Fulfilling the promise made at the end of Iron Man, Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War is the best of the bunch. Combining the smart Cold War vibe of Winter Soldier with extremely crowd-pleasing Avengers humor and spectacle, the latest film in the MCU also has the most heart. And it’s not afraid to break ours.
By now, you’ve likely seen the hashtags #TeamCaptainAmerica and #TeamIronMan. What makes the third entry in the Captain America series such a success is that audiences will side with both teams throughout. Stark might have has ego, and Rogers can be a stick in the mud, but in the end, no fan of these characters wants to see them turn on each other and, by extension, break apart the mightiest heroes.
However, that doesn’t mean no one does. Daniel Bruhl (Rush), a solid, somewhat underrated actor has just the right balance of intelligence and menace as Zemo, a man dead set on unleashing more Manchurian Candidate shenanigans by way of Bucky, Cap’s once-thought dead friend, a.k.a. The Winter Soldier. Early on, Bucky is wanted for a horrendous crime, which becomes the tipping point for Secretary of State Ross (William Hurt), the African province of Wakanda, and other places the Avengers have gone into without permission, often leaving a ton of collateral damage in their wake. Ross realizes that Tony, Steve, and the rest of the gang aren’t the main cause for the death toll, but as Vision points out, the very existence of the Avengers pushes opposing groups to go bigger, to be more world-ending in scope.
The first act of the film is arguably the slowest, but it needs to be. There are scenes with characters delivering monologues on the responsibility of enhanced individuals and others about doing what’s right even when everyone else says it’s wrong. That last speech comes from Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) who has a budding romance (finally) with Steve. At the same time, Tony Stark has an encounter with a mother (Alfre Woodard) whose son was killed as a result of the damage done in Sokovia in Age of Ultron.
Pretty much every character gets a chance to state why they feel the Avengers should or should not be put in check. The United Nations is calling for them to sign the Sokovia Accords, which states no action, especially on foreign soil, would occur by Iron Man & co. without permission to intervene. For Stark signing the agreement is a no-brainer while Rogers doesn’t want to put his trust into any outside group, as he believes intentional or not, such organizations ultimately look to serve their own agendas. Unlike the contrived conflict in Batman v Superman, directors the Russo brothers (Winter Soldier) realize the key is in knowing that both sides are right. All of this is quite personal for new-to-the-team Scarlet Witch who grew up in Sokovia and in this film’s opening makes a mistake that costs innocent lives.
As they did in Winter Soldier, the Russos present Marvel films with a filmmaker's vision. Whedon brought witty dialogue between a big ensemble, but while the Russos provide plenty of laughs they stage some magnificent action scenes. (Still a bit too CGI, though.) A motorcycle chase between Bucky, Cap, and Black Panther is nearly Terminator 2-level amazing. Most of important of all, they can tap into audiences affections for the characters in ways that can be sad in the right way.
Speaking of Black Panther, he’s one of two new heroes introduced in the film. Played by Chadwick Boseman, the African King is the most sympathetic and gentlest of all of the “rich kid turned hero who wants to save his city” (okay, kingdom) I’ve ever seen. As he did in the James Brown biopic Get On Up, Boseman isn’t afraid to play sincerity and intensity sometimes in the same scene. Oh, and his suit looks awesome, even when getting teased by Falcon about clearly being too into cats.
The other new addition is the much hyped, albeit brief, appearance of Peter Parker/Spider-man. As played by Tom Holland (The Impossible), this Spidey is hands down the best version of the webslinger ever put to screen. He banters, he’s optimistic, and he clearly seems like a teenager compared to a middle-aged guy like Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony. I’ve loved Spidey as a kid myself and now I finally have that version on the big screen. And how awkwardly hilarious is it is to see Tony flirt with the hottest Aunt May ever as played by Marisa Tomei?
Ever since Nick Fury showed up post credits to speak to Tony about the Avengers Initiative, the Marvel movies have been slowly building their inter-connectivity between characters and worlds. The first Avengers film was a terrific debut that put many superheroes in one film. Now with Civil War we have a story that puts them to the test while still being just as funny too. That's where the Winter Soldier Cold War vibe comes into play. (The Avengers movies are pretty thin on plot.) This melding together pays off big time in Civil War.
A big brawl between Team Cap’s and Team Iron Man’s teams takes place at an airport about halfway through the film. Every character from Black Widow to War Machine get their due. There’s a playfulness to Widow getting knocked down by Hawkeye and saying “We’re still friends, right?” that you just can't pull off in any other film series. Adding Spidey, Black Panther, and Ant Man (who makes a big splash here) just makes such a rumble that much more awesome. After so many movies before, this film gets to cash in all that goodwill. Civil War is a better film because so much of the heavy lifting with the superhero origins has already taken place in other movies.
The last act smartly whittles away the huge cast to just a few key players. Without spoiling anything, revelations are made that you can probably guess, but it’s what it means to the friendship between Tony and Steve that hurts so much. It should also be noted that Downey Jr. and Evans are so fantastic that we almost just take for granted that they’ll be good 24/7. Downey in particular gets to have more emotional heft than previously seen as Iron Man. (Only a somewhat distracting attempt to make the actor look decades younger doesn’t quite work.)
As great as Civil War is—seriously, it's great—there are a few blips. This marks the third film with Bucky, and he’s still not much of a character. He’s more of a plot device. Sebastian Stan does what he can, but it doesn’t help that the Winter Soldier barely says much and the great majority of his actions are chalked up to “It's not his fault! He’s a sleeper agent!” excuses. The real credit goes to Evans as Captain America who shields the weight of caring for his friend. Also, as mentioned earlier, the opening act is a tad slow with one too many speeches, but I’m not sure how they could have fixed that.
Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War is the shot in the arm the series needed after the entertaining but rather empty Ultron. As the credits rolled (stay 'til the end for a great Easter egg!) I was ready to stay in my seat and watch the next one. It’s that good.