Captain America: Civil War - The Course Correction Marvel Needed
When the title card for Captain America: Civil War popped up at Marvel’s Phase 3 presentation I immediately felt panic. As a viewer of the MCU that has a pretty decent knowledge of the heroes and villains involved I thought “how is this going to happen?”. The original Civil War event is what got me into reading comic books beyond checking out a random trade here or there. I read every individual piece of the entire event. It’s safe to say that I was steeped heavily in the mythology of what Marvel’s Civil War was.
This film is not that. Now, I know that I may have immediately turned some people off by the end of that sentence, but stay with me here. This film isn’t Marvel’s Civil War. It’s not Avenger’s Civil War. It’s clearly and exactly what it says in the title. This is a Captain America (played by Chris Evans) story first and foremost, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that immediately, because this is still the BEST Avengers film we’ve ever had.
What’s most impressive about Civil War is its ability to truly capture the tension and drama necessary to drive a film like this forward. There’s always an undercurrent of fear from the moment the film starts. It’s not targeted at our group of Avengers, not yet, but the film does a great job building a case against the heroes right off the bat.
The first scene with the New Avengers does a great job establishing them as a team in its infancy. These people are already used to working with each other, but even in their quest to do good, not all members know how yet. You’re immediately asked “was there a better way to handle this situation?” and...there’s no real yes or no answer. On the flip side of this we see Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) having a scene with the incredible Alfre Woodard that puts him firmly on the side of atonement. We’ll get back to this.
With all of that in mind there’s still an integral part of this equation that I haven’t addressed yet. Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is as central to this narrative as Steve Rogers and Tony Stark are. Bucky’s been laying low since the events of The Winter Soldier and he’s forced out of hiding due to an event that takes place early on in the film. This film is as much a war drama as it is a chase event to find Bucky. Bucky, being caught in the middle, is still trying to piece his mind together while focusing on his run from the law. Cap is on the side of the heroes safely taking Bucky in and Tony’s on the side of eliminating a threat without escalating it.
There’s a philosophical difference between their ideas. They’re not in conflict over Bucky, though it may seem that way at first, but rather the means of capturing him. Steve’s thoughts center around making sure heroes aren’t sent out like dogs at war. Tony’s convinced that the heroes DO in fact need some sort of leash. They’re so steadfast in their beliefs that both have members from the team telling them that they’re being ridiculous. This is the type of conflict that’s necessary when it comes to a clash of heroes, though. There needs to be something eating at their core that inspires them to turn on each other. It’s what made the comic event so memorable and it’s what carries this film to the top of the MCU.
Captain America is the heart of this film. You see the true nature of the character here moreso than in any other Marvel film. He's brave, he's bold, and he's not afraid to finally stand up and tell everyone else "I'm right". That being said; this movie is NOT entirely on Cap's side. It gives more background and does more to show his point of view, but it's never telling you that Captain America can go through this film with impunity. He's shown to be just as responsible as Tony Stark in the film (and I'd say he's more responsible at some points). Cap knows that he's been a danger to society on more than one occasion and he expresses his grief within that realization. He's not without blood on his hands, but he more than anyone is willing to punish himself for that. Just not at the cost of freedom.
Tony Stark, meanwhile, preaches freedom from the heroes. In his effort to rid the world of the iron fist (not the hero that'll debut on Netflix soon) of the Avengers; Tony sees that sacrificing their personal freedoms might be worth granting the world peace. It's an interesting contrast to Tony's initial realization that becoming his own weapon of mass destruction was the way to stop chaos back in his movies. Tony spends his time trying to reason with Cap. He's a much more subdued and mature Tony Stark, but since he's Tony Stark, he's still very immature and stubborn.
These heroes have all changed in some way, but they're all very much who we know them to be. Cap is bold in the face of fear, Iron Man is fearful in the face of comfort, and both are unmoving in the face of opposition. The other members of the team have faced their growing pains as well. Scarlet Witch and Vision are still struggling with the nature of becoming truly human (Vision dealing with the fact that he'll never quite know that feeling). War Machine and Falcon are dealing with the transition from being war veterans to super-weaponed combatants. One willing to operate within military confines again and one willing to fly on his own terms. Hawkeye's facing retirement while Widow's facing life as a spy in open air.
Everyone's pushed to their limit and forced to question what side of the law they choose to stand on. Either you're willing to compromise your morals and beliefs and give the government full control of your ability, or you're willing to sacrifice your freedoms for a freedom of self. The moral quandary in this film is a thick gooey mix of stubborn pride and genuine panic on the part of our combatants. No one's right and no one's wrong. That's what makes the fighting in this film feel so personal and heart-wrenching.
In all of this madness there are two big questions fans will still ask. How’s Spiderman? How’s Black Panther?! The answer to both of those questions: Incredible.
I want to start with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) because his role isn’t as large as T’Challa’s. Spiderman in this film is the most entertaining and faithful Spiderman that I’ve seen in a film. He captures the innocent yet mischievous nature of Parker from the comic books and cartoons; while also being the sarcastic and downright annoying web-slinger Spiderman. Holland manages to find the voice of Parker that balances the heart of Macguire’s and the wit of Garfield’s. Instantly charming and like-able. As is his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Their scene provides much needed levity to the plot at that point in the film. I have to watch this movie again purely because the audience could not stop laughing during Spiderman’s introduction scene. It’s funny, it’s charming, it’s everything you’d want a Spiderman scene to be. His role in the rest of the film carries the exact same feeling. I hope that his solo movie can keep up this momentum since I’ve been worried that Spiderman had lost steam as a hero.
Next: Black Panther. If Cap is the heart of this film and Iron Man is the brain relentlessly pushing us towards resolution; Black Panther is the soul of it all. We meet T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) pretty early in the film. We know just enough about him that when we’re hit with the moment that calls him to action we’re right there with him. BP wants Bucky’s head for himself, he’s not necessarily on either side, and that provides a dangerous middle ground that further makes viewers question Cap’s loyalty. A big addition to the drama of this film is T’Challa’s quest for vengeance. He’s not presented as a dangerous and reckless man with nothing to lose. He’s shown to be an intelligent and passionate individual with a realistic grudge. When he’s out for blood you’re often out for it with him.
Even though there's a lot of drama; there's still a ton of heart and actual comedy in this film. One source of this is actually the oddball friendship of Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes. It's funny to think that Cap's two best friends are stuck with each other throughout this entire movie, but that's pretty much the case. There are so many moments of Sam and Bucky just verbally jabbing each other. It's genuinely one of my favorite things about the movie.
The action in this movie is incredible. The scene from the trailer in the airport? Ha! That’s the best action scene in MCU history. It has so many big time cheer moments, so many small and amazing touches, and a genuine dose of comedy every now and then to keep you engaged and invested.
There aren’t any real ‘twists’ in this film. The biggest surprise moment isn’t a surprise to the audience if you’ve seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier. We already know something that one of our heroes doesn’t. When that comes up the movie once again flips itself on its head to provide one last moment of big time dramatic stakes. It’s an organic shift though, and the movie never goes back on its choices, which makes me happy since so many do.
There’s so much I could say about this film, and I can often talk in circles without getting into specifics, but I’d like to say that I haven’t even covered 20% of what makes this film great (after I wrote this I seriously went back and added a paragraph about a thing I enjoyed). I just want people to go in with as fresh an experience as possible. Captain America: Civil War does a marvelous job of juggling an intense familial struggle with the most impressive action in a comic book movie to date. It’s a joke due to how much Vin Diesel says it in the Fast and the Furious, but this team really is family. And the ending will both inspire and sadden people a bit. It’s heartbreaking to see what happens to this group, but there’s hope for the future nonetheless.
I can’t wait to see what Marvel does next with their roster of heroes. I’m already looking forward to the Black Panther and Spiderman movies more than anything else they have on deck. I was worried about where Marvel could go post Infinity Wars, but this film has renewed my faith. Fantastic job by the Russo brothers and the writers Markus and McFeely. They are an all star team of writing and directing. If I had to give it a rating I’d go with an 8.5/10. Go see this. It’s more than worth it.