Captain America: Civil War brings with it expectations arguably higher than any Marvel movie to date.
All those characters, all those moving parts, so much at stake built up from the prior films plus new characters being primed to carry the Marvel Cinematic Universe into its next phase.
So much that could have gone wrong … and simply doesn’t.
With the exception of a slow-moving first act, the only way Captain America: Civil War fails is that it fails to disappoint. Full of imaginative, high-octane action, humor in just the right amount and heart from start to finish, the film meets all the aforementioned expectations … and exceeds them.
What’s it about? (Spoiler-free, unless you consider what’s been shown in commercials and trailers “spoilers.” In that case, jump to the next section.)
A year after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) leads the Avengers team assembled at the end of that film as they continue their mission to defend the world from evildoers near and far.
However, Rogers has his own continuing mission, as well, one that began 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. He’s resolved to find his lifelong friend “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who the world recently came to know as the ruthless Cold War assassin Winter Soldier, and help him somehow regain the memories lost when Hydra turned Barnes into a weapon.
Rogers’ two missions come into conflict when another battle leading to collateral damage and innocent lives lost forces the Avengers to accept civilian oversight. Doing his best to sell the team on the plan is none other than Iron Man/Tony Stark, the one-time maverick superhero who once thumbed his nose at government control, but has now seen too much and suffered too many personal losses to ignore the fact that things must (in his view) change.
When Barnes seemingly resurfaces right at the center of another international incident that costs lives, it proves to be the flashpoint for a conflict years in the making: Cap versus Shellhead, with the Avengers and some new faces choosing sides and facing off. Stark and his team won’t stop until they bring the Winter Soldier to justice. Rogers won’t give up on his friend, or what he feels is the right course for the Avengers going forward.
Whose side are you on?
In the past, when superhero films from either Marvel and Disney or DC and Warner Bros. have been burdened with the task of “seeding” new characters and plots for future films within a film that has its own story to tell, the juggling of priorities makes a mess of things.
Not so with Captain America: Civil War. Somehow, directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) manage to balance telling a character-driven, compelling chapter in Steve Rogers’ story (and Tony Stark’s, for that matter) while still providing meaty, memorable turns for the heroes who will carry the Marvel standard through the studio’s next “phase”: Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).
Of the three, Boseman gets the most screen time here. A dynamic, magnetic performer who has yet to deliver anything less than stellar in his work on screen, Boseman proves the perfect blend of charisma, athleticism, and regal bearing to play T’Challa, a warrior born of royalty and possessed of fighting skills easily the equal of Captain America and his peers.
Boseman’s is a quietly compelling presence; Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, however, makes his entrance into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a very talky splash, as well he should. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely provide Holland plenty of opportunities to show he can handle both Peter’s youthful earnestness and ol’ Webhead’s propensity to banter during fights, and handle them he does. Audiences may leave Captain America: Civil War wishing there had been more of Spidey in the film – not to worry, true believers: Spider-Man: Homecoming hits theaters next year.
As for Rudd, reprising his role from last year’s Ant-Man, it’s like picking up right where he left off. Rudd’s comedic actor chops serve him well in his non-action scenes here, but make no mistake: his character isn’t just here for comic relief. Anyone still unconvinced that Ant-Man is too campy a concept or a poor fit for Marvel films going into Captain America: Civil War will most likely walk away rethinking their opinion.
Cap’s film, or Iron Man’s?
Though Robert Downey Jr. gets quite a bit to do here, and the material the script gives him draws heavily from all his previous turns as the Golden Avenger, Captain America: Civil War is still without a doubt a “Captain America” film, driven wholly by the presence and character of Chris Evans as Steve Rogers. Yes, Downey Jr.’s presence here makes for a compelling antagonist. After all, this is more or less the same flawed hero we all bought into back at the very beginning with 2008’s Iron Man, and the character still entertains thanks to the actor’s immeasurable skills.
But it’s Evans’ task to convey the personality aspects of Steve Rogers that take his story credibly in this direction. A lesser performer might get stuck on Rogers’ idealism and come off as sanctimonious, or his loyalty and steadfastness and deliver a wooden, stolid turn. Evans, as he has from the first time he picked up the shield, humanizes Rogers, makes him a likeable guy that audiences can cheer for as well as an ideal to be aspired to. None of this works if you don’t buy in to Evans as Cap – thankfully, he makes it pretty easy.
What about the action?
Credit the Russo brothers for showing that their vision and talent for comic book-style action wasn’t just a one-off with the last Captain America film. They bring that same style of sweeping camera work, fast-moving, gritty fight scenes and clever uses for the characters powers to inject energy into just about every set piece. The film’s centerpiece action sequence, when the two teams finally face-off in the knock-down, drag out audiences most likely came to see in the first place, should rate among the very best superhero action beats put on film yet. Everyone involved has a chance to shine, and considering how many performers are present here, that’s no mean feat.
All that said, Captain America: Civil War may just leave you cold IF you’re not a fan of these movies to begin with or you’re coming into the film without having seen the previous films in the Marvel franchise. Without a doubt, the Russo brothers and everyone involved here made a film that they were certain the fans would enjoy, but it does come with backstory and baggage without which a casual viewer might be lost.
But it may just be entertaining enough to win you over, if you let it.
As for all the fanboys and fangirls reading this? Those plans to see Captain America: Civil War on opening night? Stick to them.
Then buy tickets to see it again.
Yup, it’s that good.
Captain America: Civil War
Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, and Daniel Brühl. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.
Running Time: 147 minutes
PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem.