I think its important that I begin this by saying that I am a HUGE Captain America fan. The character, his leadership and morality has always had a profound impact on me. That being said, I was both excited and nervous about the prospect of a film based around the Sentinel of Liberty.
"I don't like bullies, I don't care where they're from."
Lets face it: the likely hood of a successful Captain America film seemed pretty slim, especially after the 1990 film with Matt Salinger. Way back in 2008, dark and morally ambiguous films such as The Dark Knight were destroying the box office. Even Iron Man, while significantly lighter in tone still had a womanizing alcoholic as it's hero. How could Captain America compete with characters who brood, dress all in and black or party with cool gadgets? It didn't seem "cool" to have a character who doesn't have a dark background and wasn't inspired by events of pain and loss, instead he does the right thing because, well...its the right thing.
Let's not also forget that his costume is the American flag. That's way too much color for a superhero film, right?
Thankfully, under the direction of Joe Johnson, Cap had a major win. Never mind the fact that this was a step toward the heavily anticipated Avengers film, The First Avenger offered a compelling, character driven story that celebrated that beneath the uniform, the muscle and all the action scenes, it really was about a little guy who just wanted to do the right thing.
As excited as I was for Joss Whedon's The Avengers, I was still nervous. After all, the film is about a man in a metal suit, a thunder god and a dude dressed in an American flag who team up to save the world from aliens lead by another Norse god. Thankfully, the film not only successfully told a great story that had enough breathing room for the cast, it also touched on Captain America being "the man out of time".
"I wake up, they say we won. They didn't say what we lost."
The film also forces Cap to come to accept the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't always open and honest about their objectives, even for a spy organization. Such as when Cap discovers Nick Fury was carrying Hydra weaponry and using Asgardian technology to build weapons.
This story was also further developed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Steve is still trying to understand his place in this new world while confronting the ghosts of war while learning that his list of allies is shrinking. In my opinion, this installment was Marvel's The Dark Knight. It was a dark superhero film that raised important questions about Government, how we see our soldiers, the effects of war and of course the cost for freedom. It also showcased Marvel's ability to tell a strong and grounded story that wasn't just about super powers.
Of course the film has excellent action sequences but the real heart of the film are its characters. Steve exploring the Smithsonian exhibit dedicated to him and his war adventures, coming to terms with being Captain America, viting his lost love Peggy Carter who is battling Alzheimer's disease, the loss and rediscovery of Bucky and the betrayal of what Cap trusted and believed in. If you took away the powers and costume from the Winter Soldier you would still find a compelling story that fits perfectly in post 9/11 America. The film is about friendship, betrayal, soldiers and redemption.
In fact, the title The Winter Solider isn't really a reference to Bucky but actually Steve Rogers. Ed Brubaker explains: The “summer soldier” quote is from The American Crisis, and I believe he meant that the summer soldiers are only patriots when it’s easy to be, but the winter soldier is a true soldier for the cause. Sounds like Captain America to me.
The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier featured a small cast that allowed the story to move at an appropriate pace while having our full attention on our leading character. It is for this reason that I am so concerned about Captain America: Civil War.
"I'm not gonna fight you. You're my friend. "
For those who are not familiar, Civil War is based on a Marvel Comics cross over event that has the government pass a law forcing any one with powers to register in "Superhero Registration Act". This causes a rift in the superhero community between those who support this idea and those that don't. Frankly it boils down to Tony Stark/Iron Man (Pro Registration) and Captain American (Anti-Registration) against each other.
While the story features almost every hero and villain, it is a great Captain America story and an important one. While his super hero career started wearing red, white and blue Cap has constantly been disappointed, disenfranchised, and let down by the government and has renounced his title as the Sentinel of Liberty and assumed other aliases such as Nomad and U.S. Agent. It shouldn't be a big surprise that Steve Rogers would go against the government and its new laws. What made this story feel different was that he was rebelling the government while still maintaining his role as Captain America. He thus became a new Captain America; he was fighting the country in order to save his country. Thus creating two Americas within the story.
"Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?"
Chronologically in the comics, Civil War took place after Cap and Bucky fought each other however Bucky was just a subplot and not even a subplot in Civil War but in the Captain America Civil War tie in. Now, that doesn't mean that you can't have a compelling cinematic take on Bucky during this event. My concern is with the amount of characters existing in the film. Obviously Marvel has proven that can create a film with a large diverse cast.
My concern isn't that the film won't be bad, it could be a good Avengers film but it might not be a good Captain America film. For a cast so large there is a chance that Cap's story could be lost in the shuffle. Especially when that cast has their own colorful costumes and abilities. Just recently it was announced that Paul Rudd's Ant-Man would be joining in the fight as well as the newly cast Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Let's not forget, Black Panther, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Falcon and Iron Man are all going to be in the same film. Will there be room for Cap's continued character arc? Or is there room for my concern?
Each time I've worried about Cap's cinematic adventures, Marvel Studios has always hit it out of the park. That credit of course goes to the creative teams that have brought those adventures to life such as the Russo Brothers who thankfully have returned to direct Civil War.
In an interview with Io9 Kevin Feige had this to say about the upcoming War:
"...What’s fun about Civil War though is, as you know from the comics, it’s a very simple story. And it really has to be, to accommodate that many players. It’s very much a Captain America movie and it’s very much a sequel to the Winter Soldier in ways I don’t think people [will expect].... It’s a very simple structure that allows you to have these amazing character interactions in a way that I don’t think becomes overwhelming. And it’s very much is a kick off to Phase 3 because it sets the dynamic for everything that follows."
I don't really care how this sets up the next phase of the Marvel films. I just want it to be good. Hopefully, my fear is a good sign that Feige and his team will deliver.