Note: I was provided admission to a screening of this film for this review. All opinions stated are my own.
Welcome to the inaugural post of Dad’s Diaper Bag Confessions, the new male contributory arm of The Diaper Bag Confessions. I couldn’t be more excited to kick things off with my SPOILER-FREE review of Disney Marvel’s latest major motion picture release, Captain America: Civil War.
I’ve seen all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released to-date, with the one exception that I somehow missed out on Thor: The Dark World (…or I miiiiiight have rented it once on a flight and fell asleep watching it, if I can be honest)… Otherwise, I’ve got a good grasp on what’s going on with our favorite Avengers and other various Marvel movie characters coming in to Civil War. However, in doing my homework before watching Civil War, I stumbled upon this article from Gizmodo that does a great job summarizing, without Civil War spoilers (though possibly some spoilers for previous films), where each known character is emotionally & physically at in the Marvel Cinematic Universe prior to this latest film. I highly recommend it as a separate primer before seeing this movie, though I suppose watching all the previous flicks wouldn’t hurt either!
Alright already – Suit up!
Let’s finally get to the point… I am SO glad to share with you that Captain America: Civil War is exactly what I expected out of a Disney-owned Marvel movie, and that is such a good thing! Civil War is the next great Avengers movie we crave for and expect, and the transition to MCU Phase 3 that we need. Let me elaborate…
If it’s anything we have come to know about Marvel movies since being independently developed through Marvel Studios and subsequently under the parent Disney ownership, it’s that we’re getting top-notch budget and quality in our ears and eyeballs with every release. Civil War is certainly no exception, and this is great considering anything less would be a big disappointment this far into the franchise. While some great movies out there become cult favorites on tiny budgets, that’s not what we pay to expect for this caliber of a film. Marvel cannot afford to step off the podium they made for themselves, from the original Iron Man motion picture in 2008 all the way through to-date, where big budget has consistently equated to quality writing, giant-but-believable special effects, and top-quality acting. Captain America: Civil war followed suit (haha, like a super suit) just perfectly, mixing thrilling action sequences with Hollywood’s best acting talent and tossing in light-but-punchy humor from end-to-end. The very opening sequence of the film draws us right to where we left off after Captain America: Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron, quickly reintroducing us to Captain America, Iron Man, and most of the Avengers to-date using an action scene that was filled with explosions, tons of background information, and hilarious one-liners that inflicted humor to the entire theater I was in. The best part is that this movie managed to keep it dialed to 110% from that opening scene all the way to the credits (I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not to stick through the end credits on whether Marvel continued their tradition of post-credit bonus teaser scenes). 😉
It’s a long movie, 2 hours and 26 minutes runtime not including your usual barrage of pre-film advertisements, so make sure you’ve hit the potty beforehand because you’re about to be in it for the long haul! I know that by the time I finally got out, it took a moment to settle back into reality (and out of the imprint I started on my seat) because it was just that immersive throughout the film.
I watched this movie in 3D, and while I am a strong believer that 3D in-general is losing its luster in the theatrical world, this opening scene alone gave me some good reason to appreciate 3D’s additional immersion. Without giving anything away, there was this one scene that captivated me merely because of how the film allowed us to feel how the flight of a particular character’s accessory was critical beyond the abilities of your full-sized super human. Again, I do think this movie would be just as enjoyable in traditional 2D, but this scene is certainly one among a few in this film where the 3D effect helps pull you in deeper to the action!
Welcome to Phase 3
For the uninitiated, Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (which from here forward you’ll see as MCU… because acronyms are cool) is notoriously structured in three phases.
- Phase 1 is all about origin stories and laying down the early world of MCU as we start to understand and explore how the typical human-led world we live in is shaken up with the existence of other worlds, and humans on this planet with extraordinary abilities of various forms. Ever wonder how weird it would be for a flying Iron Man or freeze-restored crazy-old-but-still-young-adult-hot Captain America to actually exist in the world you and I live in today? Phase 1 was all about getting us as an audience to accept this alternate universe, introducing us to a world where Iron Man, War Machine, Hulk, and Black Widow exist among the rest of us.
- Phase 2, on the other hand, starts to build us into why we should care about their existence, bringing us movies like Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Winter Soldier… All movies that build onto deeper stories after the events of New York in the first Avengers movie – the movie that really set us into a global awareness of the existence of superhumans and aliens. We are also introduced to movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, which brings in additional characters to MCU that serve supplemental or secondary roles, at least in the world to-date. All this culminates in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which introduces us to yet a few more key characters while closing out Phase 2 acknowledging that we do indeed live in a world populated with superhumans and aliens, but cliffhangering us at the end of Age of Ultron (plus the post-credits at the end of Ant Man) on how we come to manage coexisting in this mixed-up world.
- By contrast, Captain America: Civil War gives us a proper dropkick into Phase 3, by diving our beloved Avengers into two separate groups, split based on a moral opinion and related decision that essentially divides us (both as in-movie characters and audiences alike) into a #teamcaptain vs #teamironman situation. This is also something I extensively love about MCU – in this event, we have an opportunity to see each of the current/existing Avengers and how their individual stories and sense of moral drive which side they end up joining. One side is driven by the confidence that freedom and autonomy is necessary to use their super powers to stop evil, the other side is driven by data-driven observations that The Avengers’ autonomy to-date has caused way too much destruction and unplanned deaths, and that government oversite is necessary to oversee that the Avengers keeps things “in check.” And while this may seem cut-n-dry, another reason I enjoyed this movie that the sense of evil/bad is never just clear & dry. I jumped into this movie with my personal affiliation to Team Iron Man, based on my following of his sense of morality and known individual decisions made prior to this movie, but I can assure you that more than once in this film I have had to question my own choice of which team to root for! You have to remember that at the end of the day, both “teams” are filled with Avengers, both original and new, and in their own ways each mean to do “the right thing.” There are clear enemies in this film, and they aren’t Avengers. But in the events that go down in Civil War, characters are still divided into teams by their morality differences, and you’ll find yourself questioning at least once (2-3 times likely) which team is more “in the right.” Perhaps that means that in the end, no one was right, or maybe both teams were right in different ways. You’ll have to see for yourself and I’d love to hear how others found themselves questioning/altering their favorite/aligned “team” throughout the movie! I encourage comments below, but remember to keep things SPOILER-FREE!
This division kicks us off on the start of a larger plot that will clearly carry us through Phase 3, and actually it introduces a few new branching stories that will all contribute to the greater actions that I’m sure will lead us into the Avengers: Infinity War movies scheduled for 2018 and 2019.
ALL the Avengers. Okay, minus some. Add others.
This includes new characters to the MCU, Black Panther and Spider-Man, who we already know have confirmed movies of their own focus & title in the next few years as part of Phase 3. Black Panther is new to me entirely, but Spider-Man was of particular interest since prior to this movie I’m still largely influenced by Sam Raimi films where Tobey Maguire donned the webbed suit (circa 2002-2007). I didn’t get into the Marc Webb-edition of Spider-Man that featured Andrew Garfield in the same mask in 2012-2014. With these two established “versions” of theatrical Spider-Man stories out there, it was key that Marvel find a way to make a clean reset of the franchise for this key younger superhero. This meant that Civil War had to be yet-another origin story for both Black Panther and Spider-Man, and this movie amazingly managed to do well for both of them, smoothly integrating both characters into the fold of these growing list of Avengers.
In the meantime, characters only recently introduced towards the end of Phase 2 such as The Falcon, Scarlet Witch, The Vision, and Ant-Man managed to receive their fair share of supporting content so they too can integrate into the overall fold. And not to be left off, our Phase 1 mainstays of Iron Man, Black Widow, and Captain America continued to build upon their deep-rooted storylines in this film, heavily influencing key decision points through the story.
Phase 1 supporting characters of War Machine and Hawkeye even folded deeper in, with War Machine now a full-blown and influencing Avenger himself, and Hawkeye’s relationships with the various lead characters and his own story adding depth to this already deep cast of characters. What may seem like a whole mess of individual storylines for each character here, actually resulted in the film in a symphony of subtle story blending in the midst of nonstop action – even writing this review, I reflect on trying to understand how this single movie managed to cram so many characters in with sufficient storyline and screen time for each, not feeling like we were just overwhelmed with character after character for the sake of doing so! And where blatant “hey, it’s THAT character” callouts were needed, the movie shined with the signature self-aware humor audiences have come to know from an Avengers movie.
Yes, this is certainly titled as a “Captain America” movie, and it certainly does The Cap justice in his own struggle and evolution kicking in to Phase 3, but you saw all the characters I listed off (and that’s not all of ‘em! I think..) – this is just as much an Avengers ensemble flick as the original and Age of Ultron! It’s also very much an Iron Man movie in its own right, driving much of what we want to find out about Tony Stark’s story to come in the films ahead. Even the few lead characters we’ve come to know so far that aren’t in this film, were called out as such knowing we’ll need to soon find out after this movie where they’ve been and what they’ve been up to.
So yes, Captain America: Civil War was everything I wanted / expected / anticipated and more. It’s the type and scale of movie that you didn’t need me to tell you to decide whether to go see it – You’ve read this far and I’m sure you knew before reading this whether you were going to watch this film – But I hope you find it reassuring that this movie does not disappoint! For me, as a Marvel Cinematic Universe-focused fan, it gave me just enough closure to Phase 2 and all the intrigue and anticipation for what Marvel will do with the Phase 3 movies to come.
I also was excited to bring my good friend to see this movie with me, who unlike me is a long reader of most Marvel original comics and graphic novel series. Knowing MCU movies consciously take alternate paths based on the graphic novel characters and stories, he too had a blast with this film. As I’m sure was their goal, we both cannot wait until the next few Marvel movies to come as we see what happens coming out of this next evolution into the divided Avengers world and the growing cast of cinematic Marvel characters!