When the cast list for Captain America: Civil War was revealed, people have been calling this move ‘Avengers 2.5’, mostly because it involves so many characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It turns out that ‘Avengers 2.5’ is a pretty apt description for the plot, and the place of this film in relation to the rest of the MCU. Despite the filmmaker’s insistence that this is very much a ‘sequel to the Winter Soldier’, the plot is very much about the Avengers. That it is a ‘Captain America’ movie mostly holds true in the emotional sense, and the fact that the Captain is mostly the POV character throughout the story.
[No spoilers aside from the initial plot synopsis]
The movie opens with the Avengers crew that was established at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron on a routine mission. During a fight between the heroes and the villains, innocent civilians get killed in the crossfire, which causes Tony Stark, aka Iron Man to suggest that the Avengers sign the Sokovia Accords, a vaguely-defined treaty which ostensibly serves as a regulating body to control the actions of the Avengers. The different superheroes have differing opinions over this, and thus the Avengers are polarised and the Civil War starts. This is a general plot thread that has some similarities with the comics.
This set-up makes it an Avengers movie at its core. However, perhaps because they wanted to make this a ‘Captain America’ movie, Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier gets thrown into the mix, where he gets framed for yet another terrible catastrophe and becomes a fugitive. Since Bucky is Cap’s best friend, the two of them goes rogue. So a huge fraction of this film’s story is the usual action-thriller ‘spy goes rogue to clear her/his name’ storyline, though it is a well-executed and entertaining one. The initial ideological debate around the Sokovia Accords fades into the background amidst the more urgent, time-critical events.
Therein lies one of my main issues with this otherwise very enjoyable movie – it flips back and forth between being a movie about Captain America, versus a story about the Avengers as a team. One one hand, we have a story about Cap and his 1940s idealism about friendship and loyalty willing to go against the rest of the Avengers to protect Bucky. On the other, we have a Civil War story about how the Avengers get torn apart. A story like this should have equally distributed points of view of its key characters, not just the Captain.
The bipolar nature of the story is even reflected by the fact that the plot has two inciting incidents: One event that initiates the Civil War storyline, followed by another, separate incident that brings Bucky into the story. Before the appearance of Bucky, there is one character that clearly lies at the very center of the Civil War conflict (perhaps akin to how Spider-Man is the central character in the Civil War of the comics). But that character gets pushed to the background and we focus on Bucky. While Bucky’s story is still interesting, I really wanted the film to explore the viewpoint of that other central character more. This particular character could have had a very good arc, given this person’s previous experiences in the earlier MCU movies.
The action scenes of the movie are great, from what little I could tell by squinting through the ever-annoying shaky-cam. Emotional stakes are important to get audiences invested in the fights, and most of the fights in the movie do have them.
There is one big battle scene that seem to be there for no other reason than pure spectacle and the ‘awesome factor’. Many of these are so clearly intended to be fan-service and extended cameos that it almost breaks my immersion of the story. But that’s not to say that it’s a bad thing, since these scenes are undeniably fun and entertaining.
Sometimes it does feels like there are too many characters in the story. It doesn’t really feel crowded per se, just that the presence of some characters feel pointless and redundant. Some of them could have been completely removed from the movie and it would have made no impact to the story at all. Which is unfortunate because at times, an urgently developing plot suddenly grinds to a halt just so a character is brought into the story. Luckily it was not a huge problem for me because the characters and scenes are fun and entertaining enough that it makes up for it. This is the film where Black Panther and (the new) Spider-Man is introduced to us. Both actors are fantastic in their roles, and it makes me look forward to Black Panther’s stand-alone movie.
The story structure isn’t perfect, though it serves as a solid skeleton on which the true meat of the movie gets carried forward – namely a reason for different superheroes fight one another, and seeing the personalities clash. It is an entertaining movie, though the tone is a tad more grim than your usual MCU fun-time romp.