Captain America: Civil War – Review
Unless you just got busted out of the Negative Zone, you no doubt already know that the latest contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: Civil War, hits the big screens this weekend. And unless you had been in the Negative Zone for an extremely long time, you know that this is a pretty big deal, what with the MCU maintaining a stranglehold on both geeks and the movie-going public at large. As the years have gone by, Marvel Studios has been getting more and more ambitious, fitting in larger casts and introducing more and more obscure characters.
This leads us up to Civil War, starring Chris Evans and directed by the Russo Brothers, the team that brought us what many consider the best MCU movie to date, Winter Soldier. And it’s a good thing it came with such a proven pedigree, because Cap’s most recent outing brings with it a wide range of challenges indeed. First of all, it must tackle those tasks shared by most every Marvel movie in some of their most extreme instances yet, including balancing a gigantic cast (12 super heroes in this one), introducing new characters (and especially high-profile ones in Black Panther and Spider-Man), and of course continuing to expand the universe (giving us our first look into Wakanda). On top of all this, it also has to live up to the sky-high expectations that come being the follow-up to Winter Soldier, as well as once again dramatically shifting the status quo for the entire MCU.
How did it do living up to all these challenges?
It did well. It did pretty damn well indeed.
Picking up after the events of Age of Ultron, we find our heroes taking more and more heat in the court of public opinion as the casualties caused by their battles continue to rise. This pushes several world leaders to draft the Sokovia Accords, which calls for the Avengers to be regulated by the UN. This sets our heroes against each other as they come down on opposite sides of the issue, which in turn allows for a resonant, emotionally driven story for the audience. One of the unique advantages of the MCU films is they get to tell long form stories in a way that most film franchises cannot match. When Iron Man and Captain America come to blows, it has weight behind it because these characters aren’t falling back on their status as pop culture figures or the chemistry on a single film, but were instead built up over four years and now 3 films side by side, with their own solo films to further establish who they are and why they do what they do.
On that front, the filmmakers take full advantage of the groundwork laid by other movies to allow for very efficient storytelling, even while balancing a huge cast of characters. We don’t need to invest a lot of time to understand Tony’s motivations for supporting the accords because his sense of guilt builds naturally from the events of Age of Ultron. When Steve is torn between his obligations to his team and his wayward friend Bucky, we can understand how difficult it is for him because we’ve seen him living in both worlds. When our heroes fight against each other, its tragic and heartbreaking, especially in the finale, because its earned that pathos through years of good stories across three franchises.
On the acting front, we have a large cast of returning talents who slide back into their roles with ease. Evans, Downey, Johansson, Stan, and the rest of the longtime franchise vets have their characters down pat, and turn in characteristically strong performances. I was also impressed by the sophomore appearances of Elizabeth Olsen, who gives a far more nuanced, emotional performance than she had a chance to show in AoU, Paul Rudd, who brings back his lighthearted charm as Scott Lang, and Paul Bettany, who continues to impress with his enigmatic take on the Vision.
Perhaps the most impressive of all, though, were the series newcomers: Tom Holland as Spider-Man, Chadwick Boseman as the Black Panther, and Daniel Bruhl as Zemo. Most of the internet is already losing its collective mind over how awesome Holland’s portrayal is, so I’ll just say that it was indeed amazing, and it’s a breath of fresh air to see the wall-crawler being so genuinely enthusiastic. Boseman, on the other hand, gives the Panther a commanding presence that makes him forceful and captivating in all of his scenes. The biggest surprise for me, though, was Zemo, who was practically ignored in most of the advertising, but who turned out to be one of the most competent and sympathetic villains from any Marvel film to date.
For those of you who were just looking forward to some first-class action scenes, though, you are in luck as well. From the opening manhunt for Crossbones, to the three-way chase between Cap, Bucky, and T’Challa, to the highly touted 6-on-6 showdown at the airport, this film lives up to the franchise’s tradition for top notch action scenes. The airport scene in particular is an amazing spectacle, with a constant escalation of great moments, characters playing off of each other, and at a few show-stopping surprises thrown in. All considered, it just might be the best scene from any super hero movie to date.
As awesome as the action scenes are, though, the film also display excellent balance, inserting some moments of lightheartedness to keep things on an even kilter. Spider-Man and Ant Man in particular deserve a lot of credit for this, but in a larger sense, the chemistry between the cast members is what really allows for the mood to be adjusted so well from one scene to the next.
Did the movie have its faults? Of course. The plot here isn’t as tight as its predecessor, Winter Soldier, what with the more sprawling story and far larger cast. Some people might also be disappointed by the story’s climax, which sacrifices spectacle for emotional impact, and which comes down to an uncanny level of manipulation and foresight on Zemo’s part. And if you haven’t been along for the ride through the years, some characters’ motivations might not seem very obvious, and much of the story’s impact will likely not resonate with you.
But honestly, that’s kind of the whole point, isn’t it? This is the movie for those of us who have come to know and love these characters and their world, and will in turn have our hearts broken to see it fall apart. Arguably, the whole reason for having the shared continuity is for these movies to build off of one another, and for a character’s motivations and emotional baggage to carry over from one film to the next. Civil War could only work because of the existence of the MCU, and it does indeed work astoundingly well.
At the end of the day, when the biggest complaint I can think of walking out of the movie is that I didn’t care for the font they used in the establishing shots, you know we’ve got a winner on our hands.
Captain America: Civil War is a triumph of a super hero movie, blending together exhilarating action, great character moments, effortless humor, and emotional punch. Is it the best MCU film yet? I think it might be too early to say, but it’s in contention, and that’s already saying a lot. Run out and see it as soon as you get a chance.
VERDICT: 5 out of 5