My major beef with this movie is that it doesn't close out Steve's arc in any meaningful way. When it was first announced that Cap 3 was going to be based on the Civil War storyline, this outcome is exactly the one I feared, and my concern grew with every casting announcement. I feel vindicated now, but I kind of wish I didn't. Steve was so focused on his mission to save Bucky that we didn't get enough emotional development on the other parts of his story: his continuing adjustment to the modern world, his conflicted relationship with authority, his connections to his other friends and teammates (except for Tony -- that was handled well, I thought), his grief at losing Peggy and tentative efforts to move on with Sharon. All of these things are touched on, but almost none of them in enough detail. And it's not surprising -- there are so many characters and stories to balance in this story that it's impossible to give too much of the focus to any one person. Given the huge returning cast they had to juggle, not to mention the introduction of two major new characters, I think the writers and directors did about as good a job as they could have. And that's great, for an ensemble piece. But this was supposed to be the third and final movie in the Captain America trilogy, not Avengers 2.5. It doesn't feel like a third act -- it feels like yet another Act Two. Which is fine, if we get an Act Three someday, but at this exact moment I am left unsatisfied. Falling in love with Steve Rogers and his story was the whole reason I came aboard this Marvel train, after all.
None of this to say that I didn't enjoy the movie -- I did, quite a lot. As I mentioned, the large cast and competing storylines are well balanced. The conflict was built up organically, not just in this film but in all the stories that preceded it, and I felt the movie did a good job of showing that everyone was both right and wrong. Never mind Team Cap vs. Team Iron Man; I am Team Nuanced Discussion and Realistic Conflict in a No-Win situation. Steve and Tony's relationship got its best development to date, and I thought Tony's story was overall handled very well. I was happy to see Sharon Carter grow into a full-fledged character, and although I know some people will disagree here, I thought the movie did just enough for me to buy her fledgling romance with Steve. Peggy's death was about the one plot point not in the trailers that I was spoiled for (Hayley Atwell dropped some hints on social media while the movie was being filmed), and although I am sad to see my favorite character gone, it was time, and Steve got some important closure in the process. (Also that wonderful moment with Natasha in the church.) I am already in love with T'Challa and would like the Black Panther movie tomorrow, please. Although I could have lived without another white dude Spider-Man, the one we got worked pretty well. The fight scene at the airport was fantastic, and I expect to pick up many details on rewatch. The amount of humor was just right, and I found the villain relatively compelling for one -- Zemo is no Loki or Alexander Pierce, but in a series with weak villains overall, he does pretty well.
It's easily the best MCU film since Winter Soldier, and over time I'm sure it will settle into my top five, at least. My current reaction has as much to do with my thwarted hopes and expectations as it does with anything that actually appeared on the movie screen -- and in truth, I felt the same way about Winter Soldier immediately after my first viewing, because I found the destruction of SHIELD so shocking. I look very much forward to seeing it again, and again, with my expectations properly adjusted. And given that the next two Avengers movies will be created by the same team (writing by Markus & McFeeley, the Russo brothers directing), I have reason to hope that Steve's story isn't done. I just wish we had come to a better stopping place for now.
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