Captain America: Civil War: 4 out of 5
Captain America has had a good run in my book. The First Avenger is my favorite of the earth-based Marvel origin stories thanks to the handling of the character, the ensemble cast and Joe Johnston’s stylish retro direction. Winter Soldier was Marvel’s espionage thriller that was so good it actually made TV’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. better by proxy. Now we have Civil War, which essentially places a mini Avengers film inside of another high stakes adventure for Steve Rogers. The results are wildly entertaining, while still making room for emotional resonance.
Taking some inspiration from the comic book storyline written by Mark Millar, this Captain America adventure places heavy emphasis on the cost of being a superhero. Following events that kick off the film, along with placing the weight of the destruction seen in previous films on our heroes, the UN has developed the Sokovia Accords, which have been designed as a way to place control over the Avengers. Captain Rogers (Chris Evans) is not on board with this idea, but Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is. Shaking things up further is the reappearance of the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), which leads to an assortment of different confrontations.
At this point, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not attempting to stop and catch everyone up on who each character is. Some may not find that completely fair, but at the same time, it comes down to how good the writers are at making sure what we see will matter to anyone that enters a theater to watch this giant superhero film. Civil War is obviously capitalizing off of having so many heroes in one film, and in a battle against each other no less, but it is a Captain America story and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do what they can to signify why these characters are important to it, with heavy emphasis on Steve getting his friend Bucky back.
As a result, the personal conflicts manage to feel important, no matter how little the chances seemed that one Avenger would actually kill another. The personal journeys of Steve, Tony, Bucky and newcomers T’Challa (aka the Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman) and Zemo (Daniel Brühl) resonate in ways the ultimately take it beyond some screwy comic book logic that could easily upset a weaker film. Additionally and true to form, this film is still incredibly fun to watch, with plenty of supporting players and a fine handle on tone to keep the proceedings both exciting and light, when necessary.
I mentioned Boseman and he deserves plenty of acclaim, as his handle on T’Challa/Black Panther is appropriately soulful. His solo film due out in 2018 cannot come soon enough. Most of the regulars (Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner) are all back and providing what is needed as well, but the film has a new wall-crawling ace up its sleeve as well. Tom Holland makes his debut as Spider-Man and the character is a joy to watch. His interactions with the already initiated members of the MCU are very amusing and he is only rivaled by an equally impressed Paul Rudd, who is here to don the Ant-Man suit in the film’s centerpiece – a massive superhero showdown at an abandoned airport.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo stage many impressive action scenes throughout Civil War and they have the benefit of being quite varied. A little too much shaky cam here and there, but you get to see super-powered individuals doing their best to face off against each other and those coming after them. This approaches a new level when considering the big battle of the Avengers (and friends). While it is overlong and not much different than a Transformers finale in terms of the arcs of those fights, I imagine few will complain at the sight of so many comic book splash page-worthy shots of our heroes taking each other on and making great use of their powers in unique and exciting ways.
What helps this 13th Marvel Studios film stand out further is the emphasis on the causes the leaders of both sides stand for. In a year where Marvel and DC are essentially in a fan-created competition for who is the best, it is interesting to see how both are basically tackling the same issues. These movies are based around how to deal with the collateral damage caused in previous films and what makes Civil War the unquestionable champ is how well-defined both characters are, when it comes to knowing why it is that they are doing what they are doing. Past histories, ego and even slight misunderstandings may play a role, but the developments are organic to the story and enough to leave repercussions on where things will go from here.
Whether or not this is the darkest chapter in the MCU should not matter, as all of these films do not lose their sense of humor, no matter how intense the action may get. That is a big part of the fun. It is only made better for reasons I can attribute to why I think The First Avenger was great to begin with. Evans and the writers have a great handle on what makes Steve tick and they challenge that very well here. Put aside all the other characters, you still have a personal journey that happens to involve a few others who are very important to this film’s climax.
It may not help that Brühl’s work as the lead villain will go down the same way as Robert Redford (well-acted, but not much of a charismatic presence), but where he pushes the lead characters to ultimately results in a finale that is far more satisfying than what many may presume, based off what the film sets up. I have some gripes concerning convenient plot points and some internal logic of the film, but it is lessened by seeing how willing Civil War is to push certain individuals to their limits. I can only wonder what happens by the time we see Avengers 3.
As a film pre-ordained to be a gigantic blockbuster, it is surely much more encouraging for audiences to know they will be getting a really good film. It is another addition to this massive franchise, which means there is only so much in the way of directorial ambition and moves to shakeup the formula, but the film plays incredibly well. Captain America: Civil War brings character-based dramatic stakes and some interesting thematic ideas to a large playing field full of incredibly crowd-pleasing moments. It’s the action-packed summer movie that will be sure to have audiences choose sides and be wowed.