Captain America: Civil War is the third installment of Marvel’s Captain America franchise and the official kick off of Phase Three in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which will span 10 films between now and 2019. It’s an ambitious franchise venture to be sure, and one that has been almost entirely successful, with Avengers: Age of Ultron being the lone film so far that felt like it struggled to find a balance between telling a story and setting the stage for more franchises. The previous Captain America entry, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, was a genuinely great and entertaining political conspiracy thriller. Captain America: Civil War is another impressive entry in the MCU and establishes the Captain America franchise right up there with the Iron Man franchise as the peak of the “stand-alone” franchises in the MCU.
Civil War picks up where Age of Ultron left off, with Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) leading a newly restructured iteration of the Avengers, which now consists of Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), and, occasionally Vision (Paul Bettany) and War Machine/Joames “Rhodey” Rhodes and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) in more of an administrative role. When a mission taking down Crossbones (Frank Grillo) results in unfortunate casualties and loss of life as collateral damage in the African nation of Wakanda, the Avengers are told by the U.S. Secretary of State, General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt), that there is a peace accord that is days away from being signed that will require the Avengers and other enhanced humans or vigilantes to be supervised by an international governing body. While Tony feels it’s necessary because he holds himself responsible for the events in Sokovia in Age of Ultron, Steve is reluctant to agree to submitting to that kind of oversight given his previous experiences with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra. Before too long, things escalate, a new with the reappearance of Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Soon, lines are drawn and other heroes, including Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and newcomer T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) find themselves on opposing sides of the law. Meanwhile, a man named Helmut Zero (Daniel Bruhl) is working on the periphery of the story to his own mysterious ends.
This film is jam-packed with characters and well-known actors. In addition to the ones I listed above, Emily VanCamp reprises her role as Sharon Carter, the niece of Peggy Carter. Martin Freeman has a minor role as Everett Ross, the head of the Joint Counter Terrorism Center in Germany, a role that is likely to expand in future films. John Slattery reprised his role as Howard Stark, and Hope Davis as his wife. Maris Tomei appears as Aunt May and Alfre Woodard has one brief scene that starts Tony Stark down the path that he follows. It’s a huge cast, and I can only imagine the casts of the next two-part Avengers sequel is going to be even bigger.
Thankfully, directors Anthony and Joe Russo managed to balance almost all of the characters well in the context of the story, even Spider-Man’s inclusion is handled as seamlessly as could be expected given that he was added mid-way through the process of making the film in an agreement with Sony. While it could be easy to just arbitrarily pick which side these characters would take, like choosing teams for a pick-up basketball game, every character is given a legitimate reason for making their decision. If I have one nitpick with the film, it is that it feels more akin to an Avengers film than a Captain America film, given the sheer number of characters. There is still sufficient time given to Cap’s story and there is still some of the investigative elements from The Winter Soldier that I really enjoyed.
Visually, the film looks outstanding. The fights scenes are perfect. There are entertaining set pieces and sequences. The big moment of Team Cap and Team Iron Man squaring off is incredibly entertaining with every character getting a moment to shine. Most importantly, all of the action in the movie is visible and easy to follow for the audience. It’s not shrouded in darkness, drenching in rain, or completely surrounding by fire and smoke. It’s a small thing, but it’s something that DC has yet to figure out as they build toward their Justice League film.
I’m reluctant to spend too much time contrasting this to Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, but it’s nearly impossible not to at this point considering they’re both superhero movies about superheroes fighting each other and both films deal with mass destruction fatigue and criticism. I felt that Dawn of Justice forced its conflict between the titular characters and set up their reasons to fight one another in big, broad strokes and insert a few throwaway lines about how the fighting and massive destruction being wrought upon Gotham and Metropolis are in unpopulated areas.
Marvel, on the other hand, grounds the reasoning of its characters not in grand statements about mankind but in the personal. This is where Marvel leave DC in the dust. Making movies, especially these big blockbusters, is about finding the balance between the larger than life spectacle of films and the quiet, intimate moments that films can provide; between the dichotomy of watching something in the theater on the big screen and in the comfort of your living room. Personally, the films that I find the most rewarding are the ones that don’t scream in big bold letters, “THIS IS A PARABLE!” Rather, it’s the films that say something personal or individual that I can then extract something universal from are the ones that resonate most with me.
The story in Captain America: Civil War is complex and treats the subject matter and the audience with maturity and thoughtfulness. Bucky Barnes is a problematic element thrust into the equation, as he has personal ties to Captain America, but has also done terrible things in the past. It’s something Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, T’Challa, and even Bucky himself have to wrestle with. Scarlet Witch also has to learn how to deal with the responsibility of being an Avenger, and a discussion between her and Captain America plays out well in addressing the issue of reconciling loss of life that comes with the responsibility of fighting evil people in the world. Likewise, the way the film addresses the mass destruction of previous films is handled far better than the way BvS tackled it. More importantly, the film makes what I thought was a welcomed and necessary pivot away from the massive destructions of cities and made the third act about the destruction of relationships.
Captain America: Civil War is the rare third film that lives up to the high standards set by its previous entries. It serves as a worthy sequel to both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron. It sets up future spinoffs (I’m very excited for Black Panther given how good Boseman was here) while furthering the overall story of the MCU. More than anything, though, it tells a story worthy of the characters involved, uses them all effectively, and makes their differences believable. I don’t expect another Captain America film, but I am fully invested in Marvel’s Phase 3. And with the Russo brothers heavily involved in sculpting the outcome of it, I am excited for where they are taking things.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars