It’s an Avengers movie! It’s a Spider-Man movie! It’s a Black Panther movie! Captain America: Civil War manages to be all of those things and more, thanks to a feat of truly impressive cinematic plate-spinning. This movie wasn’t just good. It’s the best Marvel superhero film so far.
This week sees the release of the 13th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which pits major characters against each other when Captain America and Iron Man disagree over whether the Avengers should be supervised by an international governing body. Mike Fahey and I both saw Captain America: Civil War earlier this week and got together in a group chat to talk about it.
While we don’t discuss the ins-and-outs of Civil War’s plot in detail—you’ll want to go io9 for that—there are still some spoilers in the conversation below. So, maybe come back once you’ve seen the movie.
Evan Narcisse: Hello, Mike. Let’s talk about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, okay?
Michael Fahey: So why did they make Catwoman a guy?
Evan: I think that was an homage to Amalgam.
Mike: He was the Dark Claw. In all seriousness, that was a pretty amazing movie. It did not go at all where I expected it to.
Evan: Yeah, I was trying to manage my expectations in this last month, telling myself to be ready to be disappointed. (I’ve had really high expectations for a while.) Ultimately, it surpassed everything I wished for. The main thing that struck me was how balanced and measured Civil War was. There was a crap-ton of characters in this film and everybody got a moment to shine. It felt like all these personas had an arc, no matter how quick their time onscreen was.
Mike: That’s the power of Batman v Superman for you. Nothing makes you feel good about a movie like a very similar movie coming out a month or so earlier setting the bar at the lowest possible point. But yes, I was worried about how so many characters were going to play in such a short time. The proper Avengers films could barely handle six or seven people.
Evan: And part of the worry is that Civil War’s core premise makes it so easy to look at all these heroes fighting and call it a contrivance or an indulgence. But it didn’t feel that way. The beef here and the motivations driving it felt personal. To me, it felt like Tony Stark saw this as a penance. He’s been a character weighed down with a lot of guilt in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And, coming off of Winter Soldier, Steve has every reason to not trust larger organizations.
Mike: Right. Here, Tony’s actions feel natural. In the comics...didn’t they eventually explain that something had happened to his mind to make him act the way he did?
Evan: I don’t quite remember and that’s because the original Civil War event in comics was military-grade fan wank. Once the “oh kewl” shock of the idea wore off, you were left with a lot of characters suddenly acting like assholes because Mark Millar thought he could get some cheap heat off of that. When General Ross asked Tony where Thor was, I could mentally respond “thankfully, he’s not getting cloned into an Asgardian murder machine.”
Evan: It was interesting to see where the movie did parallel the 2006 Civil War comics, though. The inciting event is a young hero screwing up and causing collateral damage. Spider-Man’s presence on Tony’s team was treated as sort of emotional anchor. Those were good beats to call back to.
Mike: Okay, found it. Following the events of Civil War in the comics and several other horrible things happening, Tony Stark erased a portion of his memory and restored it using a backup from the pre-Civil War Extremis run. I don’t think what went down in the movie is going to be forgotten quite so easily. At first the reactions from both sides felt a bit extreme, but as things escalated and finally crescendoed...damn. Just damn.
Evan: That escalation was crazy, no? As the waves of trailers kept coming, I was all “damn, they gonna kill War Machine to make this shit real?” But I actually think making him paralyzed and seemingly part-cyborg is a heavier consequence. Rhodey doesn’t recede to the background as a guilt ghost; he’s right there as a living reminder of what happens when thing go wrong.
Mike: We’re getting too heavy too fast, like some sort of expanding person. We should enjoy the lighter things first. Like the blossoming love story they somehow fit into all of this chaos and drama. Hell, the TWO love stories.
Evan: Speaking of things going wrong, the one character who they did not go wrong for was Zemo. A villain who I never really cared much about in the comics is now one of the MCU’s best bad guys. He won, hands down.
Mike: Let’s save Zemo. I have much love for Zemo.
Evan: Ok, love stories, then. Steve alone had, like, three: Steve and Bucky, Steve and Tony, Steve and Sharon. (Sorry, Sam, you don’t make the cut.)
Mike: Plus my favorite, The Vision and the other Olsen sister. Also, Spider-Man and everyone.
Evan: The scene towards the end when Bucky and Cap are looking at each other in the elevator before the showdown with Zemo is a moment that will launch a million slash-fic stories.
Mike: Take it easy, kids, they’re from the 1940s. Friendship was different back then.
Evan: I loved the Vision and Scarlet Witch moments, especially because the whole time I’m sitting there thinking, “this can’t work, this can’t work, this can’t work,” even when I know the characters’ linked history in the comics.
Mike: What I loved is that they showed the process, rather than just having it happen behind the scenes, like in Age of Ultron when Black Widow and Banner were just suddenly a thing.
Evan: Great point!
Mike: “What happened out there?” “I got distracted.” “I thought that couldn’t happen.” “So did I.”
Evan: Even an Android Can Pine.
Mike: “I just want them to see you like I do.” Awww, Vision made me get all teary. Again it’s a great example of everyone getting an arc. Wanda is a stand-in for the New Warriors. The Vision struggles with something like emotions. Black Widow finds herself torn between two factions. Black Panther struggles with the need for vengeance. Stark wants to redeem himself. Hawkeye hates his family and is a jerk.
Evan: His character drives home the big takeaway for me, which is that Civil War felt more organic than Age of Ultron. I liked AoU but that movie came across as a piece of modular marketing. People left AoU asking why they should care about him. Here, you get the reason.
Evan: Ant-Man gets his shot at the big time. Literally.
Mike: Dude. He might not have had a serious arc, but I started the clapping in the theater when he went big. That was amazing. Funny thing, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow just had Ray Palmer do the same thing. This looked a million dollars better.
Evan: In typical DC/Warner Bros fashion: too dark.
Evan: That fight scene in the middle of Civil War was great, mostly because of Spidey. You know me, I wanted Miles Morales to be the next movie Spider-Man. But Tom Holland’s great performance of Peter Parker went a long way to tamp that desire down. I still want Miles but am eager to see what they do with this kid.
Mike: He certainly went miles towards convincing me Marvel can do Spider-Man right on the big screen. GET IT? MILES? Spider-Man was amazing, which is appropriate. He had much more screen time than I expected. Also Aunt May is...
Evan: An Oscar winner!
Mike: Yes, I was going to say an Oscar winner! Though she’s been that before. Just never quite as attractive an Oscar winner.
Evan: It’ll be interesting to see if Marisa Tomei is going to be the Cool Aunt Who Buys You Cigarettes And Beer.
Mike: Speaking of that whole Spider-Man thing, how about that brief exchange between he and Cap? Did that make you miss New York or what?
Evan: Bastard. Attacking my homesick weak spot. That’s it! I’m leaving Kotaku!
Mike: Fine! Maybe you should go write for io9 or something, See if I care!
Evan: Going back to Bats v Supes for a quick second, another comparison I kept making in my mind was the acting. The believability of characters and motivations is what you get when you have good actors. Good actors who respond to a good take, too. Like, Don Cheadle carried so much weight here. He had to embody a character that was, at turns, resolved, flippant, destroyed and still convinced he did the right thing. All for a smaller part.
Mike: I also think it’s a testament to the mighty Marvel movie method. These actors have embodied these characters for years now, most of them at least. Small parts or no, they carry the weight of all the stories that came before. Bruce Wayne’s World gave us a new Batman we weren’t invested in and a Superman we doubted. “FEEL THEIR PAIN!” Snyder shouted, to which we responded “dude, we hardly know these guys.”
Evan: The other part of the Snyder Problem is that he hasn’t convinced me that he gets the characters beyond the most adolescent, superficial fanboy interpretations.
Mike: You know whose pain I really felt?
Evan: **lip starts quivering**
In the span of a few lines of translated dialogue, I felt the bond between T’Challa and T’Chaka.
I teared up over a character with all of five minutes of screen time. (Evan has stopped typing in our chat. I am picturing him holding one of his Black Panther statues and weeping uncontrollably.)
Evan: Yeah, like, as tried and true as it is, the death of a parent is a hoary old superhero trope. It worked here because of the context that was efficiently set up. Wakanda is coming out into the world at large to demand justice for slain citizens and prevent anybody from stealing any more of their fucking Vibranium. The face of that gesture is T’Chaka, shown to be strident and kindly in just a few short moments. Then he’s gone. I’ve written a lot about how the Black Panther is my favorite superhero. I was really worried about how Marvel would execute here, thinking “well, they gotta fuck something up... the accent, the portrayal of Wakanda, T’Challa’s gonna be too much of an aloof jerk...”
Mike: Demanding justice for slain citizens isn’t even it really. He said he was there to prove that the tragedy wouldn’t send Wakanda running back into hiding.
Evan: But everything I love about the character was there. Chadwick Boseman embodied the mystique, menace and physical/strategic agility of the character to a T. Even in the fight scenes, I was like, “he’s not moving like these other characters. He’s from Somewhere Else.”
Mike: And his arc here was perfect. Towards the end, I thought they were going to screw it up, but they pulled back at the last moment and demonstrated his wisdom. All sharply contrasted against the brutal battle going on below. He’s pretty much the anti-Stark. Same wealth. Same tragedy. Different directions. I guess that’s not anti. You know what I mean.
Evan: Right. Also, both Zemo and T’Challa are characters that embody the film’s main concern, which is how the world responds to the existence of the Avengers.
Mike: I suppose it is Zemo time.
Evan: The phone gimmick. So damn smart. So effective. His whole presence in the movie was an amazing long con. You’re so distracted by the “who’d win” super-fights that you can’t dedicate processing cycles to figure out what his deal is.
Mike: Quite far from the masked Nazi madman who once slapped the Avengers’ butler in the face.
Evan: Even when you find out he’s Sokovian, it turns out that’s only halfway to getting at what drives him. He gave me a big Doctor Doom feeling, like this is what Marvel needs to do since the real Victor belongs to Fox.
Mike: Oh god that phone gimmick. I only just realized. The message about his son. That he erases at the end. But yes, they played him up as this madman planning to take over the world, like any other one-off villain. His storyline is nothing at all what I expected from this movie. I was picturing a big superhero fight, followed by a deadly menace to the world that would cause them to band back together.
Evan: Nah, son.
Mike: And the Marvel Cinematic Universe said “yeah, we thought you’d think that.”
Evan: His character is a metaphor for what the movie accomplishes. Civil War leaves the Marvel Cinematic Universe a far more interesting place than it was before. The angsty, quippy Whedon-esque character beats can still exist but they’re floating above the churn of real tension. That’s pretty damn exciting, especially if you’re Thanos.
Mike: The trouble is just beginning for poor Tony Stank.
Evan: So here is my tragic story from when I saw Civil War on Tuesday night: I check with the friend I brought with me and make sure he wants to stay for the stinger. (The post-credits scenes are not always attached to advance screenings.) Nature is calling so I go to the bathroom. When I get back, he’s standing up, ready to go. I’m like “b-but the stinger...” “You just missed it.” So now I need to see it again.
Mike: It’s not like you missed anything you’d care about.
Evan: He told me what it was and I really, REALLY need to see it again.
Evan: Just had that ready, huh? You’re an awful friend and colleague. I won’t miss you.
Mike: Note that they have tails… I won’t miss you either, you bastard.
Evan: Mike and Evan: Kivil W0r
Mike: DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN