Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot points we can’t reveal in our review.
One of my major complaints about Marvel movies, even the ones I really like, is that they all tend to end exactly the same way: Our hero or heroes gather in some enormous space and duke it out with the bad guys for about a half hour. Sometimes—okay, usually—that big fight will also involve a giant floating something or other, which will inevitably come crashing to the surface in a billowy bloom of special-effects spectacle. I think the idea is that audiences will revolt if you don’t give them some final bang for their buck, but I confess to sometimes tuning out a little during these climaxes, in part because whoever’s in the director’s chair seems to tune out, too, ceding their awe-and-wonder responsibilities to the CG team.
So I’m relieved to report that Civil War switches things up a bit, even while delivering on the promise of some parting action. Tracking the bad guy to Siberia, where they assume he’s planning to revive the remaining five Winter Soldiers, Cap and Bucky discover that these frozen armies of one are already dead. Brühl’s villain—who, as it turns out, watched his entire family die in the attack on Sokovia, during the final minutes of Age Of Ultron—has lured Cap, Bucky, and Iron Man to his lair to reveal to them a shocking truth: It was Bucky who killed Iron Man’s parents in 1991, a mission the film smartly opens with and mysteriously keeps returning to in flashbacks. His revenge is destroying the relationship between these men, and the movie climaxes with Captain America and the Winter Soldier locked in brutal, arm-severing, life-or-death battle with Iron Man.
It’s a smart, bleak, dramatic finale, and the rare instance of an MCU picture keeping the stakes scaled to a personal level, instead of simply going for the world-in-peril upshot. Brühl is a more interesting foe in theory than in execution—he spends most of the movie pulling strings from the darkness, and we’ve seen this kind of vengeful-survivor villain before in this universe—but I admire the dark audacity of letting him essentially “win.” The movie would be stronger if it could end on that downbeat, Empire Strikes Back note, instead of already nudging us towards an inevitable reconciliation with Rogers’ letter to Stark. Still, nice to see a Marvel finale that really affects the characters. No tuning out this time.
Oh, and as far for the post-credits scenes: They’re both just setup for future solo outings—the first one establishing that Bucky will be going willfully back into deep freeze at the Black Panther’s jungle HQ, the latter doing little more than giving us another quick glimpse at Spider-Man. Neither stinger is essential, but both films are probably worth getting excited for, considering what their stars do with the characters in Civil War.