I’ve been thinking about Civil War, which was a really entertaining action movie, with great character bits and action. I read Film Critic Hulk’s excellent think piece on it, and it touched on some of what I was thinking. The big problem I felt about Captain America 3 was, it was actually an Iron Man movie. Major spoilers ahead.
What’s Cap story in this? One of his team members (not him) accidentally kills a bunch of people. Now, usually a story is about a character trying to do the right thing the easy way, and it not working, and so having to do it the hard way. We watch the hero learn a lesson, so we can learn too. We learn more from our mistakes than our successes, right? But Cap doesn’t do that. He’s the kind of guy who chooses the right, hard way first. So, that makes giving him an arc tough. The only thing he does the easy way, is not tell Tony he knows how his parents die. Maybe that should have been given more attention? Maybe we should have had some screen time for Cap’s really hard decision? But no, the movie is about how his relationship with Bucky. That Cap will do anything for the boyhood friend, no second thoughts. Now, it would be great if this thing he does to help Bucky was also to save the world, so he could be proved right in the eyes of the 117 countries who signed the Sokovia Accord. But it isn’t. Saving Bucky isn’t about saving lives. Cap thinks he’s saving the world from a new group of super soldiers but that Chekhov’s gun is disarmed before it becomes a danger. Like Blofeld disabling his own golden bomb. So, Cap’s head-butting with the world ends the way it begins. Neither side sees it was wrong. There’s no change.
What about Bucky? Is there a change there? No. Cap tried for years to track him down. Finally he spends some time with him, enough time to realize he isn’t a cold-hearted killer. But how does the movie end? With Steve committing to deprogramming Bucky? Does Steve take the burden on himself, being there for his buddy every day, reminding him of his humanity? Does Steve commit to finding the code book and destroying it? Does Steve swallow his pride and ask tech-genius Stark for the help to fix his friends mind? Nope. He’s cool with Bucky getting Walt Disney’ed on Ice. So there’s no real follow through on that relationship. It’s just to give Cap his motivation. Not any kind of resolution.
The supposed real villain, Zemo, tried to turn the Avengers on themselves. But how well did that work? Falcon is unquestionably loyal. Scarlet Witch is easily convinced he’s right. Sharon Carter risks her job for him. Spider-Man and Ant-Man are gee-gollied to meet him. Black Panther and Black Widow switch sides for him and treat him as a worthy adversary or friend. Even the poster boy for anti-Cap sentiment, Iron Man goes in to help Steve for what’s supposed to be the final boss battle, and the movie ends with Cap extending an olive branch. Vision and War Machine do both try to stop Cap, but they don’t relish it. There’s pretty much no on-screen adversity from anyone, including his supposed enemy teammates. He doesn’t tear the team apart. He helps define them.
So Cap doesn’t prove the world it’s wrong about him. He doesn’t get to prove the world wrong about Bucky, or help his friend clear his name/get cured/find redemption. He isn’t really threatened by the villain’s main plan to turn his friends on him. Not a very compelling Captain America movie. This movie is just Cap being a juggernaut force that no one can, or really wants to try to, stop. It’s like a natural disaster movie, where instead of trying to escape a tornado or volcano, you’re trying to not get in the way of Stucky.
But if Cap has no personal stakes, Tony is laden with them. He’s the one who’s spent ridiculous amounts of time, money and energy trying to overcome the grief of his parents loss. He’s the one who’s being torn between being Iron Man and being there for Pepper Potts. He’s the one who tries to take the path of least resistance (signing the accord) only to learn he has to do things the hard way (cross General Ross and help Rogers). He’s the one who’s told he’s personally responsible for a young man’s death by the boy’s mother. He’s the one who then drafts another young man into the battle because he can (hopefully) non-lethally subdue his friend, Cap. He’s the one who discovers his parents’ killer and has to overcome his own desire for vengeance. All of that stuff was amazing. Robert Downey Jr acted the hell out of it. It was exciting, and deserved to be dug into deeper. But because the story was framed around Cap so all that felt under-developed. We could have spent some time more with Mrs. Stark, Pepper Potts, or Tony himself. This movie gave Iron Man all the good bits and then made it not about him. That feels like a big misstep. This script feels like it should have been an Iron Man movie with Cap as the antagonist.
Side note: The romantic overtures between Vision and Scarlet Witch seems a bit creepy from an age perspective. Paul Bettany was born in ’71 and Elizabeth Olsen in ’89. Or, if we look at them as characters, Vision is about a year old, and Scarlet Witch is a young woman. Or maybe having an Infinity Stone in his head makes him eternally old, it’s a Doctor Who/Rose Tyler relationship? Any way you look at it, it’s weird.