Pretty much anything we spend a lot of time counting down to is bound to disappoint us, at least a little. If we’ve built it up in our heads for a long time, the real thing will never be quite as grand as what our imagination supplied us with. This is almost always the case for movies, and it was certainly the case for Captain America: Civil War. Spoilers abound here, so in case you’re still in that build-up phase and don’t want anything to be ruined for you, maybe stop reading and go buy a movie ticket instead.
I went into this movie as a huge Cap fan, hoping for and direly in need of some serious Steve Rogers times. After he got maybe a few pithy lines in Age of Ultron I felt like I was owed something more. Something bigger. I wanted to see the little guy from Brooklyn with his fists up in an alley. I wanted to see the guy who said, “I got no right to do any less than them,” about the soldiers who were going to fight in a war he was denied enlistment in. I craved more of the Steve Rogers that I’ve come to know and love in the first two Captain America movies; the Captain Rogers whose personality and character were butchered in the two Avengers movies. (“Language”? Really? This guy grew up in Brooklyn and fought in World War II. He’s hardly standing by the bathroom door with a bar of soap for you to wash your mouth out.)
So yeah, Joss Whedon made a thousand and one questionable decisions with Age of Ultron but because of how amazing The Winter Soldier was, I expected Civil War to be equally good. Even as the cast list poured out, and kept on pouring, and pouring, and pouring, I decided to be optimistic. I trusted the Russo Brothers and Marvel. I was young and naïve. Okay, so they were going to have Spider-man in the movie. And Ant Man. And Scarlet Witch. And Vision. And T’Challa. And Sharon Carter. And Crossbones. And Hawkeye. And War Machine. And Falcon, Black Widow, Winter Soldier, and Iron Man. All in a movie about Captain America.
My optimism firmly in hand along with my (outrageously expensive) movie ticket, I sat down to watch the movie. And I was in somewhat of a trance the whole first time I saw it. It was two and a half hours of edge-of-your-seat action, touching moments filled in with the occasional humorous ones, and a plot that drove you on from one scene to the next. The characters’ interactions were, for the most part, really good. Bucky and Sam’s interactions were a highlight, as was Ant Man meeting his idol Steve.
Sharon Carter got to deliver one of comic!Cap’s best speeches. T’Challa was great, Crossbones was only an annoyance for a little while, and Peter Parker was pretty funny. So I shrugged my shoulders and walked out of the theater, pretending that my general displeasure was just because of the massive bag of M&Ms I’d consumed and not about the actual movie.
But then I went and saw it again. And I realized what was so wrong about it the first time. It wasn’t that it was a bad movie. Actually it was a really great movie. It was what Avengers 2 should have been. That’s the thing: it should have been an Avengers movie.
The reality of the matter is that for a Captain America movie it really lacked Captain America. It was almost as if the studio didn’t think that Steve could hold up an entire movie on his own and had to go dumping a bunch of other characters into it. I guess they didn’t realize that the reason that everyone loved Winter Soldier so much was because it was really Cap-centric. He had Natasha and Sam at his side and they kicked some ass, took some names, and did it all on their own. It was great because we got to see more off Steve and who he is, and surprisingly enough, that’s what people are looking for when they go to see a Captain America movie.
I mean no disrespect to Tony Stark, but the amount of time used for his storyline, with tragic flashbacks and a long sequence of him courting Peter Parker, was a little ridiculous. There was much more attention paid to Tony’s emotions and motivations than to Steve’s. It felt unbalanced.
Don’t get me wrong, Steve got some time to mourn the death of Peggy Carter and make out with Sharon Carter, but those things felt forced and out of place due to the unreasonable attention given to pretty much any character who wasn’t Steve.
Actually – there was one character who suffered worse neglect than Steve, and that was Bucky Barnes. I was hoping for a really awesome redemption arc, for Bucky to experience some painful flashbacks and deal with the guilt he has because of his actions as the Winter Soldier and then rise above it and kick ass with the rest of him. In fact, I was expecting it.
Instead, Bucky was arguably the only one who didn’t get their own storyline. He stood as motivation for multiple characters either for or against him. But once they were all done with him, he simply went back into the ice to freeze until the next movie. Maybe that was because they didn’t have much time to deal with another person’s story in an already too-full, too-long movie, but in response to that, I say, Did Wanda/Vision really need to happen? Did Tony have to spend a full ten minutes getting Peter Parker to fly to Germany with him? Did Rhodey have to nearly become paralyzed? There were so many different things going on that the two people who made Winter Soldier so successful, best friends from Brooklyn and war buddies lost outside of their own time, got swallowed up in the noise.
Rename the movie Avengers 3: Civil War and I’d happily pay another $15 to see it. Until then, I’ll just be re-watching The First Avenger and Winter Soldier to try not to miss Steve Rogers too much.