Perhaps the most noticeable desire people have of their fiction is a simple one: more. Even if blown away by a story, many seem to have an almost insatiable thirst for more of it; this desire frequently takes aim at what happened before the piece of fiction, with curiosity demanding to know what led up to the events. Even in an origin story, there is the question of what happened before; you can keep going backward, make Peter Parker’s parents double agents or add another team of X-men that Xavier sent on a suicide mission and never spoke of. Indiana Jones surely had countless adventures that take place between the films, and over the last 40 years, stories were told that took place thousands of years before the events of Star Wars.
In the event that the writer or team behind the fiction didn’t salt the earth or write literal decades of epilogues, the trials and tribulations of the characters can extend into the future as well. While I am as tired of Spider-Man origin stories as the next person, I’ll still admit to regularly wanting to know more about the origins of characters I enjoy and thinking about where they go after the story ends. The problem comes when a franchise passes a tipping point, one where the mass of stories leading up to the most current one looks insurmountable to an outsider. With a dozen films under their belt and a dozen named heroes in Captain America: Civil War, Marvel has pushed a part of their franchise into the inaccessible in a way that they have somehow managed to avoid doing in many of their comics.
Up until Civil War, there wasn’t much of a need to have seen every Marvel movie. The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier in particular were able to stand pretty much on their own; even Avengers did not require the viewer to have seen much of what came before it, because many of the characters only barely knew each other and were forced into interactions that introduced the audience to them as they met and discovered each other. Civil War has twice as many named heroes as Avengers did, all of them fighting for screen time so fiercely that I’m pretty sure they don’t ever refer to Ant-man by name (hero or alter ego), and only a few characters are allowed the time to have more than a single dimension to them. Lord help you if you are one of the many people who wants to know something more about a character than which side they were recruited for.
Rather than have them show up as actual characters, the supporting cast members tend to be caricatures. Ant-man cracks jokes and changes size. Spider-Man cracks jokes and is an actual child. War Machine is boring Iron Man. Vision is an AI who doesn’t understand people. Scarlet Witch is afraid of her powers. Black Widow doesn’t know what she wants. Hawkeye shoots arrows. It’s like the Russo brothers took out their Iron Man, Captain America, and Winter Soldier toys and then told their friends to come over and bring a handful of heroes. Except once all the friends got together, they couldn’t decide on a villain and just picked Iron Man. In a 150-minute movie there is not time to have Tony Stark go from clear anti-government vigilante to government soldier and back to vigilante and have it feel genuine; at least the comic was released over the better part of a year and was filled with tie-ins that could justify a bunch of characters having a reason to act out of character. Here it’s just a mess.
Though he is introduced in Civil War and may have less screen time than Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and Vision, The Black Panther has a depth to him that is not allowed to other characters; he has a reason for existing in the film when the majority of characters outside of Captain America, Bucky, and Iron Man are interchangeable. Chadwick Boseman gives T’Challa the complex personality required to balance the identities of warrior and king, to the point that Marvel pushing back the release date of The Black Panther is a crime.
Seven hundred words and no mention of the villain(s) yet, aside from Iron Man. Civil War gives them about as much attention. Crossbones and Zemo exist to push the events that lead to the splitting of the Avengers, with motivations that are about as believable as Tony Stark supporting the registration of the Avengers with the United Nations. Their existence ate screen time that could’ve been used to give the gargantuan cast some room to breathe and actually allow their characters a second or even a third dimension.
Most of the actors did the best that they could with what they were given. Boseman stands out to me as one of the better performances despite having less screen time than the “main” characters, but Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, and Anthony Mackie turned in performances that were par for the course. Robert Downey Jr. was tasked with an almost impossible motivation for the character and seemed to do the best he could with what he had — I felt as though he was genuinely conflicted about having to fight Steve at points, so that’s better than nothing. The other actors and actresses all fall into the RDJ boat, having done the best they could with what they were given but that what they were given wasn’t much. Except for Tom Holland, who is an incredible voice actor and apparently lacks the ability to show any emotion on his face. When in the costume, Holland sounds like Spider-Man, but when he’s out of the red-and-blues, Peter Parker’s got a blank slate of a face that has me less than optimistic about the next Spider-Man film.
The fighting, which took up the bulk of Civil War, was generally entertaining and well choreographed, though shoving the Iron Man / Captain America / Bucky fight into the trailer was a bit of a disappointment, as that short moment was one of the best scenes in the film. Showing the airport fight scene in the trailer was just as much of a mistake in the opposite direction; it would have been easier to forget how ridiculous it looks to have six people on either side of the screen charging at each other to fight if that scene had just been in the film and not been used for promotion for weeks ahead of time. There were quite a few really questionable decisions like that, honestly, and part of me hopes that they have some last-minute edits planned, as there were scenes that felt as though they were stitched together with some pretty poor editing that led to a rather flat looking background.
Captain America: Civil War is a long movie, and it doesn’t allow for much humor to break up the doom and gloom, to the point that the middle chunk with Ant-man and Spider-Man plays like it’s a different film entirely. The Russo brothers take too many characters and give them too little time to do much other than serve as an ad for their past or future films, and by pulling from casts that span most of the dozen previous Marvel films, there are moments that feel like a demand of the viewer to either be immersed in the franchise or feel lost. It’s far from a bad movie, but there’s just so much dead weight and poor writing dragging it down.