After the somewhat lackluster results of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man, Marvel returns to form with Captain America: Civil War; an unrelenting punch to the solar plexus that’s literally overflowing with action and fun. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo understand that good superhero movies are forged between the action set pieces. Fists and wisecracks land with startling regularity, and there isn’t a shred of emo goofiness to stain the effective character drama. Simply put, Captain America: Civil War has everything a superhero movie needs to save the day.
Civil War has no business working as well as it does. With no fewer than 12 superheroes vying for our attention, never once do the filmmakers feel overwhelmed. Sure, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely take a few shortcuts in the name of narrative expediency (a strategically placed security camera provides a major plot point, for instance), but their script is remarkably adroit for popcorn fare. Each character has an understandable viewpoint that lends added importance to the decisions that they make.
After The Avengers battle with Ultron left Sokovia in ruins, the world was understandably tired of their superhero shenanigans. In response, the United Nations drafts the ‘Sokovia Accords’ to dictate when, where, and how The Avengers fight interstellar baddies in the future. Team Iron Man is onboard with the Accords. Still reeling from his unilateral creation of Ultron, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) believes that oversight will mend the severed trust. Joining him are his faithful lackey War Machine (Don Cheadle), the world’s first J. Crew superhero, Vision (Paul Bettany), the suddenly diplomatic Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and newcomers Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Unlike the recent Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there is no quibbling over motivations or God complexes; the citizens of Earth are simply tired of being collateral damage.
Standing opposed is Team Captain America. Cap (Chris Evans) has seen this movie before; he knows The Avengers will become glorified puppets for their bureaucratic overlords. Further complicating matters is his questionable allegiance to public enemy #1, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Joining Cap are his faithful lackey Falcon (Anthony Mackie), the telekinetic wrecking ball Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), the dude who shoots arrows (Jeremy Renner), and a scene stealing Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).
The beauty of these loose affiliations is that each makes sense within the confines of this universe. It might seem unlikely that a free-spirited ego maniac like Stark would willingly yield to government regulation, but his sudden attack of guilt makes him vulnerable (not to mention he made his bones as a weapons contractor for the government). Conversely, Captain America is well aware of the price paid by ‘soldiers on demand.’ He serves his conscience full-time, not as a matter of convenience like Stark. It’s a surprisingly nuanced argument, made possible by the meticulous attention to character detailing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Indeed, when tasked to find reasons why Marvel has succeeded in their conversion to the big screen while DC has largely failed, look no further than the characters. Can anyone say, for instance, what Superman’s motivations truly are? Does he even care about humanity beyond Lois Lane? It’s an egregious oversight that relegates Superman to the status of ‘uninteresting killing machine.’
By contrast, Civil War gives even secondary characters like Ant-Man and Black Panther ironclad reasons for their behavior. No, it’s not exactly the stuff of Shakespeare (Ant-Man is just excited to be on the team and fighting back against The Man), but it provides plenty of room for the characters to interact and grow. You know… all that interesting storytelling stuff!
Co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo have an amazing feel for this material. Their pacing is impeccable. Even at nearly 2.5 hours, there isn’t an ounce of fat on Civil War. The action choreography is stellar, particularly in the film’s centerpiece set, when the two factions have a colossal clash at the airport. The Brothers Russo not only re-capture the anarchic spirit of Whedon’s original Avengers in this scene, they improve upon it. It’s effortlessly chaotic, hilarious, and heart breaking in equal measure. The upcoming Infinity War series appears to be in very capable hands.
When searching for flaws, one is reduced to picking at nits. Chadwick Boseman struggles at times, particularly with his oscillating outrageous accent. It’s still unclear if he has the chops to carry a standalone Black Panther film, but one should always reserve judgement when dealing with the wizards at Marvel. Likewise, Daniel Brühl doesn’t have much to do as the enigmatic villain, Zemo. Unlike past Marvel villains, however, Zemo is refreshingly human. He’s just a regular man consumed by hatred and vengeance for the “heroes” who killed his innocent family in Sokovia. “My daughter wanted to see Iron Man,” he laments. The filmmakers should also be commended for not giving Zemo a pet monster just to induce more pointless punching (See: Doomsday in Batman v Superman).
Captain America: Civil War is about as close to perfect as a lightweight superhero film can get. Big action, colorful characters, clever storytelling, and just a hint of genuine drama sprinkled into the fun. What more could you ask for?