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!
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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!
I went into this movie expecting to not like Black Panther or Spider Man and i ended up loving them both. It took a while, but someone finally got the Spider Man combat banter to work on screen.
I was hoping they would make Black Panther a third neutral party and i think they did that well. Making him the voice of reason in the movie was so perfect.
I’m happy i spent so much time avoiding spoilers because Giant Man caught me off guard. I actually yelled out in surprise when it happened.
My only complaint, and this isn’t with the movie itself, is that the Hero vs Hero story can be very depressing. When you finish Avengers 1 you’re left feeling so good and everyone saved the city. The end of Civil war is very bittersweet and i’m wondering how they’re going to pull it all back together in time for Infinity War.
100% agree on Spider-Man combat banter. MUCH harder to pull off in live-action than I think I ever realized, but it works here beautifully.
Great call on the contrast between the endings of Civil War and Avengers. As much as I enjoyed, this isn’t a feel-good conclusion by any stretch. The punches in that final battle HURT. It’s as emotional a confrontation as it is physical. Team Cap gains an upper hand, but it’s hard to say anyone “won.”
Great review!! Just one question, is agents of shield that bad? I really like the series, it’s a great link between the movies, while still having its own storyline.
I’m the first to admit I’m unreasonably hard on Agents of SHIELD, especially if there’s a joke out of it. That said, the series really disappoints me. I’ve tried and tried again, but can’t get into it. Probably more than anything I don’t think the series (or Marvel’s ABC work in general) has used the Marvel Universe playground nearly as well as it should. But hey, some of my favorite parents are big fans of the show, so I can see where you’re coming from! If nothing else, Agents of SHIELD has improved over time, and at the end of the day, anything’s better than Gotham!
Lol, I also like Gotham ???????? I’ve got a strange taste, I guess
I too was thoroughly impressed with Captain America 3 Civil War, for the same reasons you describe, Dave. It is a wonderful place where the Marvel characters are assumed to be universally known, and it will not be necessary to relive the origin stories yet again. The Russo brother’s masterfully portrayed the story, characters and action.
I am not a dogmatist when it comes to the stories. In no way do I feel that the MCU must conform to Marvel Comics “canon” in terms of the storylines. I recognize that the medium is different, the audience is broader. That being said, I do feel like consistency in terms of the characters is necessary, although I would be willing to concede some license due to circumstances (for instance, I fully expect the Carol Danvers version of Captain Marvel to replace Mar-vell in Infinity War I & II).
I’m not exactly sure why, but it bothers me that Iron Man seems to be severely under-powered in the MCU. In the comics, as we all know, Iron Man is among the most powerful heroes of all, having stood toe-to-toe with the likes of Hulk and Thor upon occasion. I can in no way reconcile that Cap could be in the same league with Iron Man. In the storyline in the Civil War comic, after Cap plays a pretty low-down trick to deceive Tony to try to gain the upper hand, Iron Man beats Cap to within an inch of his life, and Cap is only saved when others on Cap’s side intervene. As I said, I’m not beholden to that storyline, but I do have a problem with Iron Man’s representation.
The alteration of Iron Man’s power level obviously impacts the physical conflict. Properly powering Iron Man would have required a different alignment of the characters. In fact, as it was, placing Vision and Iron Man on the same team should have made it a non-conflict as far as I’m concerned (Team Iron Man was already much more powerful, as mathematically determined here: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/captain-america-civil-war-who-would-win/).
I think the teams would have been more balanced, simply by switching Vision and Hawkeye. It seems that Hawkeye (despite his general anti-authority viewpoint) would have been more likely to align with Black Widow, and much more likely to want to join the establishment (recalling that in this version he has a wife and children to consider). It could have been easy to see Vision follow Scarlet Witch at that point in the movie (especially since we are all aware of his predilection toward her in the comics). All that would have required was for Cap to personally arrive to persuade Wanda to join (replacing Barton in that role). Cap and Wanda even had the necessary bonding episode earlier in the movie to set that up. With this line-up in opposition, the conflict would be considerably more balanced (even with Iron Man properly powered), with Vision challenging Iron Man in the battle.
Although to me this is more than a nitpick, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and look forward to many more MCU installments to come.
The Iron man power problem is an interesting point. They’ve done a strong job in the movies of humanizing the armor. Tony’s a bit woobly, he skids, he takes hits all the time that rattle ‘the man in the can’. The armor is very breakable – even the hulk buster in A2 gets smashed to bits.
But yes, Cap holding his own in a fist fight against the Iron man either requires some suspension of disbelief, or admiration for caps absurd strength.
Inspector spacetime says
Also, for community fans, it’s nice to see that the dean has moved on from greendale to MIT
First Abed joins SHIELD, now the Dean’s at MIT. Can I get Chang with HAMMER next?
Hahaha, I guarantee that someone from there will show up in infinity war, and I bet u just called it. Unless it’s starburns or magnitude. Pop, pop indeed
I join in the praise for the movie and for Dave’s review.
In my opinion Civil War is a Captain America movie and not an Avengers side quest, since it for the most part is about Steve’s and Bucky’s friendship.
I was also surprised and entertained by Giant-Man.
They pull off the Cap focus really well for so many characters involved.
I think this movie also does more to establish the bond between Bucky and Cap which has felt a bit nebulous at times. Seeing them trade blows with the SHIELD was exhilirating, like oh yeah, these guys montage-fought their way through WW2 in the first movie.
I agree as well, it was awesome. Although they seem to have fallen short in the post credit scenes in the past few films. Maybe they feel too many people don’t stay for them.
I hope zemo returns. when I was little, the baron zemo secret wars toy was one of my favorites of all time. I don’t know why, but I just think he looks awesome, and the name sounds cool. That was a perfect way to subtly put someone in like that. Even tho he was a huge part of the movie, it was the subtlness of him that resonated with me. Although I wouldn’t have objected to a zemo sword fight.
I still find black panther boring. I’m sorry, I just don’t find his character (comics or movie) to have any depth or personality, and I suppose Chadwick pulled it off perfect. I did enjoy his fighting scenes tremendously, but I just don’t care about him. Maybe I’ll read the marvel knights series that u praise so much. I haven’t ever read anything that made me think “damn, this dude is awesome” (i.e. Richard rider or Ronan in annihilation) Either way I still loved the entire movie.
I would not have said no to a sword fight or a purple mask. Agree that I hope he comes back with a team, and if they call themselves the Masters of Evil, I will NOT complain.
T’Challa is so cool, man. I actually get where you’re coming from though, for a long time I didn’t think much of the character. The Priest Marvel Knights run did a lot to change that. I also love Panther’s Rage (70s, arguably Marvel’s first graphic novel) and the new Ultimates.
You’re definitely on to something with the end credits. I can’t quite articulate it but I’ve had the same feeling.
I saw it again, and I have somewhat changed my mind, as far as the movie goes. Black panther actually overcame his vengeance, where pretty much everyone else didn’t.
I seriously plan on reading those priest ones ASAP, and I am all about the new ultimates comics. If nothing else because it’s where the cosmic stuff seems to be culminating (bendis should take a cue from it for gotg)
The cosmic elements of Ultimates really blew me away. Some of my favorite stuff since Starlin.
Jason Kelley says
“Can you move your seat up?”
Line of the movie!
Great writeup as always Dave. I’m in agreement on all your points.
It’s a cliched question, but what brought this down from 5 to 4 1/2 stars in your opinion?
Mostly I’m just stingy with 5 stars. I don’t have much to criticize. I could knock it for thematic resonance (superhero responsibility/laws is a very comic book movie kind of debate), but I’ve got Avengers #1 and the theme there is basically just “fun awesome is fun.”
It’s a really great movie. I could see in time moving it up, and we’re yet to see what kind of influence it can have, which is a big reason I rank Avengers #1.