Warning: This has some spoilers in it. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, proceed with caution.
The UN wants to reel in the Avengers after a mission goes somewhat awry when Scarlet Witch doesn’t quite control her powers during a fight. Using that and the damage/casualties from previous Avengers big fights as justification, they draft the Sokovia Accords (named after the country the team fought Ultron over in Age of Ultron) which would put the Avengers under the jurisdiction of the UN. Tony Stark, guilt ridden after a still grieving mother confronts him about the death of her son during the battle with Ultron, agrees to sign along with several other Avengers (Black Widow, War Machine, Vision). Steve Rodgers (Captain America), having previously gotten burned by the U.S. government and SHIELD, doesn’t want to subject the team to any kind of government authority and refuses to sign. Then things really go sideways when a terrorist attack at the UN orchestrated by Baron Zemo is pinned on Cap’s best friend Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier. Cap, with the help of Falcon, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Ant-Man try to keep Bucky from capture while a faction of Avengers led by Stark go after them with help from T’Challa (Black Panther), whose father was killed in the UN bombing. And from there all kinds hijinks ensue between the warring heroes as they try to hash all this out, culminating in a super huge fight at an airport between the groups.
What worked for me
- The airport fight – Well duh. It’s only the most talked about scene in the movie. Who doesn’t it work for? You can’t rave enough about this scene, though. As a wrestling fan I’d describe this as having all the best elements of a great Money in the Bank Ladder Match – spectacular set pieces, crazy planned spots, along with perfectly coordinated and choreographed twists and turns. Not to mention all the well placed quips from our new Spider-Man. Just given the scale and number of participants I don’t see this being topped any time soon. I imagine that there are going to be a lot of people killing 20 minutes by just watching this scene in the future. It was that good.
- The other action – The opening sequence was a showcase not just for Cap but for Falcon and Black Widow. And the final fight where Iron Man fought Cap and Bucky was good an onscreen depiction of in close hand to hand combat as you’re going to get. You could almost feel the blows between them while you were sitting there watching it was so brutal. And that’s not even mentioning the work Black Panther and Spider-Man put in.
- Black Panther – Talk about stealing a movie. T’Challa owned every scene he was in thanks to a stellar performance by Chadwick Boseman. This may have been the greatest advertisement for a movie that’s two years away (Panthers 2018 solo film) ever.
- The emotions – You could feel the concern in Tony’s voice as he tried talking Cap down, and later on the hurt as felt Cap’s betrayal before and during their last fight. The same goes for Cap’s neverending devotion to his friend Bucky, and T’Challa journey from revenge seeker to forgiver. It added a gravity to and intensity to everything that happened that you often don’t get with these films.
What didn’t work
- Captain America – I came into this movie leaning towards Tony because I think it’s nuts to just let superpowered people run amok, but I expected Cap to provide some solid reasoning to at least consider his position. And he did give me about 10 seconds worth – the point that an Avengers team under UN jurisdiction could be sent out to do something they think is wrong or held back from doing something they think is right. But beyond that he only pushed me further and further to Tony’s side. First by his arrogant assertion that the best hands to be in were their own, and that they needed no supervision. And then by his self centered, damn fool idealistic crusade (shout out to Obi Wan Kenobi) to keep his friend from justice at the cost of all his other friends’ trust, freedom, and physical well being. Even though Bucky was not guilty of the UN bombing he has a list a mile long of killings that he deserved to stand trial for. And then Steve tops it off by lying to Tony about Bucky killing Tony’s parents. I’ve seen some people say that this was a humanizing of Cap but I came out of this seeing him as arrogant, selfish, and as suspicious as the very people he pontificated against earlier on. In essence the only reason to be Team Cap was that you like him better than the arrogant, boozing, womanizing, jerk and scoundrel Tony Stark. That’s it.
- The Sokovia Accords – The law that was supposed to keep the Avengers in check and provided the grounds for the initial division between the two sides wasn’t presented very well in my book. The evidence presented to justify them was half composed of things the Avengers weren’t even responsible for (the Chitauri invasion of New York and Shield getting overrun by Hydra in Washington, D.C.), and then they weren’t even necessary as a reference point later because Steve’s group did a lot of things that were already against the law as it was – assaulting police, aiding and abetting a fugitive, etc. Ultimately the accords existed in this movie as a parallel to the registration act in the comic version and a plot device. And while yes they have been mentioned further on Agents of SHIELD, as far as the movie goes they didn’t matter much after the first half hour or so. We could have really used an example of how adhering to the Accords resulted in the very things happening that Steve was worried about.
Other Notable Things
- I found Baron Zemo to be a middle of the pack villain. One knock on the MCU has been it’s lack of top notch villains, something that I think is somewhat overblown (I think Ultron plays a lot better when you watch on a small screen at home than in a movie theater). I’ve seen comments on both extremes about Zemo, that he was a nothingburger of a nemesis on one side and that he was a perfect villain on the other. I don’t think either is true. Yes he was a great schemer but that wasn’t explained in enough detail to really get that across. The reason you have over the top villain monologues in these movies is to get across to the audience just how sneaky, brilliant, and evil these guys are. Even if the character is more subdued and lowkey like Zemo was here you at least need to that one rhetorical flourish to get them over. Now all that being said, his actions as the villain were extraordinary. Framing Bucky because he knew how it would lead everyone to react, and then holding the final trump card – the video of Tony’s parents murder – right until it was of maximum use was pure evil genius. But at movie’s end if you don’t know him from previous reading experience he still comes off as just a guy.
- Tom Holland was the right choice as Spider-Man. As much as I wanted them to continue with Andrew Garfield and as skeptical of Holland as I and a lot of other people were, the kid earned it. His interactions with Stark at his home and with everyone else during the big fight scene were gold. I was among many who did not want another origin age Spidey but Holland, and the way it was written, came off so well that it’s all good now.
Overall Grade: 9/10
This may seem strange given the things I harped on, but the best parts of the movie were so great that they largely overshadow them. Those moments – the big fights, Spidey’s introduction, Panther – are truly film time capsule moments and the best of the MCU’s entire run. But of course no movie is perfect. As far as where I rank this among the MCU films…..I think Winter Soldier is the best overall movie because it doesn’t have the kind of red flags for me that this one did . I won’t know for sure until how I measure against I see it a few more times. Which I will soon, as should you.