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Captain America: Civil War is Less a Movie, More the Best Season Finale Ever – A Spoiler-Filled Reaction

The following has been written under the assumption that you’ve already seen Captain America: Civil War. This is your courtesy spoiler warning. Head here for our spoiler-lite review

As Captain America: Civil War neared its epic, hero vs. hero conclusion, a depressing thought overtook me: I can’t believe I have to wait two more years for the next episode.

Not the next movie; the next episode. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is like a giant TV show that takes months if not years off in-between episodes. Whereas Age of Ultron was more of a filler episode setting up necessary plot points, Civil War feels like the best season finale ever, dropping cliffhanger after cliffhanger on us and introducing multiple new, exciting characters (Black Panther, Spider-Man) for “next season.” As a result, 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 has been turned into a giant mystery, and I can’t wait to see what happens.

Ironically, the actual Marvel TV shows exist more and more on their own island, largely due to behind the scenes politics further separating the film and TV divisions.

Of course, the next Marvel movie or episode or whatever you want to call it is Doctor Strange, and it comes out in November followed by Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarock in 2017. Black Panther, the soon-to-be-retitled Infinity War Part 1 and Ant-Man and the Wasp arrive in 2018.

With such a full slate of Marvel movies, the last thing I should be worried about is the wait between installments. Just give it a couple of months and we’ll be watching Benedict Cumberbatch learn magic (as he always should have been, what with his J.K. Rowling madlib of a name). Not too long after that, we’ll finally get to see how much Baby Groot has grown since last we left him dancing to the Jackson 5.

And so on, and so on, and so on.

These Marvel characters are all coming back (well, not so much Thor’s mom. Still dead, last I checked). We’ll see them again before too long. However, maybe I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy, but I couldn’t stop wondering about all the cliffhangers:

Civil War teamsWhen will we see Captain America again? He’s officially a criminal now, on the run from the law, and those (Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Falcon, Scarlet Witch) who supported his cause are all criminals as well. We can guess once the shit hits the fan, Tony Stark will use that burner phone to call Cap for help, but that sounds like an Infinity War-Part 1 cliffhanger. So, is Civil War the last we see of Captain America until 2019?

When will we get to see the next stage of the Scarlet Witch and Vision’s developing relationship? They were on the opposite sides of the ethical divide splitting the Avengers in half in Civil War, but by the end they apologized to each other, reinforcing their bond as two people struggling to understand their identities. If this is one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s only potential romances of the moment, when will we see it consummated, if ever?

What does all of this mean for Ant-Man and the Wasp? Will Scott Lang still be a wanted criminal by that point, or will he be absolved by the events of Infinity War Part 1? And now that the Russo Brothers used up the debut of Ant-Man’s, um, Giant Man abilities in Civil War what even cooler thing can Peyton Reed possibly come up with for Ant-Man and the Wasp?

Did that mid-credits sequence set up the Winter Soldier as the MCU’s new human McGuffin? Will the conflict in Black Panther be all about people trying to collect Winter Soldier and deliver him to justice?

Since Tony Stark is on the outs with Pepper Potts, and since Robert Downey, Jr. has agreed to appear in Spider-Man: Homecoming does that mean Tony’s flirtation with Aunt May and continual praise for her looks is actually building to something more than a couple of easy jokes? Probably not, but it’s the not knowing and related wait which is killing me.

wpid-wp-1436388390931What became of Black Widow? Heck, at this point who are the legally sanctioned Avengers? Just Iron Man, Vision and Spider-Man plus War Machine, if Rhodes fully recovers?

These are the natural questions to ask after a movie as jam-packed as Civil War, but I should be working harder to pause and appreciate the moment. After all, as seemingly thousands have already argued (read Julianne’s review), Civil War is easily one of if not the most satisfying entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

That is, however, if you are someone who already loves the MCU. I find it hard to argue Civil War is actually a complete movie that can stand on its own. It’s even more indebted to Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron than I expected. Tony Stark’s “the end of the path I started us on” line from Age of Ultron could have been used in Civil War instead and it would have worked nearly as well. This is the end of a narrative path which started the moment Nick Fury popped up in Tony Stark’s mansion, or when Bucky Barnes fell from that train somewhere in the mountains during WWII. But the first moment an innocent civilian died during one of the climactic battles, Civil War became inevitable, and our engagement in the conflict was always going to be greatly enhanced by the relationships we’ve formed with these characters (and they with each other).

Romances we care about have ended off-screen in-between movies, and ones we only slightly suspected took a big step forward (good for you, Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter, but also, ewww, that’s Peggy’s niece!). There’s a gut-wrenching funeral scene for anyone who’s seen First Avenger, Winter Soldier and every episode of Agent Carter. Tony’s lingering grief over his dead parents (which was more of a season 1 thing in the larger MCU) came back in full force, and he emerged as an emotionally broken man, his love life finally torpedoed by the broken promises from Iron Man 3 and his conscience overburdened after Ultron. Even a relatively minor player to Civil War‘s plot like Ant-Man was granted a brief moment to reference Hank Pym’s feud with Tony’s father, nicely reminding us how exactly Scott Lang fit into all of this.

As season finales go, though, it’s also bit shaggy at times, and there are areas which invite nitpicking, such as how exactly and when Steve figured out the Winter Soldier killed Tony’s parents. Plus, while it was far more true of Batman v Superman, there is also an element of Civil War where much could have been avoided if these people simply sat down and talked to each other. They were never going to agree on the Sokovia Accords, but the whole “Bucky’s been framed, and I have proof” thing could have been discussed more openly.

But when the result is that instant-classic airport fight sequence or the gripping final fight between Captain America and Iron Man – Steve and Tony finally following through on the tensions they expressed in the first Avengers – who are we to judge? I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how it would all end.

Of course, I ultimately knew it wouldn’t end, not really. These Marvel movies never really do. As Collider argued in 2014:

[Kevin Feige] is, in effect, the “showrunner” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, responsible for breaking the story (and possibly even acts) of each of their films before signing a director to execute said vision.  This of course ensures that every Marvel movie has strong connective tissue with the films that precede and follow it, but it also puts creative constraints on the filmmakers.

Yes, we get to see familiar characters inhabit each other’s films, but the tradeoff is that none of the films are really filmmaker-driven. Moreover, when each film leads right into the next, stories don’t really end.  Every Marvel movie concludes in the “To Be Continued” style of a two-parter on TV—except in this case it’s an “undetermined-number-parter” that could go on for decades.

But, wow, if Batman v Superman is what this kind of things look like when there is a filmmaker-driven vision then screw that freakin’ noise. Let Kevin Feige continue to serve as Hollywood’s best showrunner, and trust writers like Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directors like Joe and Anthony Russo to keep us hooked with each new “To Be Continued…” ending.

Sebastian Stan, the Winter Soldier himself, put a more positive spin on this “Marvel movies are giant TV show episodes” idea earlier this week on Stephen Colbert, responding to a question about whether or not movies are truly more important than TV, “I’m not sure what the difference is these days. I feel like we keep repeating the movies the same ways. We want to revisit characters the same way we see them on TV. Marvel, in a sense, is like a TV show when you look at it, right. Every few years the characters evolve, just the same way as they do on TV. Isn’t that similar?”

I can’t wait to see the next evolution or episode or movie or whatever you want to call it.


  1. Steve didn’t know that Bucky killed Tony’s parents, at least not for sure. He only knew that they were killed by Hydra. And the audience knew, too, because we were there when Zola told him in The Winter Soldier in order to stall him. When he says “accidents will happen” he shows the newspaper about Howard’s death.

    Steve might have suspected, though, but I don’t think that he wanted to know. Anyway, he should have told Tony that their death wasn’t an accident after all.

    1. Oh, I disagree. Your re-statement of the evidence is sound, but Tony asks Steve point blank if he knew and after initially admitting he knew it was Hydra Tony demands a more specific answer at which point Steve indicates he knew it was Bucky who did it. Then he reiterates his case in the letter he leaves Tony at the end. The evidence on hand suggests Steve could have only suspected it was Bucky without knowing for sure, but that’s not how Civil War plays it. His letter could be read as simply indicating he knew their death wasn’t an accident, but the fact that he earlier implied he knew it was Bucky renders the while thing a tad confusing.

      1. Steve also has the file about Bucky, though I understood it that Steve knew it was a murder and suspected that Bucky did it (since Zola more or less listed in between Bucky’s murders) but didn’t know for sure.

        Hell, the fandom has suspected for two years that Bucky killed Tony’s parents, Cap should have been able to make the leap, too.
        Cap initially says that he didn’t know that Bucky was the murderer and then Tony asks again if he know it, which might refer to Bucky doing it or the murder in itself. But I think that deep down Cap knew…he isn’t stupid and who knows what else was written in those files. There only had to be a notation that Bucky was on a mission that day.

      2. Considering what Black Widow tells Steve when she gave him that file at the end of Winter Soldier, does that mean that she also knew or heavily suspected Bucky killed Tony’s parents?

        I’m mad at myself right now, though, because when I started writing this reaction article I didn’t want to harp on the idea that Civil War in absolutely no way explains how exactly Cap knew or suspected Bucky killed the Starks. You and I can argue the if’s, when’s and how’s of this, but, I’m sorry, Civil War the movie – as in just contained to what we see and learn in the Civil War movie – drops the notion that Steve knew about the Starks’ death on us out of nowhere. However, if you remember The Winter Soldier movie you can maybe piece it together and make some assumptions.

        My idea when I sat down to write was to tie that particular plot point into the whole notion of Civil War seeming less like a complete movie and more like a season finale. The “Did you know?” moment with Tony and Steve is like when a TV character has been keeping a secret for multiple episodes, and it’s come back to haunt them as the offended party reacts violently. If you’ve been watching every episode closely, you’ve been looking forward to this inevitable confrontation, and once it finally arrives it’s glorious. However, if you haven’t been watching so closely it might just seem like a plot hole.

        I sort of lost track of that point during the writing, and now here I am turning it into a nitpicking session.

      3. Yeah, I can agree there…I sometimes had the feeling that the movie overexplained some aspects, but then I realized that a lot of this was for the benefit of viewers who are less tuned into the MCU as I am. But in the end, dropping in Ant-man should be the bigger problem for the casual viewer. See, if I would never start watching a movie franchise at its third movie, I would assume that I need the first two to understand what is going on. So that the movie expect the audience to know The Winter Soldier is totally okay for me. That it expects them to have an idea what Age of Ultron is about, okay, I guess we can assume that everyone who likes Cap also watches the Avengers movie. But freaking Ant-man? I bet a lot of people in the audience skipped that one, and the whole talk with Falcon should have went right over their head.

  2. I am hoping that they do with spider man and black panther is what they did with the cap movies and that is bring in other characters as support. I read they might have Tony in Spiderman, which would be awesome. With black panther it be great to have cap in there, cause he’s living there now I assume. It would be a great way to see how these characters are holding up after the events in civil war. I would suspect with how well civil wars does with all the characters in it. There is a good chance for this. At least I won’t be surprised, I’ll just be very excited.

    1. They definitely will have Iron Man in the Spider-Man movie next year. Robert Downey, Jr. officially signed on around a month ago. I’m not entirely clear how big of a role he’ll have, but Tony Stark will be in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

      As for Cap, ever since Kevin Feige made his power play with Marvel Studios and turned it into an independent unit answerable only to Disney’s CEO all of the actors have been gradually singing a different tune. Under Ike Perlmutter, Marvel was notoriously stingy in just about every cost-related department, especially actor salaries. During that regime, Chris Evans was talking about riding out his Captain America contract and retiring from acting to become a director. However, now that Feige is solely in charge of the movies, not Perlmutter, Evans has given multiple interviews indicating he may have rethought that position, and he might want to stick around a little longer. I believe he should only have one movie appearance left on his original contract, but they could have re-negotiated in secret for all we know.

      So, it’s entirely possible that you could be right, and he’ll be in Black Panther’s movie. I actually kind of like the idea of Tony and Cap being around in the background of these other movies, like you said, to see how they’re holding up after Civil War. The old thinking was that Cap would either die in Civil War and somehow come back in Infinity War Part 2 or merely go away for a while and not return until Infinity War Part 2, which would fulfilling Chris Evans’ contract and turn into his final appearance. However, now that I’ve seen (and loved) Civil War I’m hoping that he hangs around in the background instead of going away for several years like Thor and Hulk.

  3. Yes, we get to see familiar characters inhabit each other’s films, but the tradeoff is that none of the films are really filmmaker-driven.

    This bears some similarities to the comics, bc while a writer does create the stories involving these characters, xe is shepherding them with the guidance of xir editor(s). At least in comics made by the Big 2.

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