When the dust settles on the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Captain America: Civil War will be remembered as a momentary triumphant footnote that will be eventually be surpassed by ever increasing bigger instalments. This is a depressing state of affairs because the previous Captain America films had excellently spoken to the nostalgic tendencies of their titular hero in an engaging manner then Civil War does in its 147 minutes. Part of the reason for this is because of the film’s continual tug of war between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) and the good Captain. (Chris Evens)
On the surface, it seems interesting as the conflict involves global government regulation over the Avengers because of the collateral damage that has been involved in their past attempts to save the world. However, Stark’s point of view feels contrived because of an awkwardly inserted beginning scene where a mother blames him personally for the death of her son. It seems like the writers had forgotten Stark’s fear of a lack of control and the through line that has been created up until this point, which could have been organically built upon instead of that clumsy scene.
Additionally, Steve Rogers’s point of view is relegated to a lone voice that makes the film intrinsically one-sided in its depiction of the title Civil War. Additionally, the debate feels moot once an overbearing framing plot line comes into play that gives rise to a red herring development that fundamentally undermines the last Captain America picture. At the end of all this is a glimpse of an interesting idea with a victim of one of the Avengers’ attacks being responsible for the main conflict. However, this comes too late in the narrative to have any emotional resonance.
Civil War frustrates because, for every idea that feels interesting, another comes along to undermine it. Some of these come towards the latter half of the picture. In the penultimate scene, the antagonist of the picture, Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is being mocked by a government agent for his lack of success in bringing down the Avengers. He contends that he has utterly failed in his purpose, and Zemo with quiet confidence asks did I? This potent ambiguity is weakened by the next scene where Rogers sends a letter to Stark that implies a reconciliation. One can almost hear the loud grind of the Marvel Studio’s machine in that last scene with its sickening warm reassurance.
Most annoying is that this unequal balance between spectacle and ideas was expertly handled in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which worked within the genre of the political thriller and combined it with a precise and gut-wrenching internal conflict along with an earth-shattering revelation for the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As for The First Avenger, it had a fascinating interplay between the perceived and actual image of Captain America while also showcasing a serious portrait of earnestness in its central hero, which had not been portrayed since Christopher Reeve’s performance as the title character in Superman The Movie.
Moreover, there were interesting cinematic flourishes in those pictures. The First Avenger had a fiery painterly shot that effortlessly conveyed the monumental struggle between Captain America and the Red Skull. While The Winter Soldier had a suspenseful elevator sequence that culminated in a well choreographed and intensive fight sequence that also illustrated the inherent paranoia and danger present in the narrative. Even Age of Ultron, which shares this film’s overstuffed nature was able to show the character’s angst and fears in a visually fascinating manner.