THEATRICAL REVIEW: Captain America: Civil War
Produced by: Kevin Feige
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Edited by: Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt
Cinematography by: Trent Opaloch
Music by: Henry Jackman
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Emily Van Camp, Tom Holland, Daniel Brühl, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, John Slattery, Kerry Condon, Martin Freeman, Marisa Tomei, Hope Davis, John Kani
Based on the Marvel comics by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
The rumors are pretty much true: Captain America: Civil War is basically The Avengers 2.5. Cramming in nearly all of Marvel’s cinematic heroes since the beginning of this franchise while adding in a few new and especially notable faces along the way and promising to deliver on the film’s promise to deliver the goods when it comes to having them fight against each other for the first time was an ambitious and risky move by the studio. Not only did they run the risk of losing track of characters within multiple storylines, they also ran the risk of drawing comparisons to their most obvious competition, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film that made the mistake of going far too dark and gritty in addition to being overly bloated with the plotting of its central conflict, all with even fewer characters than what Civil War throws at us. Marvel, however, rewarded the Russo Brothers after their phenomenal first go at the MCU, The Winter Soldier, by entrusting them with the task of adapting the now famous (and some would say infamous) ideological clash between Captain America and Iron Man and their respective teams. Would the Russos strike gold yet again?
You better believe it.
Civil War, like most MCU movies before it, takes that basic concept of the comic book plot – this time the story of two iconic heroes fighting each other – and reinterprets it to fit the context of the MCU so far, so don’t go expecting a direct adaptation of the oftentimes infamous 2006-2007 event. There, the conflict was over whether superpowered beings should register with the government, reveal their identities publicly, and become a sort of law enforcement under their authority. Here, the basic premise is somewhat similar, building off of the events and aftermath of the previous films – particularly the destruction of Sokovia in Age of Ultron. The destruction left in the wake of these conflicts have led to the world’s governments to call for the Avengers to sign themselves over to the authority of the United Nations with the creation of the Sokovia Accords. This would thereby ensure that any missions they partake in are officially sanctioned and recognized while hopefully also limiting collateral damage to civilian populations.
Each Avenger is required to sign the Accords, but, naturally, internal conflict arises over whether they wish to be under such a large bureaucratic authority. Sides begin to form, with each member falling in line, more or less, with either Tony Stark, who is still feeling extreme guilt over his creation of Ultron, or Steve Rogers, who worries that the Accords may compromise the team’s integrity in taking on missions that they believe to be right. The conflict becomes personal, however, when Bucky Barnes makes a reappearance in the worst way possible, seemingly once again under the influence of his Winter Soldier programming, and, with him, a new light is cast on events from characters’ pasts that will forever change the relationships between the individual Avengers.
Let me get this out of the way first: I have seen this movie twice now and, by the time this review is being published, I have also (between Mother’s Day and job searching – Yay!…) let the movie ruminate in my head for a while, pondering the story and researching the original and all that. And I can honestly say at this point that anyone hoping that this would top The Winter Soldier in terms of wanting a taught, focused story – particularly one focused more on Captain America alone, as this is just as equally Iron Man’s movie – may find themselves a bit disappointed with Civil War. Personally, I still think The Winter Soldier just edges out Civil War in terms of quality. It was just a better story and more meaningful film, while Civil War feels more like a popcorn blockbuster that you still need to think about once in a while. Its effects are also not nearly as seamless, with a lot of obvious green screen and stunt doubles, who aren’t quite hidden by at times over-aggressive shaky cam.
However, that is by no means condemning of this movie, either. Civil War juggles a lot of plot and has a lot of even bigger supporting characters than the previous Captain America movie, and it even features the introduction of two major brand new heroes that we had never previously seen before in Marvel’s universe on top of bringing together all but two of the ones we’d previously met. (We’ll find out what Thor and Hulk were up to around this time in 2017 – don’t’ worry!) While this does result in the Civil War feeling a lot more crowded, and the plot is maybe a bit more rushed than it perhaps should’ve been – the film is already 147 minutes long, but I easily would’ve been happy to sit through another 15 or so just to get a few more quiet character moments – it is still a phenomenal achievement in superhero filmmaking.
Never once does it feel as though the film is presenting anything extraneous, and while it does feature a wide range of characters and several big set pieces, it’s smart enough to leave even the big cast members as supporting characters to Captain America and Iron Man. The action, as big and spectacular as it is, supports the emotional stakes of this conflict, making for both entertaining and devastating interactions between characters we’ve grown to love so much. It doesn’t lose its way in contriving ways of having its characters come into conflict, unlike a certain other film that pits two major heroes against each other this year. Everything makes sense, and everyone has a reasonable argument for why they believe what they do, even if you agree with one more than the other.
The acting, as ever, is top notch, too, and I don’t even mean “for a superhero movie.” Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr. are basically the Marvel MVPs when it comes to acting in these films, and by centering the story around these two guys, in roles that will forever be synonymous with their portrayals, Civil War sets itself at the top of the heap. Evans perhaps doesn’t get as much to work with as he does in previous Captain America movies, but, as ever, he still continues to be the steadfast, altruistic hero we all love. Downey, however, continues to be the highlight. No longer is he just a quip-spitting, ego-driven bad boy. Ever since the events of the first Avengers film, Marvel and Downey have been revealing a more conflicted and uneasy Tony Stark. Unlike Hawkeye, he never received any training to deal with the shit he’s seen, and this has led to some fantastic and fascinating character development over the years, and Downey and the writers continue to delve deeper into his character, with satisfying results. If you had to ask me, I was more on Cap’s side in this conflict, but I certainly empathized a great deal with Tony Stark, who is ostensibly in the antagonist role here, even though he’s never the outright villain.
Speaking of which, there is a villain, played by Daniel Brühl, and while the actor is just fine in the role, he is ultimately someone who works in the background. I didn’t feel as though it was extraneous, as there needed to be a unifying catalyst for the character motivations beyond just political disagreements that give us hope that the team might survive, but the focus is very much so upon the superheroes, and I’m perfectly okay with that since there are so many great moments with them – particularly the brand new guys introduced: Black Panther and Spider-Man! Unlike with Spider-Man, I was never very familiar with Black Panther, and the film is wise to give him basically the tertiary focus of the film so that everyone can become acquainted with him. Similarly, it is also wise enough to basically assume that everyone knows the origins of Spider-Man by now and so focuses on introducing this continuity’s version of him instead. And, let me just say, Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland are fantastic in their respective roles. Boseman’s Black Panther has a wise, regal confidence that suggests some arrogance that likely comes with being the Prince of Wakanda, and his fighting style is also distinctly ferocious and stands out in even the most crowded action scenes. I’m very much excited to see him in his solo film. Holland’s teenage Peter Parker is also immediately endearing upon introduction and is already justifiably being called the definitive depiction of the character. He’s authentically young and nerdy without being a parody, and when in full Spider-Man mode, he’s even more entertaining. Finally, we get the jokester we’ve always wanted! Finally, we get to see him in his element and in awe of the heroes who inspired him! I’m just… so happy with the way his character turned out. I guarantee that any complaints of yet another reboot will be allayed here.
Captain America: Civil War may as well have been called Captain America vs. Iron Man or even given an official Avengers title, but, regardless of that, it’s yet another fantastic addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the superhero subgenre itself. It delivers on almost all fronts – action, fanservice, storytelling, character moments, and stakes that are genuinely high in nature – and it might just be the one superhero film that best handles such a packed story and roster of characters, even better than Age of Ultron. Two movies into this universe, the Russo brothers have proven to be more than worthy successors to Joss Whedon for the proper Avengers films. And with both Black Panther and Spider-Man: Homecoming still coming before that, I am more than happy to wait for the rest of Phase 3 of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe to unfold because of Civil War.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4.5 / 5