Considered by many to be one of the best Marvel story arcs of all time, Civil War finally got its movie adaptation and absolutely knocked it out of the park.
Announced very close to each other, Captain America: Civil War can’t help but be compared to its parent company’s rival flick, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. However, where the latter sputtered and floundered under the weight of its many flaws, the third installment in the Captain America series soars to new heights. In fact, not only does this film outshine its DC counterpart, one could even argue that Captain America: Civil War does a better job with the plot than the Civil War comic arc did. The fruit of years of building, Captain America: Civil War is bolstered by returning stars, new heroes, and an antagonist that is a better class of villain than we have ever seen before.
In the same way that Batman v Superman touched on the immense collateral damage that was caused in the Kryptonian throwdown at the end of Man of Steel, Civil War also deals with how the heroes are seen as these destructive forces that threaten the world’s safety when they’re not saving it. Consequences are a major theme in the movie and after the damage to New York during the Chitauri invasion, the near-total destruction of SHIELD in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and the decimation of Sokovia in Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Avengers are both celebrated and greatly feared. Civil War begins with similar carnage in a civilian area, and that kickstarts the plot; people all around the world wonder if seeing the Avengers means that their homes, belongings, or family are truly safe or about to be ripped away from them.
After reading the 2006 story arc, I was firmly entrenched on Team Cap. Iron Man was the fascist government stooge hunting down his former friends turned family with increasingly harsh tactics that included sanctioning villain teams to hunt them down. The comic arc was based around the Superhuman Registration Act, which forced super-powered individuals to register their powers and identities with the government and the two main heroes who supported and opposed it: Iron Man and Captain America respectively. The movie strays from this, since secret identities aren’t really something any of the MCU Avengers worry about.
Instead, the Sokovia Accords demand that the Avengers submit to the will of the world governments and work under the sanction of a UN committee. Iron Man agrees with the Accords and thinks that the Avengers should be held accountable for their actions. Captain America disagrees and feels like the people best equipped to decide when and where their super team should act are still the Avengers themselves. Captain America: Civil War does a much better job of showing each side having its valid points, and making viewers more comfortable announcing their allegiance. I left the theater torn between the two sides and having a much greater appreciation for the nuances of each faction.
Cap and Tony’s established friendship helped sell how difficult it was for these two to come to an agreement. Over the course of multiple movies, we’ve seen these two start off as rivals then grow to become friends, teammates, and brothers. Downey Jr. and Evans have done a great job of taking these characters who have established their personalities as these unshakable constants and flipped them on their heads. Tony’s narcissism transforms into a type of altruism after meeting the mother of one of the people who died in Sokovia during the events of Age of Ultron, played by the great Alfie Woodard (who will return as a different character in the upcoming Luke Cage Netflix series). Steve, on the other hand, goes from the more empathetic hero he has been, to a more arrogant, egotistical viewpoint where he feels the Avengers know best when and where to go to avenge one thing or another. This role reversal is one of the more impressive feats of Civil War and is what makes it so hard for viewers to objectively say which of the heroes is right.
The climactic battle between the two is the culmination of disagreements, arguments, and unrepentant ego; you can feel the rage and hurt of each blow as it’s thrown and received. But like most siblings, once the fight is over and they’ve each had time to process their guilt and grief, there is an olive branch extended to try to begin the healing process while also setting the stage for a reunion during the next Avengers movie.
Even though this movie is billed as a part of the Captain America trilogy, he and Tony take a backseat to the two newest members of the MCU: Black Panther and Spider-Man. Tom Holland as Peter Parker is hands down the best adaptation of the character so far. He is only in the movie for two scenes but holds his own across from characters that have had development over two or three movies. Marvel perfected everything about Spidey including his high school-age civilian identity and his signature mid-battle quipping. I’m still of the opinion that this was a great opportunity to introduce Miles Morales, but I’m now interested in seeing how the joint Marvel/Sony reboot, Spider-Man: Homecoming, turns out.
Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of Black Panther similarly blew every prior expectation out of the water. Don Cheadle and Anthony Mackie as War Machine and Falcon have done a good job of adding a little color to the MCU before now, but their characters don’t have much motivation or growth beyond just following the lead of Tony or Steve. Black Panther, as one of the, if not the, first Black superheroes stole every single scene he was in with his regal bearing, relentless determination, and ultimately, his willingness to put his ego aside to do the right thing. Cap and Iron Man start off the movie with valid reasons for supporting or opposing the Sokovia Accords, but by the end their conflict devolved into one based purely on ego, anger, and stubbornness. T’Challa was the only hero in the movie to actually act heroic and it was extremely gratifying to see.
It wasn’t just the heroes elevating their game; Helmut Zemo firmly cemented himself as the premiere Marvel villain. Even without any powers or minions, Zemo succeeded in doing the one thing not even fan-favorite Loki was able to do: tear apart the Avengers. Zemo proved that the villain in superhero movies doesn’t have to be this great cosmic threat or over-the-top in terms of behavior or viciousness to cause harm to the capes. His survival at the end of the movie hopefully means that he will return to the MCU to inflict his own brand of calculated and effective shadow warfare on Earth’s mightiest.
You would think that with all these characters, plotlines, and motivations to juggle that the movie would lag in some respect at some places but it doesn’t. Marvel has skillfully assembled – yup, I went there – some of the best talent Hollywood has to offer and has built a machine that cranks out hit after hit with few missteps. Civil War does a great job at finding screen time for each of its characters and giving them as much as possible to do with that time. This is not to say that they are constantly moving, but that they are given the chance to grow in front of the camera. At the end, viewers are left wanting more.
Within the two and a half hour run time, we see Scarlet Witch growing up and coming to a realization about herself and her powers, Vision discovering his humanity, Falcon and Bucky spreading the seeds for their eventual buddy cop movie – you ALL know you want it – and the door being opened for perhaps a future Thunderbolts (a team of supervillains trying to become heroes and led by Helmut Zemo or General/Secretary Ross, depending on which arc you read) cameo in the MCU. There isn’t any wasted motion in the plot or on camera; having every second count leads to an incredibly tight story that you want more of. Like the conclusion of The Empire Strikes Back, at the end of Civil War, plotlines are wrapped up and whispers of the future are felt.
The MCU is known for more bright and colorful storylines, but between The Winter Soldier and now Civil War, they’ve shown they can get dark and brooding without sacrificing any quality. The heroes have an actual reason to fight each other, they have a history so you don’t have to suspend your disbelief when they team up for the final act, and the villain actually has a reason for his diabolical plans beyond just not liking the heroes.
It’s a testament to the Russo brothers directing, the writing by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and the talent of the entire cast that such a massive project was not only completed and considered another notch in the Marvel belt, but also the final product being considered of Marvel Studios’ best releases.
Captain America: Civil War feels like the end of all that is familiar and the beginning of something new. The team is changed, new heroes and villains have risen, and the reins have been passed so that the MCU can fully move into the post-Whedon era. Marvel is using this movie as a stepping stone to dig even deeper into their legendary bag of stories. With the upcoming releases of Doctor Strange, the solo Black Panther flick, and the first female-led movie in Captain Marvel, the MCU is poised to open up in a myriad of exciting new ways.