I confess, I’ve never fancied the concept of Marvel’s “Civil War”, and therefore, when I heard it to be the basis for “Captain America 3”, my heart sank. Of course, this didn’t mean the film would be a disappointment. It simply meant it would possess a contentious element, which seems to be the popular swing of things among superhero adventures these days: case in point, “Batman v Superman”, "Teen Titans vs Justice League", and "Daredevil: Season 2".
The appeal of civil conflicts can go either way, depending on how the content is rendered, but when it comes to rifts among good guys, there’s usually an intertwining trait at play: i.e., the story is both pleasing and upsetting. Directors Joe and Anthony' Russo's "Winter Soldier" follow-up, “Captain America: Civil War”, is an excellent example of that.
The core concept, as presented by Cap bards, Stephen McFeely and Christopher Marcus, isn't too complicated (and similar to “Batman v Superman”): The Avengers have repeatedly saved the world, but widespread damage has occurred from their intervention, such as in the film's Nigerian opening. Consequently, General Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) now helms a unit that intends to watch over the group. To extend his control, the general wants the heroes to sign a U.N. pact to curb their two-fisted enthusiasm if/when more trouble should appear.
Indeed, the Hydra-purged government (ha, ha) is none too pleased with Steve Rogers/Cap America (Chris Evan)’s spontaneity when jumping to action, determining him more a liability than a benefactor. Though this will strike anyone who knows the hows and whys of Cap's plights as absurd, it's surprisingly Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr), a man who's otherwise bucked the system and acted cavalier through most of the long haul, who endorses the watchdog rationale; however, by supporting it, he also echoes Ross' myopic condemnation.
Rogers argues against the restricting oversight, fearing it will lead to hesitation, which in turn will certainly allow adversaries to dominate and massacre the innocent. Considering the violent dimensions of previous chapters, Cap's concern is justified, and it's through his conviction that the story draws its strength, reminding us that Cap is a man of principle: a leader whose stance should hold unswerving weight and influence, even among those of his own kind.
Nevertheless, factions form. On Cap's side, we have Bucky Barnes/the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan); Sam Wilson/the Falcon (Anthony Mackie); Clint Barker/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner); Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd); and Sharon Carter/Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp). On Stark's side, we have Rhodey Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle); Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); the Vision (Paul Bettany); behind-the-scenes Terrorist Agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman); Prince T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Peter Parker/Spider-man (Tom Holland). For what it's worth, Brock Rumlow/Crossbones (Frank Grillo) and Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) also make appearances: the latter a complex villain who nudges the animosity along, much like Jesse Eisenberg's Luthor in "Batman v Superman".
As one can infer from the overflow, “Civil War” isn’t really “Cap 3”, as much as it's “Avengers 3” or perhaps “Ultron: the Aftermath”. Though Cap stays at the center, he frequently finds himself competing with Stark for screen time, so that the film also begins to feel like "Iron Man 4" at times. For that matter, Cap also competes with all those for and against him. His purpose, which rang clear in “Winter Soldier”, now gets muffled in the bad-blood shuffle.
To add to the uneven dynamic, the newbies, Black Panther and Spider-man are conspicuously confined within the epic's colossal magnitude, even though they do on occasion shine. Spidey’s web-snapping of Cap’s iconic shield may go down as a classic moment, but it's also disquieting (despite Parker's avid reactions) due to its opposing brashness, and Panther’s need to comply with a stifling, governmental agency goes contrary to his mythological grain, even if his grudge toward Barnes remains understandable. It would have been wiser to relegate these two to cameos and then have focused on individual, cinematic chapters: for Spidey, a reboot to eclipse the mush-muddled “Amazing Spider-man 2” and for Panther, a comprehensive, two-hour intro, akin to what Ant-Man received.
Though it's consistently painful to watch Cap's competitors keep rebounding, our hero's reaction to such is moving and identifiable. The world Cap knows, the morals he has long embraced, are now being ridiculed and defiled. The audacity of this builds to the point where Cap becomes a reluctant underdog and unfortunately turns the guilt-plagued Stark into a borderline villain: a twist that may strike some as blasphemous.
However, as Stark's opposition widens, Cap’s bond with Barnes and Wilson strengthens, his friends' support projecting the best aspects of both (and yes, a remarkable feat for the sake of the former, considering the years of mental manipulation he's endured). However, their unflinching loyalty once more makes one wonder why Team Stark can't see it their way, and so the confusing, conflicting cycle continues.
By the time the credits roll, the characters are still at odds, but at least with a sprinkling of hope, thanks to a few gracious gestures from Iron Man, Panther and Widow. Unfortunately, to receive a full resolution, we're asked to show patience, and if there’s any one, overriding flaw in “Civil War”, it’s that.
Cap shouldn’t be put at prolonged odds with his fellow Avengers. Instead, he should be facing (and defeating) the revived Red Skull, teaming with S.H.I.E.L.D. to kick Hydra’s ass until the cows come home and making a succinct, patriotic statement in so doing. For all of its swift fight sequences and winsome CGI accompaniment, "Civil War" can’t avoid the fact that it opposes the most fundamental of comic-book adages: There are no shades of gray; only examples of good and bad.
Fingers crossed that this thread doesn’t infinitely characterize future chapters. The sooner the divide halts and the good guys reassemble for a common cause, the more satisfying the escapades will be, not only for Cap and the gang, but for those of us who've long supported the Avengers' collective campaigns.