Captain America: Civil War

565528cf83e51
Source: Marvel.com

So good!!! I was lucky enough to go see the movie last night when it opened, and I was not disappointed. I was always hopeful that Civil War would live up to its predecessor Winter Soldier and would do its comic book namesake justice (comic reviewed here). But I also was nervous that, even with the Russo brothers at the helm, this movie could become unmanageable because of the sheer size of the cast or that it would no longer feel like a Captain America movie. I can tell you now, that none of those fears held true. I’m sure some will still criticize the film as “Avengers 2.5,” but it is, first and foremost, a movie about Captain America and his supporting cast (Falcon, Bucky, Sharon Carter) as they navigate the ideological quagmire that is the Sokovia Accords. These accords function as the MCU’s replacement for the Superhero Registration Act in the comics, building on UN-driven, international pressure to regulate and control superhuman activities. As any trailer from the last six months indicated, these accords drove a wedge in the superhero community, leaving Captain America and Iron Man on opposite sides. Each assembled a team of Avengers, new and old, to their causes, leading to some pretty epic battle sequences.

In this review, I will be avoiding spoilers, and focusing on things that were already revealed through trailers, as well as overall execution and tone of the film, rather than discussing specific plot points. I’ll basically break out the strengths and weaknesses of the film below. Don’t worry, there are many, many more strengths than weaknesses!

5727ae8c73143
Look familiar, True Believers? Source: Marvel.com
civil war
Yes it does! That’s Civil War #7, Cover by Steve McNiven; Source: Marvel.com

Strengths: Though not at all surprising from Marvel at this point, one of the strengths of Civil War is in its comedic timing. There are plenty of jokes and quips from all of the characters you would expect (Spider-Man, Ant-Man, Hawkeye) but also some genuinely funny moments with the relatively new character: Vision. The Russo brothers did a great job of highlighting Vision’s explorations of humanity and a budding relationship with Scarlet Witch. The buddy humor between the three main characters (Cap, Falcon, and Bucky) was also a lot of fun. There was a sense of rivalry between Falcon and Bucky to be Cap’s best friend, and it was definitely fun to watch.

Another huge strength was the movie’s handling of scope. The huge cast of characters all fit into the story well and somehow did not seem overcrowded. The team alignment decisions all seemed well thought out (even if not always well-explained), and the power sets ended up pretty balanced. They also managed to find time to feature each Avenger in a way that showed their powers and their characters. Even Hawkeye, who so often gets overlooked, was shown in a much better light, holding his own against Iron Man and Black Panther, both of whom significantly overpower him. The introductions of both Black Panther and Spider-Man were handled extraordinarily well and the two stole most of the scenes they were in. Wonderful acting by both Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland makes me extremely excited for their upcoming solo films! The decision to leave Thor and Hulk out was also a great one: either or both of them would have tipped the balance, and their enormous capacity for destruction would have further complicated things. Leaving them out kept the film as a more human affair, with an emphasis on finesse over raw power.

5727b066e7673
Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, AKA Black Panther was a perfect fit for the powerful and calculating Prince of Wakanda. He and Tom Holland (Spider-Man) were tremendous additions to the MCU. Source: Marvel.com

The huge airport fight scene was awesome — it is an incredible feat that it took place in the middle of the movie and did not result in the sort of massive destructive event that most recent films have. Minimizing property destruction and civilian loss of life was also especially important given that those very things had been the catalysts of the Sokovia Accords to begin with. The battle also blended some key elements of humor (though some of the best lines had been cherry-picked for ads over the past six months) and a sort of reluctance on the part of the heroes to fight one another.

Lest we forget, Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo was also wonderfully cast and his role in the film kept just enough on the fringes to make his motives and his influence a mystery to audiences and heroes alike. The resolution of the film allowed for some vital character development and emotional arcs in many of the central characters. Zemo fit the bill for this sort of nefarious plot quite well, and kept either side of the debate from being wholly wrong.

56e1dee62fcc2
I wish this had been a surprise rather than something given away in the first trailer. The moment would have been much more meaningful. Source: Marvel.com

Weaknesses: Very, very few overall. My primary criticism was that the picking of sides seemed rushed for some characters (namely Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Falcon). I think their motives were largely implied, but the film could have taken a few more minutes to flesh them out. Black Widow chooses to sign partly in an attempt to atone for past wrongs as an operative, Falcon just wants to be with his buddy and trusts Cap entirely, and Hawkeye…. I think he just doesn’t want his kids to be in danger because a government refuses to send heroes? Or something? I just wish they’d spent 4 more minutes on it to clear things up. Fortunately, this little hiccup is only relevant for a few minutes, as the subsequent battles and debates were well-constructed and deftly toed the line of keeping the fighting civil and between friends. It was far less brutal than previous battles with villains had been.

My other biggest complaint is actually based on the marketing materials leading up to the movie’s release. See the above photo of War Machine? Why was that part of the trailers? That ruined any element of surprise that we could have experienced while watching the movie. I guess the Russo brothers aren’t quite JJ Abrams with their big reveals, but I just thought they’d try to keep something this important under wraps. At least they did keep most of Spider-Man’s scenes out of trailers, that was a good call.

Overall, Civil War was a great movie and one of the better entries into the MCU. I don’t think it can quite top Guardians or Iron Man, but it’s pretty close. I absolutely loved it and hope I’ll be able to see it again soon!

Rating: 9 of 10

giphy2
Tom Holland is an Amazing Spider-Man. Source: youtube.com via giphy.com

 

giphy1
Hmmm see how Spider-Man was edited out of the trailer? Source: youtube.com via giphy.com

You’ve already read the safe review, now here are some of my favorite things from Captain America: Civil War that would definitely count as *SPOILERS* — Blorgons, proceed at your own peril! Ant-Man is finally Giant Man! He’s huge and he’s hilarious. Spider-Man’s first suit and how Stark found him! A quick glimpse of Wakanda as well as the cool blend of honor and straight up bad-assery that Black Panther brings. I also applaud Marvel’s willingness to remove some characters from the fight, at least for a while. I expected some deaths to help bring down the numbers, but this will do for now. There is still some risk of over-crowding in the future films, especially with characters still on their way and a Guardians/Avengers team-up imminent, but that problem can be put off for now.

Make Mine Marvel! Excelsior! Not Brand Ech!

 

Civil War: The Comic Inspiration

detail
Civil War #1; Cover Artist: Steve McNiven; Source: Marvel.com

By 2006, Marvel was already pretty solidly into its new wave of crossover events (see more on the eventification of Marvel here). Many of these turned into overwrought and underdeveloped cross-promotional stunts to increase readership. But in the summer of 2006, Mark Millar and Steve McNiven released a seven-issue miniseries that would rock the core of the Marvel universe unlike anything ever had before. It was Marvel’s first real attempt to modernize their universe’s continuity to the post-9/11 worldview, integrating the fear and skepticism that were (and continue to be) very prominent in the real world into a comic book setting. The Civil War event focused on the distrust in authority and general feelings of divisiveness that had been growing in the American subconscious. The battle lines were drawn along ideological lines and began a superhero-wide debate about how to balance privacy and security. Many characters preferred to mortgage privacy and personal liberty in order to promote a broader sense of security and accountability, while others saw this choice as government overreach and a forced invasion of privacy.

This debate could have easily happened over any number of key political issues in the modern American media environment, ranging from gun control to the Patriot Act or whistleblowers, but the clever creators, Millar and McNiven, created a fictional analog that still held these tenets. Civil War presented a national tragedy caused by the negligence and inexperience of a group of immature superheroes chasing reality TV show ratings, rather than justice. The whole event, deemed the “Stamford incident” involved this inexperienced super-team losing control of the apprehension of some supervillains outside of an elementary school in Stamford, Connecticut. The result was a massive explosion that killed hundreds of innocent children. The event was a national tragedy, inspiring the US Congress to draft legislation to limit superheroes in an unprecedented act to regulate superhero vigilantism. The “Superhero Registration Act” would require all masked superheroes to register their identities to SHIELD and sign up to participate in a broader “50 State Initiative.”

detail2
Civil War #7 Variant; Cover Artist: Michael Turner; Source: Marvel.com

The fallout from the Civil War was also pretty wide-spread. It set the tone for the rest of the decade’s mega-events, creating a rift in the superhero community that wouldn’t really be healed until the Heroic Age. Driving a large subset of the Avengers (led be Luke Cage) underground, and keeping peacekeeping and security agencies like SHIELD occupied with enforcing the Registration Act left the world vulnerable to multiple rounds of hostile takeover attempts in the Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, and Siege storylines. The far-reaching influence of the Civil War on the broader Marvel Universe makes this ambitious event even more essential reading to any Marvel fan.

I would be remiss not to mention the movie coming out later this week that shares the comic’s name: Captain America: Civil War. Though the movie will clearly drawn on Millar and McNiven’s source material, such as using civilian deaths and property destruction to demonstrate growing skepticism of the superhuman community. It will likely involve a similar Superhuman Registration Act, and the subsequent rift in the Avengers is very much like the comic. With Iron Man and Cap leading the two sides, it could seem, at first, like the movie will be a fairly direct interpretation of the comic.

However, I predict that the similarities will stop there, as key members of the cast will be vastly different. First, the scale of the comic included an enormous cast of characters from across the Marvel Universe, including the Fantastic Four and some members of the X-Men, none of whom can appear due to copyrights. This is particularly a bummer for the FF characters, as the comic does a great job of portraying how the event affected Sue and Reed’s relationship, but instead we have to suffer through more hackneyed attempts by Fox to make money off of their FF rights…

giphy
Team Cap looks a bit different from the comics; Source: youtube.com via giphy.com

A second reason that I don’t think the comic is predictive of the movie is a *Spoiler* for the Avengers: Disassembled event that preceded Civil War by a few years (Side note: it’s a good read for those that want a jumping off point into the Bendis era/ 21st Century Marvel). Half of the characters that are in the MCU currently and make up this movie’s cast were either dead at the time (Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man II – Scott Lang) or were portrayed as being members of the opposite team (Black Panther, Vision). Bucky, who presumably will be a key character in the film, doesn’t appear in the main 7-issue arc, though he is, admittedly, a primary character in the concurrent (and tremendous) Brubaker run on Captain America, which has significant tie-ins to the Civil War event. Black Widow and War Machine, though they don’t appear in the comic, are presumably on Iron Man’s side (Black Widow joins Iron Man’s Mighty Avengers shortly thereafter). That leaves only Cap, Iron Man, and Falcon as being consistent in their team alignments between the comic and movie.

Review:

detail1
7th and Final Issue; Cover Artist: Steve McNiven; Source: Marvel.com

I have now read this event a good number of times, and each time I find that I am more impressed with it than the last. There are a significant number of characters featured in this event, but almost all of them seems like important cameos. The key characters really are Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Sue and Reed Richards, but there are probably hundreds of characters that show up at one point or another. The only prominent characters who sit on the sidelines are the X-Men, who largely stay out of it because of self-interest, their repeated attempts to combat legislation requiring all mutants to register left them unwilling to draw any more interest upon themselves. But each read-through highlights another character’s fantastic cameo, whether it is Daredevil’s snarky Judas reference to Tony Stark, the attack on the Human Torch outside of a club, or the contrasting views of Captain America and the Punisher, this seven-issue series is absolutely packed with iconic Marvel moments.

Sure, there are those who say that this crowding distracts from the story, or makes it a bit unmanageable to read, but that’s where some of the gazillion tie-ins come in. They are designed to flesh out some side character arcs to explain their alignment and/or participation in the broader progression of the event. The primary Civil War miniseries is sufficient reading all by itself, but there are some good tie-in stories in the Captain America, Iron Man, and Amazing Spider-Man series that do a great job of showing each character’s position more fully. I think that this event is truly impressive in its scope and its allegorical assessment of the modern American psyche. The idea that our fear can drive us to punish those who are most invested in our interests strikes a very real chord in its readers, and inspires some further introspection.

Some other critics have opined the creative decision to reveal certain characters’ secret identities to the public, largely because of their impact to the solo titles. I can certainly understand and appreciate that frustration, however, I primarily looked at the Civil War event in terms of how it accomplished its own goals and the success with which it developed the central argument of privacy vs. security. In the end, that means that I found this event to be one of, if not the best, mega-event, crossover spectacular Marvel has ever released. The political allegory does what the best science fiction does, and critiques our modern society through a fictional portrayal of our fears and our hopes. Though some of the after-effects of this comic were detrimental to the overall Marvel universe, I think that this series’ readability and overall execution was fantastic. It is definitely on my short list of comics to recommend, to new and old readers alike.

Overall Rating: 8 of 10