#7 in my Ranking of The MCU Phases 1-3.
Out of all the Marvel movies, this is the one that I want to love the most, but I can’t quite do it. There’s so much going on that goes so well, that the fact that it doesn’t land as well as it should and has a couple of large distractions undermines the affair enough to disappoint me, but not enough to take it from goodness.
The Avengers are causing collateral damage. They’re doing good work, but they’re also hurting people along the way. The governments of the world appreciate the fact that the world isn’t being run by Loki, but they feel like a line needs to be drawn and the Avengers need to be reined in. Some Avengers agree, and others do not. This provides the political reason for the split within the Avengers, but the movie doesn’t turn it personal early enough, in my opinion. An esoteric fight about the relative limits on Avengers power is a great place to start the conflict of the film, but it hangs on that for too long before it gives us the gut punch change that turns the conflict personal and what drives the final twenty minutes of the film.
The Winter Soldier is still on the loose after the events in The Winter Soldier, and it looks like he’s bombed a UN complex in Vienna when the Sokovia Accords are being signed that will limit the Avengers’ authority. This explosion also kills the King of Wakanda, who is there to sign the Accords. A chase ensues after Cap gets a heads up on where Bucky, the Winter Soldier, is, and he helps him escape temporarily until they end up captured and arrested. It is here that Zemo, the actual antagonist of the film, inserts himself, setting off an EMP that kills power in Berlin and gives the secret command codes to Bucky that turns him into the Winter Soldier. Cap gets Bucky away and finds out where Zemo is going next. In order to get to Siberia, Cap and Bucky need to get an aircraft.
It is at the airport that the big battle between the heroes breaks out. It’s big, inventive, fun, and ultimately pretty pointless (the physical stakes in these movies have gotten laughably low), leading Cap Bucky to getting an airplane, chased by Iron Man and the Black Panther. In Siberia, two hours into the movie, we finally learn Zemo’s plan and have the movie move from an political argument to a personal one. Zemo wants to tear apart the Avengers from the inside, knowing he’s not physically strong enough to take them on, so he uses the truth that Bucky, as the Winter Soldier, killed Tony Stark’s parents to splinter them completely. It’s such a great and brutal fight between three people in an enclosed space.
Ultimately, as I said earlier, I wanted to love this movie. It’s got strong themes of liberty versus regulation that echo through so much of what’s going on. It eventually distills that beginning intellectual conflict into a personal one between two heroes we’ve grown attached to over the years. It looks really good and the action is better filmed than it was in The Winter Soldier. However, the big airport fight, while fun, is pretty pointless. We do get one injury, but that’s it, keeping the stakes of these fights really low. There are too many characters that have their moments that don’t feed into the larger narrative (Spider-Man being the most egregious example). And Zemo is underdeveloped. I love the idea of Zemo, but the execution is so relegated to the back end of the film that it ends up losing its impact.
I’d love to see this movie with a smaller cast that allows for greater focus on the central conflict between Stark and Rogers. I’d love for Zemo to have a strong narrative presence early, and I’d love for the information on Bucky’s involvement with Tony’s parent’s death to come out earlier and define Tony’s motives well before the final act. I can imagine scenes where people confront Tony with his opposition ‘ to Rogers’s side because he’s driven by revenge, and he needs to balance his ideals with his personal emotions before ultimately giving in to his emotional side.
Still, there’s so much that’s so good here. It has some of the same issues as Age of Ultron, but it does a better job of holding it all together. It also feels like it gets closer to something special, even if it still falls short. It coulda been great.
Netflix Rating: 4/5
Quality Rating: 3/4