A marvelous triumph.
No one can ever accuse Marvel of not being serious enough again. Captain America: Civil War demonstrates that Marvel is capable of mature, adult storytelling, with real pathos and high emotional stakes. Civil War truly is the Empire Strikes Back of the MCU, and I don’t make that comparison lightly.
Captain America: Civil War picks up one year after Avengers: Age of Ultron. Leading the new Avengers, Captain America and co. are in pursuit of Crossbones, a minor villain from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, who is tearing Lagos apart in search of a bio-weapon. After an amazing action sequence detailing the new team’s dynamic, events suddenly turn south and dozens of civilians are left dead.
This is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Death and destruction seem to surround the Avengers, and the world has had enough. The United Nations decides that the Avengers need to be put in check and there needs to be some sort of oversight for these larger than life heroes. They need to be held accountable, which is why they get together to pass the Sokovia Accords in order to control the Avengers. This immediately splits the teams in two. Just as things start to heat up, Cap’s brainwashed psycho assassin best friend Bucky Barnes turns up to complicate matters even further.
I won’t spoil any more of the plot, but I will say that what follows is the most compelling superhero epic I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. Captain America: Civil War is not just the best movie Marvel Studios has produced, it’s the best superhero film ever made. It’s the pinnacle of superhero storytelling, utilizing its cinematic universe in a way that feels earned. Captain America: Civil War is a great film because it’s the thirteenth film in a long-running saga, not in spite of it.
Civil War succeeds as not only the best Captain America movie ever made, but also as the strongest Iron Man movie ever made, the best Avengers movie ever made, and serves as a kick-ass origin story for Black Panther.The Russos are fantastic directors, and one of their greatest strengths is the way they balance their characters.
While Civil War is firmly Captain America’s movie, the Russos manage to give every one of the eleven other superheroes at least one moment in the spotlight. Not only that, but many of the other supporting characters experience fully realized, substantial arcs. Most notably, Iron Man and Black Panther.
The core relationship of the film is Cap’s friendship with Bucky. Cap has become so disillusioned with the state of the current world, so much so that Cap and Iron Man have almost completely switched roles in terms of political ideologies. Bucky remains his best friend and final link to his old life. Bucky is the only one who can fully comprehend Cap’s life experiences, and it’s this loyalty to Bucky that helps split apart the Avengers even further. This is the most unsure of himself Cap we have ever seen, and it’s refreshing to see Chris Evans bring this aura of apprehensiveness to a character who has generally been unflinching in his moral rigidity.
Robert Downey Jr. has been playing the role of Tony Stark for about eight years now, and I have to say this is the best performance he has ever given the character. This iteration of Tony Stark is a very different Tony Stark than we’ve had in the past. This Tony Stark is much darker, much more vulnerable, a few steps away from being broken. The death toll that he is directly responsible for due to his creation of Ultron has severely affected him, and he as every right to believe that the Avengers need to be reigned in. This is the most dramatic Tony Stark has ever been, and Downey absolutely nails it.
But what makes the conflict between these two characters so effective is the fact that neither of them are wrong from their perspective, and the film amplifies that. Both sides are presented in a fair light, both viewpoints are presented as equals. Just because this is Captain America’s movie doesn’t mean that he is in the right morally, just as it doesn’t mean that Iron Man is wrong. All that matters is that they both believe that they are right, and are willing to stand up and fight for what they believe in. And families often fight the hardest.
And then there is Black Panther, who almost acts as his own side in the conflict. Black Panther has his own completely separate agenda. He is his own man with his own justifiable goal, and he will stop at nothing until it’s achieved. I personally found Black Panther’s character arc to be the most gripping, as he arguably experiences the most change over the course of the film. Black Panther is very different from the rest of the superheroes in the MCU. He is very regal and kingly, with a calm and collected rage boiling underneath the surface. Chadwick Boseman embodies these emotions in his performance, and I honestly cannot wait to see him in his standalone film.
There is an enjoyable arc surrounding Vision and Scarlet Witch that I thought worked quite well, along with a humorous friendship/rivalry between Bucky and Falcon. These don’t take up a large amount of time in the film, but the little screen time that was dedicated to these two relationships ended up being quite effective.
And of course, there’s Spider-Man. God damn Marvel, you knocked it out of the park. This is the Spider-Man I’ve been waiting to see on screen for my entire life. Tom Holland is to Spider-Man as Robert Downey Jr. is to Iron Man, and Chris Evans is to Captain America. He is absolutely perfect for the role. Holland’s Spider-Man was such a joy to watch and helps bring some much-needed humor to the film. When the fighting starts to get ugly, Spider-Man is able to bring some levity to the situation, alongside Ant-Man.
Although Spider-Man has a small amount of total screen time, not a second of it wasted. He develops a mentor/mentee relationship with Tony Stark, which primarily serves to further Stark’s character development. And that is what is so brilliant about Civil War’s script. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely understand these characters so well, they are able to connect each and everyone one of their arcs and motivations to the main plot of the film in a way where no character beat, scene, or story line feels wasted or superfluous.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the airport scene. Damn. Without a doubt, it is the best action sequence Marvel has put together in any one of their films, and quite possibly the best action scene out of any other comic book film ever made. I had a giant smile on my face for the entire duration of the scene, as you see both sides of the war face off against one another in 20 minutes of insane superhero action. Every character get’s a moment to stand out in this scene as you see just about every combination of superhero face off that you can think of. It’s pure comic book madness, and I loved every minute of it.
I do have some nitpicks about the film. I didn’t totally buy into Hawkeye’s motivation for coming out of retirement to join the fight, and a certain kiss that occurs between two characters felt unearned to me. About once or twice the Russos implement shaky cam into their action scenes, but honestly, I’m reaching for issues to nitpick. I’ve seen a lot of other reviewers take issue with Zemo as the villain, but I don’t think I could disagree with them more. Honestly, I feel Zemo is the best villain Marvel has given us besides Loki. Zemo was a smart and subtle villain. He had believable, even sympathetic character motivations, and took the plot in some interesting directions that I really didn’t think the film was going to go. Zemo surprised me in ways I definitely wasn’t expecting, and I’m looking forward to seeing his character develop further.
Captain America: Civil War is an exceptionally crafted film. Everything from the pacing, the humor, the action, and the dramatic elements were all put together masterfully, that it’s hard to see Marvel topping this film. It exceeded my extraordinarily high expectations, and get’s just about everything right for a superhero film.