I knew this day was coming, the day the Marvel Cinematic Universe would grow too big for its own good and become mentally exhausting. Captain America: Civil War is the thirteenth film of a series that knowingly and unfailingly intertwines their numerous story arcs, and for the first time, it was simply too much for me to take in. At first, I felt welcomed into this world, as if the goal was merely for me to watch and have fun. Now I feel like I’m being asked to memorize an entire encyclopedia – facts, figures, dates, characters, plot lines, worlds, superpowers, events, deaths, introductions, objects. What was once an inclusive series has become a sprawling database for fanboys who have nothing better to do but study it in depth.
How can anyone expect the average moviegoers to remember every detail of thirteen movies across the span of eight years? I don’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning.
This movie includes not just several of the Avengers characters we’ve come to know – Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Tony Stark/Iron-Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) – it also brings new or standalone characters into the mix. One is Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), whose introduction in last summer’s Ant-Man had me longing for a can of Raid. Another is none other than Spider-Man, now played by Tom Holland as a neurotic teenager desperate to impress his superhero idols. Setting aside the fact this this is now the third time the Spider-Man franchise has been rebooted, the character’s reasons for becoming a superhero in the first place are left a little unclear; although we see his aunt May, now played by Marisa Tomei, we never see his uncle Ben, nor is any mention made of his murder. Unless I’m forgetting, I don’t think anything was even said about being bitten by a radioactive spider.
And then there are the villains. One is Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), an African prince who wants revenge for the death of his father, the King of the fictional Wakanda. The other is a mysterious European man (Daniel Brühl) who has made it his mission to go around the world, gather information from the year 1991, and steal secrets so that he can systematically bring the Avengers down. Who he is and why he’s so driven are not revealed until the final act of the film, and even then, we’re left to wonder how a man with so few apparent resources would be able to do any of what he set himself out to do. It also becomes clear during those final pivotal scenes, that he went a long way for very little.
Aside from the excess number of characters this film has, a large part of the problem is that most of them have agendas, and we’re asked to invest in all of them. Rogers, who believes that the Avengers shouldn’t be put under the thumb of the United States government, puts his life and reputation in danger in defense of his former friend, the brainwashed Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Stark, who feels guilty that the Avengers’ actions at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron resulted in a needless death, believes the Avengers should be under government control, and subsequently pursues Rogers. Needless to say, the other heroes also have opinions over who’s right and who’s wrong, and they ally themselves thusly. No need for me to tell you. You need only look at the film’s poster.
On top of this, we must sort through the angst of Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), the curiosity of the newly sentient Vision (Paul Bettany), and the growing affection between Rogers and Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp). There’s even time reserved for Stark, who, without getting into specifics, will have his emotional wounds opened back up. Oh boy, but is there ever time; the film clocks in at a patience-testing 146 minutes. There are five or six climactic scenes in the final act alone, and that, I think we can all agree, is simply too many. It doesn’t help that, all throughout, the tone varies wildly between solemn and silly.
Admittedly, Captain America: Civil War opens on an engaging premise, namely the idea that, while their intentions are noble, superheroes can do more harm than good. This is most compellingly explored in a scene featuring Alfre Woodard, the specifics of which I won’t reveal. Unfortunately, the ending makes it obvious that this idea has been all but forgotten. Ultimately, a lot of what we see is typical comic book fare – scene after scene of highly choreographed fight sequences, which are so visually shaky and choppily edited that we don’t feel immersed by the film’s 3D presentation so much as assaulted by nearly indecipherable blurs of motion. Too bad these mistakes aren’t marking the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; Doctor Strange will be released in November, and an additional eight films after that. Here’s hoping I regain the mental stamina to keep up with them all.