Like the hundreds upon thousands of Captain America fans like myself, I spent the 180 or so days in the wake of the release of the Civil War trailer in November anxiously counting down the days, the hours, the minutes until May 6, 2016.
After the release of 2014’s Winter Soldier, which was the directorial debut of Joe and Anthony Russo in the MCU , I was beyond thrilled to find out they would be returning to direct the sequel. For me, The Winter Soldier had marked a turning point in the cinematic style of the MCU movies. Instead of the splash-page comic book superhero style highlighted in films like The Avengers and even The First Avenger, The Winter Soldier ventured into a different territory of a more concentrated political espionage thriller. Rather than draw viewers in with every superhero possible crashing through buildings and beating up aliens (not that that’s not fun too), The Winter Soldier wrapped us up in the concentrated, air tight plot, but most importantly the characters.
The movie peeled back the star spangled curtain, showing us a different side of Steve Rogers who felt lost, out of place, and like everything he had worked and even died for had no meaning.
It painted Natasha Romanoff as more than just a femme fatale Russian beauty, but showed us the absolute humanity behind the character. We were given one of the most satisfying relationships in the MCU between Natasha and Steve, two characters who could not have seemed more different upon first glance.
Then we were introduced to the wonderful Sam Wilson, who had such a demanding screen presence and personality, and provided an incredible grounding effect to the rest of the superheroes, that he could hardly be called a simple “sidekick”.
Most of all, we were given perhaps the greatest antagonist in MCU history in the way of the Winter Soldier himself, a.k.a, Steve Roger’s long lost best friend, Bucky Barnes. The terrifying yet tragic story of the loyal friend turned deadly assassin, tortured and brainwashed into a weapon for HYDRA is one that resonated with each and every one of us. Perhaps the most powerful scene of the entire movie was Captain America dropping his shield and refusing to fight Bucky, even though he hardly remembered Steve. The final scene of the movie promised us that the story of Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers was just beginning, and left us wanting more.
And that’s where we were left off. With the promise of Steve Rogers setting off, ready to move heaven and earth once again for his friend in the third installment of the Captain America trilogy. The release of the first trailer for Civil War, opening with Steve asking Bucky if he remembered him, and making it clear that despite the large cast, this was still very much going to be a continuation of The Winter Soldier, and this was still going to be Steve’s story. Or so we thought.
What we got instead was more along the vein of an Avengers movie, rather than a direct sequel to The Winter Soldier, focusing more on Tony Stark and his conflict with Steve Rogers. While it was undoubtedly a powerful storyline, and successful in making us as an audience feel just as divided as the heroes on screen while watching, after having some distance from the movie, it sunk in that it just wasn’t the right story to tell at all.
The acting may have been superb, the fight scenes mind blowing in effects and grandeur, and the movie was practically busting at the seams with every comic book character imaginable, but it was the magnitude of the scale of the movie itself that was the very problem. The Winter Soldier had set up a story told in an extremely close, intimate tone that focused on the depth and background of the characters, where the action served as a secondary supplement. With Civil War however, it felt at times that the action sequences took center stage, while the characters we were so excited to see grow and develop following the last movie were relegated to a mere back seat.
After all the extraordinary fight scenes and explosions and dazzling effects were over, there was very little real substance to this movie. We learned almost nothing new about the character of Bucky Barnes and how he was relearning himself after the fallout of the end of The Winter Soldier, and we got next to no real development of Steve’s relationship with Bucky. In fact, the entire character of Bucky Barnes, who let’s not forget was the title character of the previous movie, really served no other standalone purpose aside from a device to move the plot along behind Tony and to some extent, Steve. By the end of the movie, Bucky could have probably been replaced with a floor lamp and the plot would have played out almost exactly the same way.
Yes, the contention between two of our favorite superheroes was divisive and made for a wildly entertaining movie, but ultimately the spotlight on Tony Stark was unnecessary because the bottom line was, this simply was not his story to tell.
In fact, if Civil War was going to be a true sequel to The Winter Soldier, it could have done without at least half of the superhero stuffed cast, including characters like Spiderman, who despite the hype, was only there to set up his own standalone movie in 2017.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy Civil War. I thought it was a fun, comic book movie, but I would have enjoyed it more had it been marketed as the Avengers movie that it was, rather than a Captain America movie. However, it was quite simply the wrong story to tell, and did not leave me truly satisfied as it did not feel like I ever really got a proper ending to the Captain America trilogy I love so much.
Would Captain America: Civil War have been more appropriate as another Avengers movie?