve's dedication. We haven't seen very much of Bucky in the movies. He wasn't even in the first Captain America movie that much, heading off to war, then dying rather quickly, we learned more about him through Steve's reaction to him than through Bucky's own actions. Then come Winter Soldier, he's more machine than person. Sebastian Stan had, what, 20 lines in that movie? Don't get me wrong, he did a hell of a job emoting, but the character in that movie is like a confused robot just learning it might be a person and we're left wondering who Winter Soldier will become. He's definitely no longer the Bucky of Cap 1, but will he be able to throw off his programming enough to be the friend Steve wants and hopes for? We don't know, and this movie didn't really answer that question.
I'll admit, I went into this movie prepared to dislike Bucky. As a Tony girl I was annoyed to see so many of my friends defaulting to protecting Bucky and blaming Tony, I was also fell for the misleading cutting of the trailers. I remember telling my friends that I couldn't support Team Cap if it had murder boyfriend on it who we saw shooting Tony in the face, and the implication of Bucky shooting Rhodey from the sky. So it was surprising to me that I left this movie feeling it had done a disservice to Bucky. The only real investment in Bucky I still had been given by the movies was through my investment in Steve and his obsession with Bucky. Bucky didn't get to be a person in his own right, instead he was an ideal Steve held and as such he became a plot point.
This movie did a good job of making me feel invested in almost everyone else:
- they relied on previously established investments in the core Avengers, which was fine (with the exception of Clint who never really gave his reasons for being on the side he chose)
- they gave Wanda, a new Avenger, a clear emotional arc
- we got to see Vision fitting into the team (though he was a character I wanted a little more from)
- Sam continued to be the best friend
- we got to see Rhodey as part of the team, with confirmation he's still the man we've seen in other movies
- T'challa had an absolutely amazing arc and character growth
- Sharon got a chance to reconnect with Steve and explain her spying in CA:WS without apologizing for it because she was just doing her job and she continued to buck authority when she felt it was the right thing to do
- we learned saw a lot of this newest take on Spider-Man from the 2 scenes with him
- it even made me remember that I like Scott Lang, despite my disappointment in the Ant-Man movie (forever bitter over Jan)
But what did we get from Bucky? We know that he remembers some of his life before Hydra, we know that he was trying to live a normal life but that he's still willing to fight his way out of dealing with the authorities, we know he remembers what he did as the Winter Soldier. I don't even think Bucky knows who is right now, so it was impossible for the movie to properly show us who in a way that would let us be invested in him alone, separate from Steve. I'm sure there are a lot of fandom people who won't feel this way since they spent the last 2 years nursing an investment in him via fic, but for those of us that haven't? It's just not there.
Probably the point I connected with Bucky the most was when Bucky questioned Steve after the fight in the airport about whether he was worth all this. That is a question, central to the plot that is never answered.
Mostly what I feel now that the dust has had time to settle is that I wish instead of Captain America: Civil War, we had gotten Captian America: The Search For Bucky. I wish we had been given a chance to see the man Bucky is now, and have a Civil War movie later when it can actually be about Civil War instead. Because the little time Steve spent talking about his reluctance to sign? Those what-if would have made a great movie! What would happen when the Avengers team is barred from helping in a situation and things are worse for it? What would happen if they are sent into a situation and told to do things they don't want to do?
Instead we were left with a movie that basically proved the point of the law they were supposed to be fighting over. The team was out of control, on both sides, and just racked up the damage for no real good. Where as if they were sanctioned and working with other levels of law enforcement on the ground, more could be done to minimize collateral damage. I certainly believe more of that airport would have been left standing had it not been Tony and his team trying to stop Cap. Which admittedly doesn't make for as good of an action movie, but would make me feel better about being a hypothetical person living in that world.
We saw so little of what the Sokovia Accord actually said, so it's hard to argue against it. In fact, I'd say the biggest thing against it was that it was supported by a government that thought Thaddeus Ross would make a good secretary of state! But Ross wasn't even his usual over-the-top blinded-by-his-tunnel-vision self. As far as I could see the only things he said that were out of line was trying to lump the Battle of New York in with the other disasters to prove they're out of control (that one was done with government oversight, unlike the other examples), and blaming them for not knowing where Thor is, when "he went home and is not on Earth" should be a pretty reasonable answer. Even Ross' refusal to immediately believe the evidence Tony brought him about the set up was understandable, Ross needed things under control before delving into further details and I'm sure as local authorities reported the info he would have reached similar conclusions. That still didn't negate the fact that it was reasonable to want to arrest Bucky so he could be put on trial for the crimes committed as the Winter Soldier (whether or not he'd be found guilty is a separate issue) or that Steve was out of line when he attacked police officers and helped a wanted criminal escape.
I find it so frustrating that all of Steve's valid reasons for being nervous about the accord were side stepped in favour of focusing on Bucky. We can guess at them, finding out S.H.I.E.L.D. was really Hydra all this time is a pretty big reason not to trust the motivations of those wanting to control your actions but that was never specifically brought up. We got impassioned pleas from Tony, referencing his guilt and culpability over Sokovia, but only a few short hypotheticals from Steve.
Side note: as a non-American it felt really... something that it took an example of an American dying to bring home the damage for Tony. What, it was sad but ok when it was Sokovians who died, but the young American is too much? I mean, it's a nod to comics to have Miriam in the movie, but the American centralism felt... yeah.
Switching gears a bit, I think I could have lived, and even been happy with this movie up to the scene in Siberia, but what came after just ruined it for me. Look, I know this is a Captain America movie and that he has to "win". I also don't disagree with him about Bucky's culpability while brainwashed and forced into being the Winter Soldier. But that wasn’t meant to be the central argument of the movie, their decisions over the accords were. And by not addressing that question, I feel like they sacrificed Tony's character to get their ending.
I freely admit I'm a Tony fangirl first and foremost. I know he's not a perfect character, but I can accept him and his flaws anyways, just as I can accept Steve and the flaws that motivated him throughout this movie. But that last fight? Left me really disappointed in Tony. The bad guy explained what he had done and how all of this to turn them against each other, to manipulate them. Even knowing that, Tony just fell in line to do exactly what Zemo wanted.
And look, I acknowledge that they spent much of this movie pushing Tony to the edge, his relationship with Pepper was on the rocks, his relationship with Steve was also on the rocks, he's trying to protect this group of people and has some of them fighting against him, Rhodey, his best friend, has been hurt and he doesn't know what's going to happen to him, and he knows that someone has been intentionally setting the team up to look bad. I know that the betrayal of Steve keeping this from him and the pain from the death of his parents is a lot. It's seemingly understandable that Tony would finally break.
But the thing is we have 3 Iron Man movies that tell the exact opposite story. Tony is always shakily walking a tight rope, ready to fall over at any moment. But in all three Iron Man movies he keeps it together enough to make it through. With a lot of help from his friends, for sure, but he makes it through. So it felt like a betrayal when they changed the script on us in this movie. That he not only didn't succeed at muddling through, but that he jumped over the edge at Zemo's request. Tony's better than that. I especially couldn't take his childish taunts at Steve about his shield. I know Tony can be a petty person, but that was a lot.
This is where I'm saddest that they deviated from the comics. That final fight in the comics between Steve and Tony ended with Steve having it viscerally brought home that maybe he wasn't doing the right thing. It took civilians stepping in and telling him to stop for him to realize that he was taking this too far, even if he was doing it for reasons he thought were right.
I really wish that we were given that moment in this movie, that there was a moment when one of them could clear their head enough to look at the damage being done and think "no, this needs to stop." I think that probably would have been a more triumphant end of the movie if Steve were the one to doing it.
But the problem was, Steve was never fighting Tony, he was only ever trying to get away, so they had to cripple Tony and limp away instead. Not much of a triumph, nor much of a learning opportunity. And what was the point of all this (as a Captain America movie) if Steve learns nothing and can’t triumph at the end? Instead it was T'Challa who had the moment of growth, who was able to make the hard but right decision to take back control. I in no way begrudge T'Challa that moment, I just don't understand why he was the only one who got it (Tony definitely needed a healthy dose of this as well).
So yeah, this movie wasn't what I wanted it to be. Don't get me wrong, there were great parts to it (T'Challa! Sam and Bucky's scene in that car! Rhodey being his perfect self in that last scene, despite what happened to him!) but it wasn’t the strong follow up to Winter Soldier we deserved. It wasn’t the movie I wanted to watch.