Spoilers discussed but not really mentioned in detail.
The first time I saw Captain America: Civil War in theaters, I had my doubts about whether or not it actually was a Captain America movie. It doesn’t feel like Cap gets a lot of depth because there is so much else going on. The plot and exposition is really about the buildup to the two main battles at the end. However, it is still a Captain America movie because the events in this film shape the mantle of Captain America and how Steve Rogers carried it. While I and lots of other fans are disappointed because we wanted more resolution for Steve and Bucky’s stories, the ensemble of characters was still balanced, even with the show-stealing introductions of Spider-man and Black Panther.
I also expected this movie to be a lot darker than it actually was, but it did have enough comic relief for me to like it. Spider-man’s lame jokes kind of annoyed me at the first viewing and his and Ant-man’s geeking out over the Avengers felt a little out-of-place. More suited to the film was Hawkeye’s dry snark and the rapport between Sam and Bucky. The rest of the movie was appropriately sad and dark: in fact, the final fight between Iron Man, Cap, and Bucky was everything it needed to be.
One of the other great things about Captain America: Civil War is the villain. Helmut Zemo is the recurring villain that the MCU desperately needs. Although (spoiler alert) his plot for revenge is fulfilled, I can see him finding a motivation to come back for the Infinity War films and raising the emotional stakes. He doesn’t want to rebuild Hydra, but he takes advantage of Hydra’s resources to create chaos and conflict. He doesn’t have superpowers and he doesn’t take on any superhumans directly. He just watches everyone else suffer, and he doesn’t care how many innocent bystanders he has to hurt to get what he wants. He has a legitimate motivation for his actions, but between taking advantage of the Avengers being divided and reactivating the Winter Soldier, he’s the villain you LOVE to hate. Zemo proves that the most effective Marvel villains are the ones who tear people apart inside and out.
Just for the record, you heard it from The Geeky Mormon first: Tony and Pepper broke up. Heartbreaking as it is (along with everything else in this film), I was not surprised. The arc that Tony Stark gets in Civil War seems a little too detailed, but, like I said, it makes his actions and motivations understandable. I think the filmmakers wanted to evenly portray both sides. I do not excuse at all Tony’s murderous rampage at the end. Up until then he was trying to do what he felt was the right thing. As far as his work with the Accords is concerned I understand that Tony wanted to help his friends do their job—though it is counter-intuitive to do so by encouraging them to sign a document that would limit their freedoms. Tony was also extremely bitter for almost the entire movie.
Steve Rogers, on the other hand, is a soldier. He’s used to casualties in war, including civilian ones. He doesn’t like collateral damage but he doesn’t think the risks should prevent him from doing what he thinks needs to be done. And don’t forget, his real weakness aside from his affection for Bucky is the inability to trust practically everyone else—especially higher authority. There was no way Steve and Bucky could have guessed Zemo’s true intentions. Cap was acting according to the best of his knowledge. Plus, Zemo was a creep and a murderer and needed to be stopped regardless. Tony had enough clarity to realize that after it was too late. In the end, the real tragedy of this film is that Tony was trying to help his friends and ended up hurting them, and Steve fought for his freedom and to a point ended up losing it.
T’challa is a great character, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the significance of the fact that he realized at the end of the film that he had made a mistake and wanted to make amends. I also think it’s great that the Black Panther doesn’t really take sides with the government—he only acts out of his own interests. However, T’challa came off to me as a little whiny. I have a harder time sympathizing with him, mostly because he spent a good part of the film trying to hurt Bucky.
As for Bucky Barnes himself, he is amazing. He is a good guy and genuinely wants to be a good guy. His emotional and personal state are right where I thought they would be. I knew that he would be reluctant to be close to Steve at first, but watching them come back together was everything I wanted. There are three criteria I have for a Marvel film, based on something Black Widow said in The Avengers: monsters, magic, and something I wasn’t expecting. Bucky managed to be all three.
But then…the mid-credit scene. In light of everything that was going well for him it seems so unfair. But I guess his encounter with Zemo shook him up more than we realized. The fight with Tony must have been hard on him, too. What it comes down to for Bucky is that he really wants is to be left alone. But still, yeah, I’m not getting over that anytime soon.
All of the other characters in this movie were amazing and well-balanced. I’m going to write a separate article later about the female characters because they deserve their own post. Captain America: Civil War left a lot of things hanging for a lot of character arcs. There is plenty of room for resolution in Infinity War, but needless to say, our expectations for those films have gone up THAT much higher. I would not be as generous as some critics to say that Civil War was better than Winter Soldier, but it’s still a great movie.