Captain America: Civil War is fun, and if that’s all you expect from it, you’ll probably have a good time. The plot is reasonably coherent and well-paced – certainly in comparison to Age of Ultron, and even The Winter Soldier.
That said, in a film with twelve superheroes, there are only two women heroes (Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff and Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff), with Sharon Carter playing a minor role that cannot really be described as superheroic. Both Ant-Man and Spider-Man, neither of whom appear on the poster, get more screen time and action than her. Sharon, although she does have some agency, is largely relegated to Steve’s love interest and an uncomfortable substitute for Peggy.
If the film passed the Bechdel Test, I must have blinked and missed it.
Black men have a reasonable showing, with both Falcon/Sam Wilson and War Machine/Rhodey playing roles that matter to the plot, and with the addition of Black Panther/T’Challa taking a central role. T’challa is everything I could have hoped for. Thoughtful and regal in a way that believably marks him as royalty, Chadwick Boseman cuts an elegant and powerful figure that effectively evokes the panther without ever being animalistic or overly literal.
Falcon and War Machine both remain ever-loyal side-kicks to their white male counterparts, and I wish more could be given over to them to differentiate their characters. Whilst Clint/Hawkeye remains the least central of the Avengers, he has a family and complex relationships with the other characters. I really wanted the film to make Sam into more than Captain America’s black friend, Rhodey into more than Iron Man’s black friend, but the two stick to following what their designated white counterpart does, despite the fact that Rhodey and Tony have differed ideologically in the past. Rhodey gets a little more development with what happens at the end… but the form of that developement is (not to spoil anything) not exactly ideal.
Of course one is limited in what one can do with such a large cast of characters, but then… this is part of why I’m not really a fan of these big team movies. They tend to be a sprawling mess where no one gets enough development and what little there is is largely monopolised by the white men. From this point of view, Black Panther’s character arc is the stand out exception. I also enjoyed the development of Scarlet Witch’s character, and especially her relationship with Vision. And we get far more of the Steve and Bucky relationsip (Stucky fans will be pleased! So much more screentime for the angst than in Winter Soldier!). As films of this type go, Civil War is a resounding success, but I’m still left feeling like I wanted more from Bucky and more of Scalret Witch and Vision. These are characters and actors with much more to give than they are being allowed.
Which brings us to the other characters who are roped in to make it feel like a ‘war’, taking up further screentime: Ant-Man and Spider-Man. Again: two more white men. Two more white men whose own films have been talked about exhaustively as taking film slots that could have gone to female superheroes. Paul Rudd is great as Ant-Man, but I would still rather have had the Wasp. And Tom Holland is a fantastic Spider-Man, but, as most aptly put by notabadday (referencing the Spiders Georg meme):
“average superhero gets 3 films a day” factoid actualy just statistical error. average superhero gets 0 films per year. Spiderman Georg, who lives in a cave & gets over 10,000 each day, is an outlier adn should not have been counted
What is Spider-Man doing in this movie when you could have given a bigger role to Sharon Carter, or put Pepper Pots back in a suit (the fact that her absence is frequetly lampshaded helps little), or called on Maria Hill, Sif, or built up any number of the women from Agents of SHIELD? It’s exhausting how Marvel go to the same white male superhero pool over and over again when there’s really no need. Enough with Spider-Man. I like Spider-Man, but I’d like a woman of colour to break up the white male monotony more.
The plot, as I have said, is fine, although the initial disagreement between Steve and Tony could have been more convincingly motivated. The inciting incident of the film is a bomb going off in the wrong place because Wanda/Scarlet Witch is not able to move it far enough away to prevent civilian casualties. The UN proposes an Accord to institute international oversight for the Avengers. So far, so reasonable. Steve has been all for public oversight in previous films – he was totally against Nick Fury’s secretly building a fleet of airships and totally in favour of airing all of SHIELD’s dirty laundry. So when Steve comes out against this, it’s a bit… out of character.
Later in the film he is given ample reason to feel ‘right after the fact’ – the Accords are manipulated incredibly easily into imprisoning Wanda without trial and ordering a shoot-to-kill on Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier based off a low-resolution photograph that is leaked to the press. It would have been so easy to engineer the split after Bucky becomes a target, when Steve has real, character dirven reasons to resist an oversight that is clearly flawed and endangering his friend. I don’t really understand the thought process that went into this ordering of events.
This was never going to be a particularly deep film, but it would have been much more interesting if the audience’s sole reason for sympathising with Steve at the beginning wasn’t just that… he’s a nicer guy than Tony? Going off the rails to protect his friend, or free Wanda, are much more compelling reasons. The film did feel a bit like it was floundering to establish exactly what Steve’s motivations were.
However, if you’re just in this for some cool fights and witty one-liners with a side-order of feels, this film delivers. The fight choreography is good and the big team vs team battle is particularly satisfying and dynamic. I would have appreciated slightly fewer fights, more character driven story, and more women (especially women of colour), but as this style of film goes, Civil War was above par and certainly an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.