Fellow True Believers, it is my duty to periodically come to you and report on the state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and today I am glad to be able to say that the state of the MCU is awesome. My eagerness for Captain America: Civil War obviously could not be contained past opening weekend, especially given its ramifications for the larger connected universe, such as the television favorite Agents of SHIELD . What I can tell you in this spoiler-free first paragraph is that I loved it and it is difficult to imagine the casual movie-goer and true fan alike not being captivated by its excitement and depth. Again, spoilers aside, there is simply so much that the Russo Brothers and Kevin Feige got right, often in fun and surprising ways, that I’ve compiled a list of the Top Four Awesomenesses of Captain America: Civil War.
I’ll limit my disparaging comparisons to the Snyder debacle Batman v Superman in this article, but it’s worth mentioning the extent to which CA:CW shines especially in the wake of BvS’s flaws. We fans (the #NerdHerd) have been somewhat spoiled over the last decade and Zack Snyder serves to remind us of the long history of superhero movies helmed by directors that didn’t know and/or care about the source material, eager to put their own signature spin on beloved characters. What Kevin Feige, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, James Gunn, Christopher Nolan (except when he lost his mind on The Dark Knight Rises), and the Russo Brothers have shown is that the best pursuit with this genre is to pull the fantastic, fertile essence of these characters and stories onto the big screen and work to make the details fit in an appropriate way. There is a fine line that Feige and Co. have trod in placing their characters in a grounded reality while remaining true to the incredible and astonishing atmosphere of the comic book world.
It may be difficult for some to recall now but I remember how interesting I thought it was when Iron Man first came out in 2008 and the idea began to surface that Marvel Studios was going to build franchises (and then inter-connect them) on older, some would say less flashy heroes of the comic canon. This wasn’t Spider-Man or The Hulk (not yet anyway) and it wasn’t either of the two previously mentioned big guns of the DC world. This was Iron Man and Captain America, books whose most popular days, along with those of their Avenging teammates, lie in the bygone era of comic books’ Silver Age. Eight years, thirteen films, and three tv shows later (and counting) the success of the MCU seems a foregone conclusion rather than the result of key artistic choices, but indeed that’s exactly what makes the movies so awesome and allows for a universe where a complicated film like Captain America Civil War can exist and thrive.
SPOILER WARNING SPOILER WARNING SPOILER WARNING
Proceeding beyond this point comes with the understanding and expectation of many SPOILERS for Captain America: Civil War and the various connected entities of the MCU. If you have not yet seen the movie I would highly suggest doing so before moving on. It’s ok, I’ll wait, just leave this browser window open while you run to your local theater and strap yourself in for 2 ½ hours of superhero goodness. Then come on back and we’ll enjoy its awesomeness together over a glass of 1000-year-old Asgardian liquor.
All good? Onward then.
#1 – It’s an Avengers movie that remains a Captain America movie.
As the true flagship trilogy of the MCU (sorry, Iron Man), the three Captain America films are arguably the best in the series. Their depth of character and story, their consistency and uniqueness of style, and their introduction of some of the most over-arching themes of the larger franchise place them at the center of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Captain America: Civil War in many ways actually being an Avengers movie, it would be easy to imagine the Russos losing that identity of the Captain America franchise within the bigger picture. Instead they do quite the opposite, masterfully maintaining that integrity while balancing the multitudinous motivations continuously at play. No character is short-changed on development, none introduced in passing capacity.
And the way they achieve this, in conjunction with the vision of Kevin Feige, is somewhat simple: they keep true to what makes these stories and characters so interesting in the original source material. When elements are altered or updated it doesn’t bear the ostentatious mark of director influence, it is done organically and with purpose.
This third installment completes Captain America’s transformation from G-Man to outlaw, ending the film by breaking the Secret Avengers out of The Raft prison. Once the ultimate proponent of ‘For God and Country’, in Winter Soldier our hero’s confidence in that system is shattered, leading to his staunchly independent stance in Civil War. The film moves the franchise from the earlier question of ‘How/Why would super-powered individuals exist in our real world?’ to ‘What role and responsibilities do super-powered people have within the world around them?’. Cap’s character arc mirrors this over-arching story while Tony’s arc shows the more internal, personal struggle of a man figuring out how to be a hero.
#2 – BEST SPIDER-MAN EVER
Truth be told, this should have been #1. The Spider-Man from Captain America: Civil War is the best we’ve seen on screen and it’s by a pretty wide margin. While problems with Andrew Garfield’s version were far more subject of writing than performance (and Maguire straight sucked), both script and casting are expertly executed in Tom Holland’s wall-crawler portrayal that manages to steal the show from a powerfully entertaining ensemble.
This Spider-Man returns the character to an awkward, believably younger high schooler (“algebra test, Nailed it”), the nerdy, somewhat brilliant kid from meager upbringing, scavenging for discarded computers and other tech as a hobby even before his radioactive incident. There is a return to mechanical web-shooters while jabbing at the organic ones in the first trilogy with Falcon’s “Are those things coming out of you?” line. The character gains the most ground over its predecessors, though, in being the truest to the comic version’s sense of humor and witty banter during battle, a key character trait attempted but not achieved in the previous films. Spidey has some of the movie’s best lines and while I won’t recount them all here, the hands-down favorite has to be:
“You have a metal arm? That is awesome, dude!”
Uttered as Spidey catches Bucky’s metallic punch and continues to fight, we see a genuinely wide-eyed kid who is able to hold his own against some of the strongest heroes around and have the presence of mind to crack jokes – that is Spider-Man. That whole battle with Falcon and the Winter Soldier, in fact, has some of the greatest Spidey moments of the movie: “You have the right to remain silent” as he attaches himself to Falcon, his nerdy fascination with the “rigidity flexibility ratio” of Falcon’s wings which is, of course, “awesome”, and the icing on the Spidey cake, efficiently summing up this new character trait:
Falcon: I don’t know if you’ve been a fight before but there’s usually not this much talking.
Spider-Man: Alright, sorry, my bad.
Peter webs both Falcon and Bucky to the ground.
Spider-Man’s kinship with Tony Stark in the movie makes great parallels to the Civil War comic continuity, while adapting that relationship to an earlier version of the Webhead character. That adaptation is handled adroitly and sets up very interesting elements for both Spider-Man: Homecoming and Avengers: Infinity War. The initial meeting scene in Peter’s bedroom is packed with theme and character elements, such as when Parker says:
“When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t….and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you.”
While introducing us to this young kid and his confusion over his new power (while also telling us how long it’s been, origin handled), there are two other subtexts at play. First, the line is basically a rephrasing of Uncle Ben’s “With great power comes great responsibility” credo drilled into us by the previous films. Secondly and more subtly, the line is Spider-Man basically and unknowingly espousing Captain America’s viewpoint as he joins Team Iron-Man. In the comic book version Spider-Man eventually switches sides so it will be interesting to see how far the writers carry this theme in the upcoming movies.
The design of this Spider-Man suit is modeled of an early Silver Age version of the character. While Tony Stark obviously doesn’t give him this original suit, as the two characters had not yet met in comic continuity, he does create the updated Iron Spider suit in the Civil War storyline, something that may happen again once Infinity War rolls around. More importantly, the conflating of these two different Spider-Man eras is a prime example of the Russo brothers’ skill in creative choices based on a true love for the comics.
Okay, okay, enough about Spider-Man. For now…
#3 – Giant-Man is straight awesome
A close second for show-stealer behind Spidey is the appearance of Ant-Man’s other form, Giant-Man. I had actually forgotten going into the movie that there was rumor of the character and when Paul Rudd began setting it up with his “I’ve got something kinda big” lines I began hitting my wife in the arm in anticipation. For the unaffiliated, Giant-Man is a form Ant-Man began taking as far back as 1959, first appearing in Tales to Astonish #49. In an interview with io9, Kevin Feige says he was big supporter of the Giant-Man idea, which the studio was initially highly skeptical about:
“It was just a great idea to turn the tide of the battle in a huge, shocking, unexpected way,” Feige told io9. “We have a lot of ideas for Ant-Man 2, none of which are contingent upon revealing Giant-Man, so we thought this would be the fun, unbelievable unexpected way to do that.”
“The brothers [directors Joe and Anthony Russo] had to fight for it,” [Civil War writer Stephen] McFeely said. “They had to go to the studio and say, ‘No it’s not silly, it’s cool.’”
According to Feige, the other good part of it was, “We knew if we got Spidey we could have him do the AT-AT thing.”
My favorite part of that is that in Feige’s brain there is the following equation: Spider-Man + Giant-Man = AT-AT reference. That’s some awesome #NerdMath right there. Which leads me to…
#4 – The Star Wars references have exactly the right level of cheese
The culmination of the Giant-Man segment of the ensemble fight involves Spidey executing a maneuver inspired by the Rebels ‘take out the legs’ tactic against the AT-AT walkers in Empire Strikes Back. This is prefaced by Ole’ Webhead mentioning to his much older teammates the “very old movie”, wrapping the reference inside a character note about his age, a moment that if dialed up a signal notch on the cheese-o-meter would turn it sour. But because of the script’s great character work the moment is both playful and appropriate, a difficult dichotomy to master and easy to foul up.
In addition, through the entire Phase 2 of the MCU, each movie beginning with Iron Man 3 sees a character lose a hand (or arm), in reference to Luke Skywalker’s severed hand in Empire and the theme’s repetition throughout the original franchise (someone loses a hand in every SW film except Phantom Menace).
Iron Man 3 – Tony cuts off Aldrich Killian’s arm
Thor: Dark World – Loki cuts off Thor’s hand in an illusion
Captain America: Winter Soldier – Bucky has arm removed and a metal one attached
Guardians of the Galaxy – Gamora cuts off Groot’s arm in their first encounter
Avengers: Age of Ultron – Ultron accidentally cuts of Kassius Klaw’s hand (which will eventually lead to his claw hand!)
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Coulson gets his left hand chopped off
Ant-Man – Darren Cross gets his arm shrunk first when he goes sub-atomic
Captain America: Civil War – Bucky again gets his arm cut off, which Black Panther will fix in Wakanda
Did Deadpool then steal Feige’s joke when he cuts off his own hand?
*Falcon’s aviary sidekick is named Redwing. In the comics he is a live bird with whom Falcon shares a telepathic link. Making him a drone that is utilized well throughout the movie, closely-linked to Falcon (he emerges from his pack!) was a well-executed, not cheesy upgrade from the source material.
*Vision wears a cardigan.
*Hawkeye and Iron-Man make a joke about his retirement and golf. The joke about him not being able to miss and then “missing” Stark with his arrow is funny enough on its own but a second level to it is that there is a spoof within What If? Vol 2 #10 that asks ‘What If Hawkeye had Used Golf Clubs instead of a Bow and Arrow?’ #LayeredHumor
*One of my favorite touches of any superhero movie is when visuals are brought directly from page to screen (except when done in a contrived, cheap way *cough* Snyder *cough*). In Captain America Civil War, the Russos bring quite a few images to colorful life, including the following:
*And returning to the awesomeness of Spider-Man, the second post-credits scene sees him trading some great lines with Aunt May about “Steve from Brooklyn”. At the end, his new Stark-designed web-shooter shines a Spidey logo on the wall in what appears to be a blatant promo for the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming. While it is that as well, what we are seeing is the Spider Signal, a gadget from the character’s early days that he would shine from a distance to intimidate bad guys. This model is loaded with modern tech of which we will certainly see Spidey make use in his solo film. It’s yet another homage to the source material, adapting while remaining true, which is this film’s most awesome quality.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT CAPTAIN AMERICA CIVIL WAR?
Tell us in the comment section below!