Film Let's get the obvious out of the way first. Captain America: Civil War is awesome. That cultural barometer Rotten Tomatoes currently suggests a reviewer average of 93% and that's exactly about right. We'll get to the bat shaped elephant with an S on his chest more clearly in a minute but if you want a demonstration of how the RT algorithm largely works compare that to the other big comic book clash of the year which has now dropped to 27% to see how if something is of quality it will be rewarded with the reviews to match (unless you're of the mind that the entire critical corpus are all on the take from MARVEL to give positive reviews to their films and damn DC in which case this will simply confirm your worst fears).
Needless to say there will be spoilers in this listicle shaped discussion and it is one of those films which works best without any foreknowledge. There's at least one moment I wish I hadn't known about beforehand which is still amazing, but not quite as much first time as it might have been if it had come as the surprise it was meant to be. But genre websites have to attract the clicks and so it was they decided to include this moment in the headline of the article and so the content of a tweet. But unlike Bus Dodge where its best moments were the film, CA:CW is so rich in moments that there were about a hundred other things and incidents and stuff that are equally terrific. Make no mistake, this is the film Age of Ultron should have been (and I was less critical of Joss's nightmare than most people).
One of the fears that I think most of us had going into this was that it seemed like it was going to be The Avengers 2.5 and there is an argument that this is certainly the case. But it's also quite coherently Iron Man 4 and yet it still also manages to keep Cap as the focus character in his own film providing a coherent conclusion to his trilogy, paying off bits of story set in motion back in The First Avenger whilst also setting the scene for the upcoming phase of MARVEL films. If Age of Ultron felt like just another episode in the series, this is more like the mid-season finale as it also simultaneously pays off events from numerous other films along the way. You probably couldn't watch the three Cap films and feel like you've seen a coherent story but none of the MARVEL films function that way.
Notice how the Russos somehow manage to give each of their characters a "moment of charm" for want of a better description or at least a story beat which furthers their narrative within the MCU whilst also justifying their appearance in the film. None of the superhero characters at least feel like cameos with the possible exception of Ant-Man although even his gigantor scene and subsequent incarceration will have potential implications for his sequel. There's no especial reason why Vision and Scarlet Witch should have a bit of romance here, but it provides each of them some motivation going forward, not least Vis whose character arc is surely going to mirror TNG's Data as his artificial intelligence slowly absorbs humanity and investigates what it is to be a sentient being. Including wearing their clothes.
But the ballsiness of the finale in which it seems as though in the expected MARVEL way bygones will be bygones and then everything's turned around and we're given the fight we all turned up to see. Compare this to Bus Dodge in which the expected fight squibbles after two hours of build up. In this, they fight, they fight and then they fight some more as MARVEL fearlessly trashes friendships and the status quo of its universe because that's what the story is about. I was reminded of the anti-regeneration gun in Doctor Who's The Last of the Time Lords. The shift between the expectations as to what was going to be the ending and would have been in the hands of lesser film makers and what occurs is the Hollywood blockbuster equivalent of Martha's giggle.
If there's a problem and this is the 7%, it's that although the film portrays this as both Iron Man and Cap having valid arguments for being on both sides of the Sarcovia accord, given the death and destruction, Iron Man's is the correct end of the argument. There has to be oversight. Even in imperfect systems you can't have vigilantism. It's not perfect and the people making the decisions won't always get it wrong, but as is established, it's not about the superbeings becoming America's police force but the UN's. Which isn't to say there isn't nuance but what's interesting about the script is that it doesn't take sides on the issue so it's entirely possible that someone else would come away from the film with Cap's freedom argument. In the end I'm siding with Romanov.
Notice how the discussion is roughly similar to that in Bus Dodge. But whereas Batman's solution was to annihilate Superman, here it's about control. Superheroes begat death and destruction and arguably more supervillains so something has to happen. The SHIELD comic had a pretty good solution for this, making Coulson an expert in superheroes and having him decide who to deploy and where to the best of their abilities. Perhaps in the first Infinity War film we'll see a version of this as Tony deploys whatever team he's managed to construct from people willing to sign the accord (whilst simultaneously demonstrating there's life in the mega team idea once he and the rest of this lot have retired).
"Oh Peg." I said quietly as Cap received the news. Arguably having Agent Carter die off camera is a bit undignified, but despite what the Russos say about the television sections of the franchise, there has to have been a certain element of not wanting to dampen whatever might be happening with the television series. But historical dramas are often about dead people and Howard Stark was already established as having gone even before he wandered into that series. My next thought was whether Jarvis was still about and of course he is in spirit. Meanwhile are we suppose to assume Bucky dated or at least tried to date Dottie Underwood? Is that one of the reasons he ended up in the Winter Soldier programme. It's all connect isn't it?
Iron Man 4
One of the key threads of the Iron Man films was Tony's relationship with his father and his unresolved issues with people an arms manufacturer who flies around in a humanoid tank. The darkness of Iron Man 3 is finding further fruition here. Some might question why Pepper is kept off screen again, but the producers have realised that their relationship breeds light screwball comedy and tonally the Captain America films, at least the latter two, don't lend themselves to that. We need to see darkly brooding Tony, grey Tony, morally certain Tony and having him spar with Miss Potts would not have felt right. Plus it's difficult to hire Paltrow and then not give her a story to service especially in the film where one of the rules seems to be "no cameos".
Just right. Unless Homecoming is a complete mess, I think this is probably going to be the big screen portrayal of Spider-man which will finally nail it. The Raimi films did the spectacle whilst getting Peter completely wrong and fucking up the structure of the first film. Andrew Garfield was near perfect in the role but was ill served by the films his performance was housed in as Sony misguidedly attempted to spin their own cinematic universe around him. Spidey has always been at his best when he's had other superhumans to but up against, trade notes and so it proves here. Say what you like about producing yet another screen version of the character when TAS2 hasn't even finished its initial streaming cycle, but his appearance in CA:CW more than justifies it.
Notice the economy with which he's introduced, in a long conversation with Tony which hints towards his origin story, Peter keeping something back, the radio active spider bite (we assume) having occurred six months before. But the details which hint towards the future, the retro technology in his room fished out of dumpsters expressing his poverty, no parents, May bringing him up (isn't Marissa Tomei fabulous?) alone having also lost her husband. Part of that is an adaptation from the comics, but Feige has said that John Hughes will be a key influence on the Spider-Man films and they're already laying the ground work here, as we find a set up not too dissimilar in mood to Pretty in Pink or Some Kind of Wonderful.
There's also his personality which is arguably "young Deadpool" but that just shows how closely they're following what can be found in the comics and in the television cartoons. Plus it's not just he's cracking jokes, he's funny and overawed about meeting all of these heroes and even getting to fight them. This is just how such encounters were portrayed in the comics. We'll see how much of the rest of the comics will be transferred to the screen. As the Garfield films found and Bus Dodge, having had a different adaptation pilfer all the good bits, it's a big ask for the audience to so quickly sit through an alternative version. I'd be quite happy for the Daily Bugle to not even appear in his films, although they will come up against the problem of natural aging. He can't stay in school for the next ten years (or however long his trilogy takes).
Agents of SHIELD.
The Russos have made it perfectly clear they don't give a toss about SHIELD and yet SHIELD does have to give a toss about Civil War. Channel 4 are a bit behind the US in screenings so lord knows what effect all of this business will have on their affairs though it'll probably be less than The Winter Soldier which arguably changed the premise of the series. Presumably the expectation for the Secret Warriors to register will intensify so it's possibly that Daisy et al will decide to break away from SHIELD and go their own way. But the walled gardens between the various bits of the franchise are interesting. How does this registration business effect Daredevil? Or Jessica Jones? Or the rest of The Defenders? One of the ambiguities of the film is the extent to which the accord affects just The Avengers or all superpowered beings as per the comics.
Where do we go from here?
Unlike Age of Ultron, this was mostly about closing off Cap's story for the most part and setting up Spider-Man and Black Panther (and notice how his film doesn't have to be an origin story either now). Vision mentions his jewel so that's still bubbling under but unlike AoU with Thor's bath et al, there's nothing especially new added to those storylines. Looking at the slate it looks like stand alone films will alternate with films setting up the Infinity War, notably Guardians and Thor (although not really since Strange, Spidey and Panther are sure to participate). It's interesting that The Inhumans has been postponed. My guess is there's some hedge betting going on for post Avengers 3.2. Any of these projects could be failures and the backlash could start against these films. The box office on Civil War is going to be very interesting to watch.