Captain America: Civil War continues the year of superhero infighting with the third film in the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan’s franchise… and it’s a really, really damn good one.
Following the massive international attention and body counts from the events of The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, the world – and The Incredible Hulk‘s General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) – want accountability for the heroes’ actions. But when Captain America’s (Chris Evans) new Avengers cause an accident reminiscent of the one that triggered a civil war in the comic book version of this story, a division begins to form in the ranks of the overall team.
In order to save his best friend, the recently resurfaced and globally wanted fugitive Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Cap has no choice but to decline signing the Sokovia Accords, a knee jerk reaction to the “accident” that would put the Avengers under U.N. control, effectively negating their right to choose their own battles. Meanwhile, the recently guilt-laden Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) sees no other option but to submit to its regulation.
Things escalate. New heroes debut, old ones return. Put ’em all together, shake ’em up, drop ’em in an abandoned airport and watch the awesomeness commence. That’s your formula for this massively entertaining film, and I can’t stress how much the aforementioned scene is worth the price of seeing Captain America: Civil War on the big screen. It’s such a phenomenal sequence with great action beats, wonderful humor, and incredibly rich tension lying underneath. The trailers saved plenty of surprises for this intense, expertly choreographed extended action sequence that will have Marvel fans grinning ear-to-ear.
Another aspect I appreciated – showcased exceptionally in the airport scene – was how the film balanced the heavy themes with moments of very well-done humor. Spider-Man makes his MCU debut and he’s hilariously great (more on that later), but Paul Rudd’s reprisal of Scott Lang aka Ant-Man (in one of the movie’s smaller roles, heh) absolutely steals the show with gut-busting one-liners and awe-inducing character moments. If any of the characters in this film see their stock rise as a result of their appearance, it will most certainly be Ant-Man.
The film tells its story with confidence and ease, like a boxer in his prime knowing that every punch is going to land. The script effortlessly weaves the heroes and villains in and out, but rarely in a distracting way. The Russo brothers did an impressive job balancing the huge cast and for once in a superhero film, it feels like almost every character has a purpose to flesh out and advance the story.
Coming off that point, the most anticipated element for fans has to be the debut of Tom Holland as the new Spider-man. Much to my relief, he’s note perfect as the funny (yes!), smart young Peter Parker. I don’t love the suit itself yet (still looks like an animated Spidey), but Marvel geeks will still get some amazing webslinging action that really adds some cool elements to the wildly inventive fight sequences.
Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is yet another much-hyped character debut, but disappointingly felt much more like a tacked on character for MCU world-building than any real purpose. Boseman is a great choice for T’Challa and the character has more screen time and is more integral to the plot than Spidey, but yet still felt underdeveloped and flat compared to everyone else that leaped off the screen with personality and character development. But if you want some sweet Black Panther fight scenes, you’ll at least be satisfied with those.
Probably my biggest nitpick of the film lies in a similar note: the film’s villian Zemo (Daniel Brühl) fails to leave any real impression as a character. Yes, the name will invoke Marvel fan memories of Cap’s WWII nemesis, the purple masked Baron Zemo. But this version is Zemo in name only, and shares very little with the character’s roots other than a hatred for The Avengers.
Brühl is a fine actor, but he’s criminally wasted in a role that gets overshadowed by the larger hero conflict and bogged down in an evil scheme that seems ripe with dumb luck and logic leaps. Unfortunately, this leads Captain America: Civil War to hit its high note in the airport sequence around the end of the midway point and not in the third act’s final battle. The finale fight isn’t a failure, and it’s overflowing with emotion in a smaller more intimate fight, but Zemo’s involvement overall is weak at best.
But there’s plenty more to love in the film from Vision’s (Paul Bettany) interactions with Wanda aka The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), to the love/hate relationship between Falcon (the awesome Anthony Mackie) and Winter Soldier/Bucky, to the all-too-brief appearance of Crossbones (Frank Grillo). I didn’t even get around to mentioning in-depth how terrific Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. are in this film – but they are.
Everybody gets ample screen time, especially Iron Man, but Cap is very much the central figure in this story… but let’s be honest and call this movie what it is: not a Captain America solo film, but an Avengers team film. For my money, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is still the best overall MCU film to date, but Captain America: Civil War is the best Avengers team film, proving that the MCU is in great hands with the Russo brothers going forward.