As far as we know, Captain America: Civil War is the finale of Captain America’s trilogy. Superhero movies have a troubled history in this respect, at best having been mixed among the fan base and at worst tainting the legacy that a successful series leaves behind. With Captain America: Civil War, I feel confident this pattern has finally been broken.
I COULD DO THIS ALL DAY
**This is spoiler free review, read on in peace!
The main crux of the film deals with the fallout from previous movies in the MCU. The people of this world are afraid after the massive loss of life and property damage in The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Age of Ultron. Early on in the movie as Captain America and his new team carry out another operation that ends in tragedy, the governments of the world finally say they have had enough. The points about collateral damage have been briefly touched on in the past, but here it really cuts to the viewer on a personal level. We see these battles from another point of view, one that doesn’t just allude to the losses, but drives home the fear that such things can inspire.
The film succeeds as a culmination of plot lines and tensions that have been brewing since the beginning of the MCU. We see how much Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has changed in the years since he was brought into the modern world. Once having gladly served his country to fight back against the Nazi’s, he now is willing to question the leadership of the government. We see how the repeated blows to Tony Stark’s ego and having to face the fact, that his arrogance has led to so many deaths, makes him someone who accepts that he needs to be accountable to somebody. It is refreshing to see such character growth and change, as these characters have now existed on film for close to a decade, they should change and be very different from the men we first met, and this change feels organic. When looking back at what Steve and Tony have gone through, one can easily trace how their attitudes and views would grow.
While a large point of concern should be the large cast involved in such an undertaking, the Russo Brothers experience with ensembles serves them well as they manage to keep the story focused on Captain America and Iron Man, while still giving the supporting cast some great scenes to develop and play a part in the story. Seeing the relationships and struggles that begin to crumble in the wake of the division can be heartbreaking, and even more so because there is no clear and obvious right answer on the matter, something the source material failed to balance well. In the hands of another director, this aspect could have been done in a manner that made the film drag or made the story feel choppy. As anyone who has seen Community can attest, Anthony and Joe Russo know how to ensure subplots do not overtake or detract from the main story, but in fact tie into it extremely well.
New additions such as Spider-Man and Black Panther come to life in a way sure to make fans of these classic characters’ cheer, and luckily the story doesn’t get bogged down by attempting to introduce too much about them. At the same time, it succeeds in giving us enough information to make clear their importance to this world. With such a brief appearance by one of the most famous superheroes in the world, Spider-Man doesn’t steal the show, but he does stand out and unlike other characters who may sadly never receive a solo film, the few minutes of screen time devoted to everyone’s favorite web slinger, wets the appetite for a solo outing. Black Panther, however, receives a strong character arc and the allusions to his wider mythology again make the audience crave more from this mysterious new figure.
Like The Winter Soldier before it, the fight scenes deliver and on a much bigger scale. With the airport battle viewed in the trailers, instead of playing out with characters pairing off to fight one on one, is chaotic and a mad scramble, with excellent displays of each character’s skills and abilities. With ten different people running around and with different goals in mind, the brawl is coordinated to give everyone a chance to shine, but not so organized that is feels choreographed. The care given to showing how differently each character works in combat, offsetting the variety of strengths and weaknesses is a sight to behold.
However, few things come close to the two on one – Bucky and Steve versus Tony fight. As hinted at in the lead up to the film, this fight is one that escalates realistically until we have a no holds barred and brutal example of just how fractured these once tight-knit allies have become. This was a fight that few could have expected would end in the manner that it does.
Many common complaints of MCU films such as an overreliance on humor or forgettable villains are put to rest with this film and at the end, you can easily see this as the start of a new phase as the world is changed in a manner that sets up for story arcs down the line.
The humor is present in some scenes, but it is downplayed compared to the prior outings in the MCU. While there are still the occasional snarks, the seriousness of the situation is hammered home as friends fight friends, people mourn their losses, and many figures express doubt at the justification of their actions.
Helmut Zemo in particular has now become my favorite MCU villain (movie-wise at least), as he is an antagonist unlike any other we have seen in the films. Zemo, much like his Hydra predecessors, is a believer, a man who has a mission that he has justified. At the same time, he is tragic in ways that can bring a tear to the eyes of the viewer. But most importantly, he does something that no other villain in the MCU can claim, and something I won’t spoil for you here.
What stands out the most though is the willingness of the writers to take some major risks that end up paying off and subverting the expectations that everyone had going in. The movie doesn’t end in a way anyone predicted and leaves us anxious for the future of the MCU. The classic (or cliché) tropes of a superhero “lets you and him fight scenario” are absent from this film. Instead we have our expectations subverted, inverted, and rebuilt until we end up with a film that breaks the formula not only for Marvel films, but for previous comic book films. The story leaves you debating with your friends on the way out of the theatre, questioning where the movies go from here, and a difficulty with identifying who the villain was in the matter, or even if there is one. While the actions taken and the consequences they lead to can be horrifying, it’s hard to identify who is responsible for the escalation. It’s even harder to think of what could have been done differently given the situation, although many of us will try to think of how we would have prevented it.
I was nervous about Civil War. As I said, in superhero films, the third outing has a history of not going over well. In Captain America: Civil War, I actually wonder what will be able to top this. The Captain America films have been by far my favorite of the MCU, and I can now say with certainty, it is my favorite trilogy ever as we reach the conclusion. Civil War delivers on a more serious take on the superhero genre, a game changer in the canon it occupies, and a film that tugs at the heart and makes you question traditional takes on hero and villain. There are moments to cheer, there are times of sadness, and in the end you will be anxiously awaiting what comes next.
I have said it before: a perfect score is not something I award lightly. But when something comes along in a genre that so circumvents expectation and formula, speaks to its audience in such a manner that it makes them think at the same time as making them feel and resting on the edge of their seat, I cannot help but say it is a must see.
+Well balanced cast
+Excellent fight scenes
+Clear motives and characterization
+Serious take while still being fun to watch
+Great use of the wider canon without feeling bogged down
+Black Panther and Spider-Man
Nick Ramirez has an encyclopedic knowledge of Marvel comics and lore. Think you know more? Test his knowledge on Twitter.
Check out other review and opinion pieces of Marvel media below:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review
Captain America: The First Avenger Review
Geek Suggested Reading: The Winter Soldier
Geek Suggested Reading: Ant-Man
Geek Suggested Reading: Hawkeye
The Avengers: Age of Ultron Review