‘Captain America: Civil War’ Review: A Marvel of a Disappointment

'Captain America: Civil War'

Movie Rating:

0.5

After months of excitement and speculation, I was recently able to attend an advanced screening of Marvel Studios’ massive summer blockbuster event ‘Captain America: Civil War’ – one of the most hyped and nerdy cinematic experiences of the year that I can’t pretend I wasn’t giddy to drink up. Unfortunately, to say the film is disappointing would be an understatement. I walked out of that theater absolutely heartbroken and, in a moment of unexpected doubt that I’ll never forget, found myself wishing that I had watched ‘Batman v. Superman’ again instead.

Tragically, ‘Civil War’ is the first major misfire from the Marvel Studios cinematic canon. It’s a big, bloated, blundering mess produced by a studio so drunk on success and power that it genuinely thinks it can get away with anything. The movie is so heartbreaking to endure that (embargo be damned!) I have to get the word out immediately. Expectations need to be tempered and controlled. This one is an absolute failure.

As we all know from the trailers and Mark Millar’s massive Marvel comic book crossover event that loosely inspired the film, this is a tale of all of Marvel’s mightiest heroes coming together to beat the snot out of each other. It’s a movie that could only exist after the years of careful world-building groundwork that Kevin Feige has supervised, and also an act of hubris from an increasingly powerful production company. The film kicks off much like ‘Batman v. Superman’, by recontextualizing the city crunching climax of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ from the ground to feel the human tragedy amidst the superhero spectacle. It also features a mean spirited cheap shot against Marvel’s superhero competitors that is more than a little icky.

We see some children playing with superhero action figures in a schoolyard somewhere in Washington. All the Marvel cinematic heroes are represented with some cute in-jokes as the kids put childish variations of famous Iron Man and Captain America lines into their toys’ mouths. Then the kids all start bullying one boy dressed entirely in black named Zack (no coincidence). He has a pair of awkwardly-named knockoff figures called Ratman and Supersoldier that he psychotically smashes together while crying. The other kids mercilessly mock him for making heroes who should be friends fight in an admittedly clever foreshadowing joke. Then a helicarrier suddenly falls from the sky, decapitating the young Zack Snyder and sending his little head flying towards the camera in 3D before the words “Civil War” explode across the screen, the text written in the boy’s blood and brain matter. It’s a pretty harsh attack from the folks at Marvel against their DC competitors, and such a wildly violent opening that I don’t know how Disney thinks the movie could possibly get a PG or PG-13 rating. Perhaps the studio decided to deliver an R-rated picture at the last minute to capitalize on the success of ‘Deadpool’, but it certainly feels out of place and decidedly wrong, setting the tone for a movie filled with similar missteps.

From there, the audience is shoved into a boardroom in the former S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. It turns out the footage of that kiddy massacre is being shown to the Avengers by William Hurt’s general along with other scenes of carnage from the climaxes of previous Marvel blockbusters (including ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, which makes no sense given that no Avengers were involved and the American government couldn’t possibly have access to a battle footage from another galaxy). But such continuity nitpicks aren’t worth getting into given the film’s much larger problems. Hurt then explains to Captain America (Chris Evans) and company that despite their heroic intentions, the collateral damage caused by their actions has gotten catastrophic and the government can’t stand by any longer. Hurt wants the Avengers and all other heroes to join the U.S. Army, where their acts of international violence will be forgivable in the name of patriotism.

That could be read as an unexpected blast of political satire for a superhero movie were it not for the fact that ‘Civil War’ treats it as a good idea. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) then stands up and reveals that the initiative was entirely his idea as part of his desire to, quote, “Make the Avengers Great Again.” It’s a weird parallel to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign that’s even more potently coincidental than when the Winter Soldier delivered a commentary on unlawful government surveillance right as the Edward Snowden scandal hit. Even weirder, despite what we’ve been told, the film then sides with Tony Stark as the hero, rather than Captain America, who is immediately cast out as the villain. It’s odd given that Cap is in the title rather than Iron Man, but I suppose that since Downey is such a star in this universe, the Marvel folks decided to make him the focal point of this ‘Captain America’ movie.

Next, we get an awkwardly truncated sequence of Cap finding the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) in a bus station. They immediately hug and make up, and Bucky agrees to help Cap and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) fight Tony. The whole scene takes about three minutes, which is far too condensed for a reconciliation that had two movies of setup. However, directors Anthony and Joe Russo have so much ground to cover and so many characters to cram in, I can understand why they rushed through the scene, even if I don’t agree with the choice. Tony then gets Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) on his side by flying to Wakanda and having an exchange along the lines of, “You want join the team, Black Panther?” To which the new hero responds, “Sure, bro.” It’s the only line the character speaks in the entire movie. He doesn’t even take off his mask in a shockingly underwritten introduction for an iconic character. I get that the filmmakers want to save material for the upcoming solo ‘Black Panther’ feature, but not even giving a talented actor like Chadwick Boseman a third word to say or a chance to show his face feels like a horrible mistake (not to mention an act of awkward Hollywood racism).

The next hour or so of the film feels equally awkwardly structured and truncated as Cap and Tony essentially just visit different heroes and ask them to join their squads. It’s merely a series of extended cameos masquerading as a plot with no real purpose or flow – almost like sketch comedy, only not even remotely funny. The scenes themselves are really odd and inappropriate as well. Given how little convincing Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) require to join the fight, the filmmakers instead spend 15 minutes lavishing attention to a woefully gratuitous sex scene between the heroes. Sure, it’s nice to see their love story from the comics brought over to the cinematic universe, but 15 minutes of them grinding against each other surrounded by candles and flowing white curtains is completely unnecessary (especially when it climaxes with a laser bolt shooting out of Vision’s forehead which causes a neighboring building to explode in the most expensive “money shot” joke ever staged).

Oh, and anyone hoping for a decent new Spider-Man will be disappointed by that as well. Despite all those rumors of a teenage Peter Parker, Spidey in this universe is a robot designed by Tony Stark to help win in the big fight. He even designs a bunch of Spidey action figures and merchandise to fund his side of the battle and cracks a variety of jokes about the “morons who buy this crap” that is deeply inappropriate. I have no idea what Sony will possibly do with its Spidey spin-off, but it certainly won’t be loyal to the source material.

Those ramshackle team-building subplots somehow take a full hour that’s damn near impossible to sit through. Once the teams are assembled, the Russos literally stage the final battle for a full 90 minutes of screen time. Now, that might in theory sound like an amazing superhero blockbuster treat, but it’s really exhausting to watch. It’s also ludicrously violent and illogical. At one point, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) dies and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) inexplicably cuts his head off and drinks his blood to “absorb” his powers and become a master archer. I don’t know if that ever happened in the comics, but it’s certainly out of place here. In between the endless punch-’em-ups (all admittedly captured in beautiful IMAX scale) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) constantly remarking that he’s “just happy to be here,” the movie finally comes to an end with Captain America viciously decapitating Iron Man with his shield, which then causes a self-destruct function in his robo-suit that blows up Cap. The rest of the heroes all gather around the two charred corpses before War Machine (Don Cheadle) announces, “You know what? Violence is wrong. Let’s not fight each other. Let’s be friends.” To which Spider-Man replies, “Don’t you mean Super Friends?” After which everyone laughs and they have a group hug and the movie abruptly cuts to credits without warning.

As much as I hate to spoil any movie’s ending in a review, I have to do so here because I was so gobsmacked and disgusted when it happened. The audience I was with shared my profound disappointment and there was actually a small riot in the IMAX theater, with seats being torn out of the floor and flung at the screen. We didn’t even get to see the end credits stinger because by then the riot police had shown up to wrestle angry comic book fans in costumes to the ground in one of the most horrendous sights I’ve ever seen (well, after this movie, of course). I have a feeling that reaction will be fairly common come May 6th. Theaters should start hiring security guards now. It’ll be a bloodbath.

‘Captain America: Civil War’ is a massive, unconscionable disaster on every level. Considering Marvel Studios’ track record so far, I honestly can’t believe the filmmakers treated these iconic characters and their loyal audience with such profound disrespect. Big, expensive, explosive and star-packed though the movie might be, it’s a shitshow of storytelling and world-building. It’s hard to imagine how Marvel could possibly recover from this one. The studio has somehow managed to destroy all the good will it built up with audiences over the last few years with a single misguided turkey.

This might actually mark the end of the superhero blockbuster era. While I’m certain many of my fellow film critics will be thrilled to hear that news and watch this genre go up in flames thanks to a single movie, I’ll personally miss the golden age of superhero cinema. It’s amazing how quickly that tide can turn when greedy and arrogant filmmakers stop caring about their material. Mark my words, the colossal clusterfuck failure of ‘Captain America: Civil War’ will go down in history alongside notorious flops like ‘Heaven’s Gate’ as movies that permanently altered Hollywood history and not for the better. Sigh…

48 comments

  1. Prank

    An April Fools’ prank is supposed to be funny.

    This is not funny. (Hint: “Then a helicarrier suddenly falls from the sky, decapitating the young Zack Snyder and sending his little head flying towards the camera in 3D before the words “Civil War” explode across the screen, the text written in the boy’s blood and brain matter.”)

  2. Csm101

    I’m going to be disappointed if I don’t get this movie come May 6. My favorite is , “sure, bro.” That and Black Widow drinking from Hawkeye’s severed head. My second favorite review of yours, Phil.

  3. Bolo

    Good review. But you missed the part where it’s revealed that Don Cheadle is The Mandarin and has had Terrence Howard locked up in his cellar for years now. Or maybe you just didn’t want to spoil that. And I really liked Stanley Tucci’s performance as David Goyer, he really brought dimension to what, in lesser hands, would’ve just been a throwaway henchman character.

  4. jOeY!

    Wow. A+ for effort, certainly. And another A for execution (not an A+ only because it was a little TOO obvious). You clearly put a lot of work and thought into this nuanced April Fool’s prank. Kudos to you, good sir! Kudos.

  5. NJScorpio

    I love the idea of this April Fool’s Joke.

    I’d stick with the title, but for ease execution, I’d just copy and paste the review from Fantastic Four and change the proper names.

  6. Richard

    One of the funniest things I have read in a long, long, long time. Thanks for the April Fools write-up. this one was spectacular!

  7. Scott

    As someone who is completely disgusted with the Marvel comic book garbage (save for Guardians of the Galaxy, that was a good flick) that is hitting screens way, way too often I was disappointed when I realized this was an April Fools Joke. Seriously, I hope that the movie is even worse than this review, I hope and pray that they’ll continue to make terrible comic book movies and that hopefully somehow, someway (doubtful unfortunately) society will pull their collective heads from their collective asses and realize that cinema is being tarnished by this garbage that is being thrown up all over the screen. It’s so disappointing that excellent actors like Downey Jr. and Johansson are wasting their talents with this purely commercial, CG bullshit.
    Sorry, rant over. Just please, can we scale back the comic book movies and get some fresh, interesting stuff in its place?

    • Chaz

      Why? Its awesome and you are in the major minority here, most of the populace is behind these films and there is a reason they make so much money and ARE good, if you arent a comic fan or super hero fan, sucks to be you honestly 🙂

      If you are also making a joke, good on ya, if not, guess you dont really need to be in these conversations then

    • NJScorpio

      ” cinema is being tarnished by this garbage that is being thrown up all over the screen”

      This is a constant. There is always a wave of “garbage” that is tarnishing cinema.

      This same argument could be made against…..

      – 3D Films
      – Young Adult Novel Adaptations
      – Adam Sandler movies
      – Date Movie/Disaster Movie/etc

      and dozens of other current or historical trends.

    • Anthony

      Scott, is this an April Fools joke too? Because, it’s one bad rant. You are disgusted with Marvel films, why do you even pay attention to them? You obviously took the time to post your comment here, when you could’ve EASILY ignored it. If you don’t like Marvel films, there is a solution…….DON’T WATCH THEM. Boom, problem solved. You act like you are being forced to watch these films against your free will. Do you know how many Marvel films (you accuse Marvel of being trash and don’t mention DC, which may mean you are a DC fanboy) come out every year? Two or three. That’s it. Out of all the movies of any genre that comes out in one year, two maybe three Marvel films come out. Yet, you are acting like 50 of them come out in one year. Who asks you to see them? If you watch it, it’s you who consciously bought the ticket, consciously drove to the theater, and consciously sat down in front of the big screen. Who is there to blame but yourself? Don’t watch them, ignore the news on it, and leave it alone. You are choosing to pay attention to anything Marvel. That’s your problem. I don’t like McDonald’s. I don’t go there and eat, and then complain about how crappy they are…..then go there again months later, then complain once more….then go there again some time later…..then complain some more about how much I hate their food.

      Sorry, rant over.

      • Nagop the snagha

        Well said, my friend. That was one of the greatest reality, boom in your face, screw you, go dig a hole if your so bored, type speeches I have ever read. Scott, listen to that guy cause it will help you.

  8. Timcharger

    Phil: “Hurt wants the Avengers and all other heroes to join the U.S. Army, where their acts of international violence will be forgivable in the name of patriotism.”

    Daggers hidden in the April 1st’s late Easter basket.

    Phil, you forgot the part where Tony Stark claims
    there’s no official birth certificate that Steve Rogers
    was born in Brooklyn. And since the Black Panther
    sides with Captain America, Iron Man attempts to
    send them all back to Wakanda/Kenya.

    • Timcharger

      Loved that line Captain America delivered
      during his fight with Iron Man. In that epic battle,
      they clutched each other’s hands in a superhero
      battle of mercy. As they struggled to bend the
      other’s wrists backward, Capt noticed that his
      fingers were just as long as Iron Man’s metal
      fingers.

      “To fit in that normal-sized metal glove, how
      small are your fingers, Tony?”

  9. Timcharger

    Phil, in the screening I heard you snickering.
    When the U.N. blew up, it was a grim, serious scene. And our
    heroes went to save survivors and investigate the bombing.
    But you just couldn’t stop chuckling. Watching a flag-wrapped
    costumed Captain, and a tin-can red robot walk around the
    U.N., that was just too funny for you. Seriously, stop it.

  10. A MODERATOR NOTICE:

    I have cleaned up some bickering and personal attacks from these comments and will continue to do so.

    Here is your one and only warning: Anyone is allowed to dislike this article if they choose. Anyone is allowed to comment that they dislike the article and why. However, if you’re an asshole about it, I’m going to delete your comments and (if you do it repeatedly) ban you from commenting at all here. I do not take these actions lightly, but they are sometimes necessary.

    • Csm101

      Damn work, I missed some of the juicy stuff. Always appreciate you keeping it classy….well, somewhat classy. 🙂

  11. Timcharger

    (Commenting on deleted replies,
    but not supporting their personal attacks.)

    Phil, seriously it is evident in your writing that you
    felt that you DIDN’T skewer BvS enough in your
    review. I get that some jokes would overlap due
    to “civil war” and “versus” being similar. But you
    went overkill in BvS hate in your fake-hate of
    Captain America: Civil War.

    And it’s one thing if you have an out-of-consensus
    opinion that deserves more attention. But you
    really think there ISN’T enough hate of BvS from
    critics?

    And you’re surprised there are comments
    questioning your pro-Marvel/anti-DC fandom?

    • Phil

      No I’m not surprised at all. I just wanted to clarify that I didn’t despise batman v superman as much as some and that I actually prefer DC, comics wise. Did you consider that all the DC/Snyder bashing in this is actually a joke based on the stupid idea that for some reason people are only allowed to like Marvel or DC and it’s impossible to like both. I’ve never understood that.

      • Deaditelord

        I’m right there with you Phil. I don’t understand brand loyalty like this. It reminds me a lot of the stupid Microsoft/Sony/Nintendo fanboy debates you see on video game websites with comments trumpeting how game company x is SO MUCH better than the others and then actively mocking anyone who has a differing opinion. Sure, it’s normal to like one brand more than the other. Sticking with the DC/Marvel theme, I happen to prefer DC over Marvel. It’s what I grew up reading and I enjoy the grittier approach of the movies. However, I don’t go about criticizing people for liking Marvel movies since, in general, I also think Marvel tends to make entertaining movies. (Well… at least when they avoid casting Chris Pratt as the lead. But I digress…) What’s wrong with liking both brands?

        Personally, I enjoyed Batman v. Superman. While I’ll admit that the movie has some narrative problems and would have been better served had it jettisoned all the Justice League material to focus on Batman and Superman, I’m somewhat perplexed by the amount of negativity towards the movie. I’ve voiced similar confusion on this blog over the intense dislike for Man of Steel and The Dark Knight Rises so maybe it’s just my tastes not matching up all that well with the majority. Still, you would think based on comments that Batman vs. Superman was somehow worse than the nipple-enhanced Batman and Robin.

    • Deaditelord

      Oh my, I wasted so much time trying to get this to work before discovering it was a April Fools Day post.

  12. Elizabeth

    It was clear from the severed 3D head that this was fake. No Disney Marvel movie has ever put that much thought into a 3D shot.

  13. Deaditelord

    LOL, who knew Black Widow was so into the dark arts. Drinking blood from a severed head to gain powers seems like something the Scarlet Witch would do, but clearly the Russo brothers were attempting to toy with audience expectations! Alfred Hitchcock would be proud. The little boy Zack Snyder decapitation by hellicarrier is also a great touch. Fantastic April’s Fools Day review Phil!

  14. Garvit

    You scared the hell out of me. No marvel movie has gone so dark. That’s when I realised it was an April fools joke

  15. StaksOnStaks

    As someone who reads these posts from an RSS reader (and a few days later…it was Spring Break after all). I literally was dumbfounded how this could be so bad….Then I saw the part about IMAX chair throwing and the April Fool’s tag. Had it not been for the part about throwing the chairs, you would have sold me completely. Well done sir, well done.

  16. Video Rag

    Well it was an excellent film.
    But civil war was between B vs and x-men Apocalypse because of those three and with avengers Infinity wars and justice league filming starting they changed the stkryline from the comic book.
    No very good movie not end of the super hero Greene but all comic book flicks will be filmed for comic fans fist from here on end …great film! Make mine marvel oohra dc

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