You’ll hear a lot about how good Captain America 3: Civil War is over the next few weeks, and about all the box office success it’s having, and it’s true, but that’s not what makes it amazing. I had impossibly high expectations, and Civil War met all of them and then raised me the best version of my favorite comic book character of all time, but that’s not what makes it amazing.
You know what makes Civil War amazing?
There’s no slippery genre coating over Civil War. There’s no man behind the curtain telling the audience “Don’t worry it’s OK to like this because it’s actually a heist/spy/space/insert_genre_here thriller!”
Captain America 3: Civil War is all comic book movie, all the time, and it’s a thoughtful blend of emotion, action, and humor.
The biggest blockbuster movie in the world is a deep in the weeds example of comic book continuity at its finest!
The biggest blockbuster movie in the world is heavily reliant on Marvel continuity that began in 2008.
The biggest blockbuster movie in the world tosses aside references to “Banner” like he’s running in the GOP primary and everybody in the audience should know him.
Great Expectations: A Marvel Cinematic Universe Conundrum
I had the strangest experience watching my Chicago Cubs over the weekend. As a Cubs fan you learn pretty early in life that losing is normal, that delusions of grandeur are for Star Wars movies, and that though hope springs eternal, it really ain’t worth a lick. Yet there I sat following a first inning 2-run homer by the visiting Washington Nationals, and you know what? I expected the Cubs to win!
That’s the kind of greatness the Cubs are channeling the season, in the same way the Golden State Warriors channeled it all through the 2015-2016 NBA season. You expect the Warriors to win when you watch them. It’s surprising when they don’t.
That’s how I felt about Captain America 3: Civil War. I expected greatness, which meant that at best, my expectations could be met. This is a dangerous approach to movie-viewing, but I couldn’t shake it. After months of maintaining Civil War was trying to do way too much, with way too many characters, I sat down and watched a movie smoothly, effortlessly, and entertainingly give every single character exactly the right amount of movie.
Yep. Thought so. Just like I expected.
Except here’s the thing: Those are absurd expectations! Civil War makes the whole affair look so easy that it’s far too easy to take it for granted, as if we didn’t watch Avengers 2: Age of Ultron sag under similar pretensions a mere year ago.
Sticking the landing is part of what separates the solid Marvel movies from the greats. Sticking the landing is what makes Avengers the greatest Marvel movie of all time, bar none, may Joss never want for naught.
Captain America 3: Civil War? It sticks the landing.
So, in an effort to appropriately acknowledge the Russo Brothers and MCU masterminds for a job well done, and not taken for granted, here’s what impressed me the most about Cap 3. But first:
Is Captain America 3: Civil War One of the Best Marvel Movies?
MCU power rankings! And yes, I’m counting MCU tie-ins on TV or Netflix.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
5. Captain America 3: Civil War
6. Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier
7. Iron Man
8. Iron Man 3
9. Avengers 2: Age of Ultron
10. Captain America: The First Avenger
12. Thor 2: The Dark World
14. Agent Carter
15. Incredible Hulk
16. Iron Man 2
17. A Blank Screen
18. A Clockwork Orange Subliminal Torture Messages
19. A rock, unmoving, unchanging, forever and ever
20. Agents of SHIELD
Beware!!! Spoilers from this point on!!!
10 Civil War Highlights I Won’t Be Taking For Granted
1. Black Panther & Spider-Man
My biggest fear about Civil War was that the movie simply wouldn’t have the time or the space to properly introduce both Black Panther and Spidey in a single film.
To my delight, Black Panther and Spider-Man were both given enough time in the spotlight to shine, and both characters were portrayed exactly as I’d want to see them.
I couldn’t stop smiling from the time Tom Holland’s Peter Parker awkwardly moved his leg off the bed for Tony Stark to when he was without question concussed by Scott Lang’s giant hand. This is the right Spider-Man, finally, on screen.
Nonetheless, Black Panther’s arc impressed me more.
For much of the movie, Black Panther carrying The Panther’s Rage was nagging at me. Sure it makes sense in the wake of King T’Chaka’s assassination, but this doesn’t quite feel like T’Challa, I thought. He’s smarter than this, surely. So there you have it, at the end, as T’Challa is the only hero capable of empathy and understanding enough to choose a path of non-violence and justice apprehending Zemo. It’s a brilliant scene, contrasted by Iron Man and Captain America now completely consumed by their rage.
If you had told me a Paul Rudd as Scott Lang scene would be the biggest surprise and joy of the movie, I probably would have laughed. Yet there’s Lang, creating a diversion as none other than the MCU’s first Giant-Man during the “I’ll stop whatever I’m doing and watch his on cable in the future” airport fight.
It was the single most surprising and exciting moment of the movie for me, and although in retrospect I’m not sure how I didn’t see it coming, it’s one of few moments that truly surprised.
3. Winter Soldier & Falcon Buddy Team-Up Comedy
I already have the cash lined up, just name your price.
4. Character Specific Action
The Russo Brothers will inevitably not get enough credit for their direction on Cap 3, as the derisive labels of “stewards,” “caretakers” and “custodians” continue to spatter the helm of whosoever controls the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
With that in mind, I have to call out the brother’s uncanny ability to identify what makes each individual character great, and what action suits their character.
It’s Cap & Bucky trading SHIELD tosses against Iron Man because they’re best friends. It’s War Machine yanking 6 jillion guns out of his armor to prevent a truck from flying on top of him. It’s Falcon curling his wings in front of his body to prevent bullet wounds before swooping in to action. And yes, it’s Spider-Man web-slinging his way onto Sam Wilson shouting “You have the right to remain silent!”
Every single character got theirs, and this movie has more moving parts than an Ocean’s 11.
5. Baron Helmut Zemo
I fully expected heading in to Civil War that I’d be able to nominate Zemo for 2016’s “There is no Mandarin” award for Marvel villain most thoroughly wasted in the service of the plot.
Instead, we got a quietly excellent performance, and a fascinating plot from Zemo as he pulled the strings that pulled the Avengers apart from the inside.
Zemo’s characterization also led to one of the smartest decisions of the story, as he cold-murdered the uninteresting “Oh I really hope they don’t have to fight those guys” Russian Super Soldiers before any action-for-actions sake could ensue.
Plus, for the first time in I can’t even remember, we have a Marvel villain that could return in future installments!
6. 2016’s “There Is No Mandarin Award” For Marvel Villain Most Thoroughly Wasted in Service of the Plot
Just so you don’t think I forgot, the 2016 “There is no Mandarin” front-runner is instead: Crossbones. To be fair, Crossbones actually had a pretty solid opening run, and his terrorist’s death sparked the majority of Civil War. So he’s nowhere near as wasted as previous winners:
2013: The Mandarin
2014: Ronan the Accuser
2015: Baron von Strucker
That said, I fully expect a villain from either Luke Cage of Dr. Strange to take the title from Crossbones by the end of 2016.
7. 8 Years of Continuity
Captain America 3 kicks off Marvel’s Phase 3, and it finds the MCU in a fascinating place. We’re post-origin, post-universe-establishing, and can just dive right in to new stories Marvel Comics style.
8 years in is also a place where continuity can start to feel like baggage and lead to stale stories or just absolute insanity.
If you don’t think pulling off a Civil War movie with this much success is impressive, just look at Marvel’s Ultimate Universe. A great comic book universe for eight years, the Ultimate U was upended by the 2009 major event: Ultimatum. It’s a front-runner for many worst comics ever lists, and the comics universe was never the same after.
The MCU will never be quite the same, but for far better reasons.
8. I’m Team… Uh… Team… Wait, Who Am I Rooting For?
One of the bigger flaws of the Civil War comic book event is that by the end of the event, it’s virtually impossible not to root for Captain America and his freedom fighters. Iron Man starts off making compelling arguments about authority and respecting the law, but behind the scenes makes Doctor Doom look like Mother Theresa.
The film found a much stronger balance, with Cap sticking to his righteous principles (good) and stubbornly assaulting officers for his assassin friend (less good). Meanwhile, Tony was finally willing to admit the Avengers destructive power should be put in check (good), but still mostly wanted to be in control of those checks (less good). The back and forth continued effectively throughout, and Civil War even twice pulled off the most tired of comic book tropes: The miscommunication slugfest!
9. Don’t Call It A Comeback
Civil War comes at such an important time for the MCU. It’s been nearly a year since we had a new Marvel movie, and a subpar 2015 on the big screen left Marvel’s cracks open for re-examination. Especially in the wake of 2016’s great comic book movie rush, the Marvel formula has never been more exposed: Weak third acts, magic mcguffins everywhere, weaker villains, dad jokes to suppress the tension… we’ve heard them all ad infinitum now.
Civil War should help remind everyone why Marvel’s the biggest game in town, reassert their right to the throne, and remind us all: You come at the king, you best not miss.
10. Captain America: The First Avenger Movie Not Called Avengers
There’s little use denying that Captain America 3 is an Avengers movie. The Russo Brothers certainly feature Cap as much as reasonably possible, and he’s a major point of view character throughout, but this is ultimately an Avengers movie. Ultimately, I’m ok with that.
It actually makes a wild amount of sense that any Captain America movie would have to be an Avengers movie by proxy. He’s the leader of the team heading into Cap 3, so of course the Avengers are going to be present and a major factor.
I don’t feel like Cap got short-shrifted in his movie as a result; instead the story plays true to the MCU to date, and avoids all the comic book trappings of “We called the Avengers but they’re in space!”
What do you think? Did Captain America 3: Civil War live up to your expectations? Do what feels right to you in the comments!