Directors: The Russo Brothers
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Chadwick Boseman, and Sebastian Stan
I love comic books and I love the movies that have come to be. But I am not some blind lover of this stuff, just taking whatever I can get like some dumbass 40 year old has been. I can be critical and I can have complex opinions of them. Fantastic Four (2015) was a horrible, terrible movie but I can see what could have been and what they were trying for, so I give them some credit there. Batman v Superman is a mess with a good deal of problems, but I like it despite the almost propaganda level lies being told about the movie. And the Marvel Cinematic Universe entertains me greatly, despite the near uniformity of the movies in terms of positives and negatives they share. I only outright love two of the movies they’ve made, and it’s the ones that have felt like real movies made me real directors with a sense of self. Iron Man 3 and Guardians of The Galaxy are fantastic movies and they help to make clear my problems with the rest of the movies, even if I like them overall. These movies tend to have little directorial flourishes, feeling more workmanlike and competent. The stories/tone are all samey. Villains matter nothing to the movies, despite the insistence that their threats are strong. Action is good but rarely memorable. And no series in this Universe signifies that for me more than the Captain America movies.
The Captain America movies are plainly enjoyable but never reaching any sort of heights that connect to me, I have stood on the outside watching these movies get praised. I don’t see it, especially since they’ve started to lean on a relationship that doesn’t spark at all. Cap and Bucky/Winter Soldier are supposed to be these great friends but it never comes across. They’ve never done the work to make Bucky feel like a real character and just go with comic short hand, hoping the knowledge of these guys’ past makes the cinematic connections work. That and Winter Soldiers story feeling very rote and predictable isn’t even that bad compared to how it kind muddies the waters of Caps motivations for distrusting the Government. Making a movie about a super nazi group infiltrating the government makes things way too easy and clear, wiping away any chance of Cap being wrong. And simply, I don’t like the aesthetics of the movie, finding the visuals to be bland and the action to be uninspiring. This is all a long winded way too set up that I wasn’t too excited for the newest installment of the franchise. But lo and behold, I was really into it. So much so that I can say that it’s probably my 3rd favorite movie in the MCU.
While the movie is a winner for me overall, I gotta say there are some problems that are consistent with the MCU. For one, the villain is just aggressively uninteresting. They took Baron Zemo, a mad scientist Nazi, and just turned him into a Taken villain. He’s a grieving father who blames the heroes for collateral damage in Sokovia from Age of Ultron. Which would maybe be interesting if they did anything with him, but he just shows up now and then to further his plot. A plot that, again could be amazing, is simply good if only because everything happens a little too easily for him. Everyone reacts in the exact perfect way they need to to further his plot for revenge. Which the movie doesn’t even really comment on, kinda saying that it all worked perfectly. Which is weird, because the accident that starts the movie and the Sokovia Accords coming to be after it is way too convenient. But overall it’s fine, because it sets up a conflict where his villainy isn’t all that important. Because the real conflict comes between Cap and Iron Man. And it’s a good conflict.
Essentially, the conflict boils down to making sure cops are wearing body cams. Sure, it’s a little more complicated than that. But it’s kinda that simple. And each man is not where you’d expect them to be at the start of their series’. Iron Man is on the side of the Government oversight, since he’s getting way too tired of blood being on his hands. Cap, surprisingly, is on the side that could be described as the superhero version of Blue Lives Matter. He’s come to this side because he doesn’t the trust the government anymore, which I kinda gotta call bullshit on. The movies, to me, haven’t set up this horrible government too well. Especially when his beef comes with the Hydra infiltration, which really can’t be a drum that’s always gonna be beat when he needs to be a stoic outsider. Not to mention that his constant need to piss everyone off by fighting for his old WW2 buddy that is a walking weapon, a Manchurian Candidate that can be switched on at anytime makes Cap a hypocrite. A man that distrusts governments for making weapons goes to war for a man that is just a stringy haired suitcase nuke is kinda crazy. It would be fine if the movie called him on it or really played the conflict as both sides are equally right/wrong. But they don’t. They’ll say they do and others might think they do, but they don’t. Tony is clearly in the wrong on this one by the way the movie ends, because he’s doing what he does out of fear whereas Cap is a strong leader that will buck the system to do whats right. It’s kinda weird that the triumphant ending of the movie is that Cap and his team become terrorists by the end of it. Each man is acting out of emotional self interest, with a revelation at the end making Tony right the whole time. I’m firmly on Team Iron Man in this one, even if the movie doesn’t agree.
The negative isn’t too negative really. I like the ambiguity on display here. It may go for moral ambiguity with an edge towards one side, it at least attempts it. And for the most part does it. The fact that there will be people that disagree about it shows that they did it right. So while the movie may deal with some of the negatives of the MCU, they aren’t as strong flaws as the others. Although I still kinda dislike the way the Russos shoot the movie, the cinematography being kinda bland, the action is much improved here. The whole movie could have been a big bowl of shit narratively, but would be worth it completely simply for the centerpiece Airport Fight sequence. It’s the thing comic book movies exist for. Having the budget and the tech to bring the big, colorful and loud action to life is what we all want to see. And the Russos do a better job than Whedon before him of making a giant group fight scene work like gangbusters by utilizing each characters skill set to make the scene dynamic. It’s like the best splash page, with everyone getting a few great moments that only they could do.
What may be the strongest compliment one could give to the Russos and the writing team of Markus and McFeely is that they manage to craft a more complete experience with such a big cast. No one gets lost in the fray. This is very much a movie about Cap and Stark, but nothing feels forced or desperate to set up future movies. The inclusion of two new characters in Black Panther and Spider-Man feels completely natural to the story being told, in addition to them being pitch perfect. The only negative in terms of character work is with Bucky, but that just seems to be a problem that can’t be cracked or a problem that they don’t think they have. And not only do they do wonders on the new crew, but the old crew (minus a Bucky) is fantastic. Everyone is given purpose and a POV and a moment to shine. And for me, the strongest of the old bunch? Ant-Man. I didn’t love his movie, but here he fucking shines. He’s funny and down to earth, having a blast with these heroes. The utilization of his powers is so much more fun and unique than in his own movie. We even get the classic comic cover of Hawkeye shooting an arrow with Ant Man on it. Come on, what else do we need? And he has a big surprise up his sleeve that makes his sequel all the more enticing. If he works as well in his sequel as he does in this, the movies gonna be amazing. For me, this movie boils down to Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Ant Man. The rest is very dense and tasty icing on the cake.
It’s funny having complex opinions on a movie, right? I haven’t boarded the train that this is a perfect comic book movie, but I also think it’s great in spite of some problems. The story has issues but is overall really interesting and muddies the water for the MCU in a more interesting way than Winter Solider did. It broadens the world in very interesting and clean ways, never feeling clunky in the expansion. The action is great, with the best pure comic book action scene of the entire MCU. And it leaves me feeling that Phase 3 of the MCU is gonna just get better and better, leaving this as the surprising low point of the Phase. After a year plus of comic book movies disappointing to outright sucking, the upswing is nice and brings my spirit back after going clean from live action superhero stuff for a month. This is a damn fine movie, even if it isn’t one that will convert the naysayers.