Captain America: Civil War smashed its way into theaters this weekend and officially kicked off the summer blockbuster season. It also took in $181.8 million dollars and marked the biggest opening weekend for a stand-alone superhero franchise film (though I use that term loosely since the movie was sort of Avengers 2.5). Fittingly, Civil War took this title from 2013’s Iron Man 3 – carrying the “war” between the Marvel behemoths beyond the screen itself.
Like many of our friends, the Mysterious Mr. C and I headed to our local cineplex to check out this latest Marvel feature. But unlike many of our friends, who boasted on social media that Civil War was the best superhero film of all time, I came out of the theater a bit underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, Civil War was a fun escape, but it didn’t quite match the expectations that I had for it.
Admittedly, those expectations were pretty high. As I mentioned in my review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, that sequel was the movie that finally got me onboard the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe bandwagon. Prior to that, I hadn’t really understood what all of the fuss was about.
So when I heard that the same directors (Joe and Anthony Russo) and screenwriters (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley) behind The Winter Soldier were helming Civil War, I got incredibly excited. In fact, this was the first time I really went into a theater specifically following a set of people besides the actors themselves. Then, in March, when Anthony Russo said that Civil War would be the psychological thriller to the Winter Soldier’s political one, I was even more jazzed.
To be fair, there certainly are psychological elements in Civil War, and there were a few plot twists that I didn’t see coming, but the film had a more disjointed look and feel to it than I was expecting.
For me, that feeling started with the very first fight sequence. The “shaky camera” style has never been one of my favorites and in a battle with that many people, I found it to be even more discombobulating. For some, like the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, the “fragmented filming and editing style [gave] the action a jittery, hyper-caffeinated edge,” but all it made me think of were spinning carnival rides that always seemed like a good idea from the ground, but made me nauseous once I got on and desperate to get off.
I also didn’t like how much the story jumped around geographically or how the locations’ names were emblazoned across the entire screen. I personally found it to be quite distracting, and in retrospect, it almost seems like a lazy way to splice things together. Instead of a coherent narrative, we ended up with little vignettes of the Avengers fighting, bombs exploding, the Avengers arguing over whether or not they should relinquish some control/oversight to the United Nations, more fighting, and more explosions. It wasn’t really until after the airport fight sequence that I started to get into the movie, mainly because the narrative was allowed to just flow and develop.
But even then there were things that drove me nuts. For instance, why have all of this build-up about the other Winter Soldiers, only to have them still be cryogenically frozen and then quickly dispatched? And exactly how did Cap figure out the role his childhood friend Bucky Barnes (the eponymous Winter Soldier) played in the deaths of Iron Man’s parents? Come to think of it, how did Colonel Zemo (the “villain”) figure it out?! It’s a major plot point that gives the movie a dose of emotional heft and yet I cannot think of how we got there.
To be sure, there were certainly high points in Civil War as well, which was full of the humor that we’ve come to expect from Marvel’s franchises. The studio also continues to nail its casting choices with Chadwick Boseman (finally) bringing T’Challa (Black Panther) to life, and Tom Holland taking over the mantle of Peter Parker (Spider-Man). In fact, I was most impressed with Holland, who held his own with veterans like Chris Evans (Cap) and Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man).
Yet despite these shining moments, I can’t help agreeing with the New York Times’ A.O. Scott, who noted:
[Civil War is] not so much a grand science-fiction saga, or even a series of action-adventure movies, as a very expensive, perpetually renewed workplace sitcom. New characters are added as the seasons wear on. Cast members are replaced. The thing gets a little baroque and tests the boundaries of coherence, but we keep showing up because it can be pleasant, in a no-pressure, low-key kind of way, to hang out with these people as they banter and squabble and get the job done.