My feelings on Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man in Captain America: Civil War reflect my feelings on the film as a whole: fun, but disposable. I enjoyed watching, but I can’t imagine wanting, or needing, to watch the film again.
Spider- and Ant-Man really are fun. They share between them most of the film’s funniest lines and moments, they’re the only characters with any sort of joy about their abilities and both of them prevent their respective sides in the ‘civil war’ from descending into angsty gloom. On the other hand, you could remove both of them from the film and all that would change would be the film would be about half an hour shorter and marginally glummer. Neither of them helps drive the plot forward and none of their scenes reveal much about their characters. They’re padding. Enjoyable padding, but padding nonetheless.
This sums up the conflict I have with the film, which I really did enjoy as I watched it but left me feeling like I’d filled up on empty calories. A political story about collateral damage and civilian oversight that’s sidelined in favour of a personal feud between a few figures. Fight scenes that are fun, but without consequence or weight. Lots of enjoyable, well-rounded characters that are more there for background detail than anything else. It felt at times as if they decided upon “Civil War” as the film’s subtitle first then bolted on bodies until they had enough to justify it, and I’ve found myself imagining the film as a game of Jenga, seeing how many pieces can be removed before the plot collapses. Quite a few, I think; the film goes for breadth rather than depth.
It’s the female characters that bear the brunt of this. Sharon Carter and Natasha are both relegated to slight, expositional roles, acting as love interest and extra muscle respectively. Paltrow’s Pepper, such a great counterpart to Tony Stark in previous films, is absent after an off-screen break-up. Hawkeye expresses gratitude to Steve Rogers for getting him out of retirement and away from his wife and children — “you’re doing me a favour”. Most galling of all is Wanda, the furious, independent Wanda who swore a blood oath on Stark and was last seen ripping the heart from Ultron’s chest, is here voluntarily confined to her room like a meek teenager, kicking her heels until Hawkeye shows up to give her permission to escape. It’s a confinement justified by Stark on the grounds that it’s ‘for her own safety’ and because she’s ‘just a kid’, in the same film that the 15 year old Peter Parker is granted a ‘man’ suffix for his hero name and is drafted into a tough fight without hesitation. It’s the same patronising paternalism that marred Ant-Man and it grates just as much here.
Perhaps I’m now just expecting too much from these films, but with the ensemble cast of an Avengers film, and the directors and writers of the agreeably meaty Captain America: The Winter Soldier in its pedigree, I’d hoped for a little more from Civil War. It’s undeniably a fun film, but I expect diminishing returns on extra viewings.