I had a lot of problems with Civil War the first time I saw it; too scattershot, too cluttered. Honestly, I found it a bit of a chore to enjoy it as much as so many others apparently were. Upon re-watch, however, I found it to be a much more satisfying experience.
A lot of the stuff that I didn’t really get into the first time went down with more ease (you can read my initial thoughts here). This time around I dug the splash page royal rumble and found more concrete in the jumbled structure. Black Panther and Spider-Man didn’t feel as shoehorned in either and I actually got into all the extended digressions and subplots. I’ve been reading a lot of comics lately as well, so maybe I’m just more tuned in to this sort of soap-opera-in-spandex storytelling than I was a few months back.
It still doesn’t quite work as a Captain America story. I don’t understand why they couldn’t just call it Civil War and avoid any disappointment of confusion all together. Yes, the Bucky/Cap thread from Winter Soldier is continued but so are many others from previous movies. I mean, a sequence involving Tony Stark recruiting Peter Parker has no place in a movie with the words “Captain America” in the title. The film works more effectively if you look at it as an ensemble. Perhaps that’s where my initial disappointment came from. I was expecting something far more Cap centric, so naturally everything that wasn’t that, came across like a distraction. Going in for round two, however, I knew what I was in for and actually got on board. Expectations, man. They fuck you up.
I also wish the Russo’s would slow things down here and there and have faith in their shot choices. There are so many strong compositions of stuff in motion that would be elevated to true greatness if only they were held for longer. The sequence where Bucky and Cap beat Iron Man down, for instance, features an extended shot of them double-teaming him (naughty) but just as it’s about to reach devastating heights, they cut back into more frenetic coverage and the effect is immediately extinguished. You go from actually believing Tony might die to knowing full well he will escape with a few cuts and bruises.
Marvel movies just don’t work as stand alone stories anymore. Those days are gone. I revisited Civil War after re-watching both The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier and when viewed as a continuing chapter, with the other characters and threads still fresh in the mind and not with a few years worth of distance, and notas a self-contained instalment, the film held up far better. It’s a mid-franchise stage setter and a loose-end exterminator. And while conventional serial storytelling teaches us you need to make your individual chapters satisfying, we need to accept that we live in an era now where you can leave things unresolved as the promise of a follow-up is guaranteed. It’s a slippery slope, sure, but Civil Warwas far more satisfying when I just went along with it. Beyond initial instalments (the first Iron Man, Ant-Man etc.), to go into a Marvel movie expecting a complete story is kind of hopeless at this point. The story doesn’t end in Civil War but there is an emotional arc that feels pleasingly developed and somewhat concluded. A few months back I found this to be one of the most disappointing moviegoing experiences of the year but now it has become one of my favourite MCU flicks. Who woulda thunk it?