It was a well done movie. Clearly, a lot of thought and effort went into it, and I can understand why most fans love it. But I am going to explain to you why I was ultimately underwhelmed (spoilers ahead obvi).
There are better things I could be doing right now, but this has been weighing heavy on my chest and I think it would help to get it out. Because I was prepared to love the movie. In fact, I am jealous of everyone who loved it. So what went wrong?
First of all let me say that for a 2+ hour movie, they didn’t set things up very well. As a result, good character moments and plot points weren’t allowed to simmer (which we all know makes a better soup).
- I didn’t hate the Sharon and Cap moments. In fact, in Winter Soldier I liked their interactions. But here they were out of place. It had been so long since that relationship was addressed that their momentum was lost. In this movie she’s introduced as Peggy Carter’s niece, and it feels like their sudden renewed intimacy is based solely on that. It feels like Cap is suddenly re-interested in her because of Peggy’s sake and not her own and that feels a little weird. Even just one scene of Sharon in the beginning where the audience could have identified with her would have made a big difference. And I will also add, that if a little more of the story had focused on the Sharon/Steve romance it would have felt more like the movie was about Captain America.
- Spiderman. I actually really enjoyed when Iron Man went to his house to recruit Peter Parker. It was one of the best interpersonal sequences in the movie. However…it came out of left field. Really, all they had to do was insert a tiny scene in the beginning of the movie that indicated Tony Stark was keeping tabs on young superheroes, or on young scientists, or both. Then it would have been much more satisfying when we see him come to Peter. Instead, it felt disjointed and kinda like what it really was: a ploy to introduce Spidey.
- The villain. I’ve read both sides of the argument on whether what’s his name was a good villain or not (I can’t even remember his name). I generally thought he was a bad villain, but his motivations were interesting. I think they just played him wrong. He’s a mysterious figure ordering breakfast for most of the movie (ok, maybe that’s not accurate, but that was my lasting impression). I think it would have been more powerful if we knew his motivations from the beginning, if the audience was allowed to feel a little sympathy with him while they watched him tirelessly seek revenge. Instead he was boring and in the end his plan didn’t seem very smart. He lured Captain America and Bucky to a bunker where there were five super-soldiers (all better than Bucky)…but then he killed the super soldiers and he ordered breakfast again so the body would be found in his apartment and Iron Man would come and he really would have no chance. Really? Cap and Bucky aren’t invincible. There’s a good chance they would have been killed (and it would have been interesting to see them fight those odds).
So those are the three things I think should have been allowed to simmer.
My next two issues aren’t really related, but they are two major components of the movie that ultimately turned me off:
- Too many characters. Watching Avengers: Age of Ultron I was almost overwhelmed by the number of characters in that movie. But Whedon struck the balance perfectly so that it didn’t go over the edge. Not with this one. Now granted, I haven’t watched ALL the million marvel movies connected to this one, but I’ve watched a lot of them. Even so, there were at least a dozen times when they referenced a name or character and I went, “who’s that again?” It was frustrating and distracting. I don’t think new characters were introduced well. I understand that they are making a whole connected series, but that doesn’t mean each film shouldn’t stand alone. This is the third Captain America movie and fans who only want to watch the three Captain America movies should be able to without getting lost. Antman, Spiderman, and Black Panther all seemed irrelevant. I really didn’t care what happened to them. I almost cared about Black Panther…almost. But so little screen time was given to him that he was a flat character.
- This was one of the biggest issues of the movie: I didn’t buy the civil war. And wasn’t that the whole premise of the film? It started out pretty well. I could see how the issue was dividing the team in an honest way. But there was some very poor logic that made me frustrated and that whole amped up fight scene at the airport was a joke.
- Poor Logic. Everyone turns against the Avengers because of collateral damage. That part was understandable. But then they kept throwing the term “murder” around and no one corrected it. “You murdered my son,” says the elevator mom. And Stark believes it. No one, not even Vision (Mr. Logic right?) points out that it was manslaughter at best. Murder is premeditated. Also, no one points out that if they hadn’t done what they did in Segovia, the ENTIRE WORLD WOULD HAVE DIED. You know who was planning to kill your son, elevator mom? Ultron was. He died anyway, but at least his death kind of meant something, because the rest of the world got to live on. Now, I can understand how each of them would feel guilty for the destruction they caused, but it was a little ridiculous how no one brought up the other side of the argument. Which lead me back to Vision and his statement that since Iron Man “came out of the closet” there has been a manifold increase in super people and that this likely shows causation. What? I once heard that drownings increase proportionately to the number of popsicle sales. Does that mean popsicles cause drowning? No. It means there’s another factor (hot weather) that causes people to buy popsicles and to swim more. Then Vision says something to the extent of: “Authority incites challenge.” So by being public figures with super powers it was entirely their fault that bad guys happened. What? Again, I can understand one or two people being emotional and thinking this. But no one, I repeat NO ONE questions it. No one points out that there is a much more complicated chain of events going on here. If we really want to examine the question that way we should rewind all the way to Captain America. He was the first superhero. So is this all his fault? But wait, wasn’t the evil red-face villain really created before Cap? So according to the MU Canon, the bad guys really gained superpowers first, and good guys have always been trying to respond and save the world. So the threats are there whether the good guys rise or not. But they don’t discuss this. They are all dumbstruck. I could understand this if they had all recently been through harrowing and traumatizing experiences. But this is at the beginning of the movie. Now let’s move on to that ridiculous airport brawl.
- I couldn’t believe they were trying to kill each other. And I couldn’t believe any of these characters would be disillusioned enough to think they could fight like that and nobody would get hurt. It felt all wrong. Especially the Hawkeye vs. Black Widow scene. They tried to offset it by showing they were still friends: “We’re still friends, right?” “That depends on how hard you hit me.” What? Hawkeye and Natasha have been through hell and back together. Would they really attack each other? No. So were they just “making it look good?” Who would do that? That was totally out of character. It would have been funny if they met up on the battle field and both just shrugged their shoulders. But instead, they actually looked like they were trying…to hurt each other? And of course the writers tried to show that they really weren’t: Wanda throws Black Widow against something hard and tells Hawkeye, “You were pulling punches.” And she seems creepily disinterested that she could have just seriously hurt Nat. At no point in this fight did I feel like any of them were human. And that’s a problem. You might say, “But someone did get hurt: Rhodes got hurt.” Yeah. Rhodes got hurt because the dangerous blast from Vision hit Rhodes instead of Sam…so Iron Man was trying to kill Sam. But then they’re all shocked when Rhodie is actually hurt. What? One review I read said this whole scene is the dream of a little boy who used to smash his action figures together. And it’s true, but not in a good way. It could have been interesting if they had all been trying to disarm each other without injury. But there was no reference to that. And there were too many moments where someone easily could have been killed. Yes, we know at this point they have strong, differing opinions. But what would have been far more effective would be some one-on-one confrontations. “I don’t want to hurt you, but I will do what I have to to stop you…” where we can actually see the internal struggle of “this is my friend.” And then maybe one or two of them do get hurt and we see the anguish afterwards. Instead, it all felt like a jumble and in the end no one seemed personally responsible and it seemed like they could feasibly be friends again…
Which leads me to the final confrontation…
I’ve already explained how I was unimpressed with the villain and his evil plan. The ultimate climax comes down to this: Iron Man finds out Bucky killed his parents, and he is so enraged that he wants to kill Bucky. Cap of course defends his friend, and so they fight each other with maniacal rage.
The problem is that I didn’t buy it.
- We’ve never seen Iron Man get that enraged about anything. “It’s his parents,” you say. Yes, but Tony is a logical guy. He’s a scientist. He’s the one who remains cool under pressure and cracks the jokes. When he’s hurting he become passive aggressive. He knew Bucky had been brainwashed to do things for evil men. Tony’s seen brainwashing before: Hawkeye, Dr. Selvic etc. Tony himself has been responsible for killing people’s sons or fathers. And lastly, Tony knew that “evil villain man” was setting Bucky up, had lured them all here, and showed this video on purpose to set them against each other. The response that would have made sense from Tony would be to walk away heartbroken. I can see him obsessing over work and refusing to speak to Cap. I can see the wound festering over time passive aggressively. That would have been compelling. OR alternatively, if they had drawn out this pain he felt through the movie. They could have shown bad dreams. They could have shown how his “power” as Iron Man was getting to his head and he was more prone to violence (and that would have made sense then that he wanted oversight). But they didn’t show any of this. All we see is him weirdly sharing a vulnerable memory (from like thirty years ago) to a public audience at MIT.
Which leads me to my final point and personal opinion:
I don’t think I like the Avengers when Joss Whedon isn’t writing/directing.
I first noticed this with Captain America: Winter Soldier. I didn’t like Natasha in the Iron Man movies. But in the first Avengers movie I learned to love her with her dry humor and deep set fears. But in Winter Soldier, two minutes into the movie I thought: Why is she so different? Why does she seem like a stranger? And I realized that the different writers/directors were handling her differently. And I didn’t like it.
This movie confirmed that. Captain America stays pretty consistent no matter who’s writing/directing. So does Iron Man (aside from the already mentioned violent outburst). But Black Widow becomes flat and uninteresting. And Hawkeye became cheesy and insignificant.
You may have a different opinion and that’s fine. I really do respect that. You have a lot to look forward to. But as for me…I don’t like how other people handle the story. The characters I loved were crafted and guided by Joss Whedon, and if he isn’t on the project, I don’t know that I want to see the film. What I appreciated from him was that these weren’t just action movies. He added nuances and depths and subtleties to each character. I just found out, by the way, that he isn’t doing the next Avengers movies. Honestly, I think that might be good enough reason to break up with Marvel: “It’s partly you, Marvel and it’s partly me.”
(And yes, Bucky was awesome.)