Captain America: Civil War is the latest in a long line of Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Its predecessor, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, proved to be very successful. On the other hand, The Avengers and The Avengers: Age of Ultron were great and subpar, respectively. Now, the latest MCU movie increases the action and raises up the stakes a few notches. Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Captain America: Civil War succeeds in places where Age of Ultron failed.
One year after the Sovokia incident, the Avengers are once again the centre of controversy following a mission in Lagos. Despite their best efforts, several people are killed in an explosion. In the wake of the incident, the United Nations decides to pass the Sokovia Accords to oversee the Avengers’ activities. This means they cannot act without approval of higher authority. Secretary of State “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) urges the team to accept the UN’s oversight, because it will keep them in check. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Junior) decides to support the Accords, because he feels responsibility for his past actions in being Iron Man and creating Ultron. This puts him at odds with Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), who feels people should use their faith and moral judgement.
Meanwhile, Steve’s friend James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is still on the lam as reprogrammed Soviet assassin Winter Soldier, but his memories are starting to return. A shady figure named Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) is hell-bent on using Bucky as part of his plan involving the Avengers. As the plot thickens, the Avengers finds the Accords and the search for Bucky are opening a rift in their ranks. Steve decides to go against the UN and rescue his friend, whom he views as having no say in his brainwashing. His team consists of Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Clint “Hawkeye” Barton” (Jeremy Renner) and Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).
Despite his misgivings, Tony decides to bring Steve and Bucky to justice. On his side are Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) Jim Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), and the Vision (Paul Bethany). Rounding out the group is Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who has been fighting crime for the last six months. Another newcomer is T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who seeks revenge for the death of his father. Together, the two teams converge in Leipzig, Germany for a epic showdown.
Chris Evans does a stellar job by portraying Steve Rogers as a man struggling with morality. While Captain America can be viewed as a boy scout, Evans succeeds in showing Steve’s predicament in choosing between following his government or saving Bucky. He has a good sense of right and wrong, but he must determine whether or not this means acting outside the law. As Tony, Downey Junior is convincing in his inner turmoil at supporting the law while pursuing a teammate he views as a friend. Even more amazing is a fantasy sequence in which he plays a 20-year old Tony via CGI and camera tricks. What makes the scene work is the older man viewing his younger self interact with his deceased parents. It is a poignant, painful moment to watch.
The cast does great in their roles. Johansson is tough as Black Widow, but she does have some moments to showcase her skills. Her vulnerability in choosing friends or follow orders is gripping. Sebastian Stan is excellent in showing Bucky’s struggle to evade his captors while regaining his humanity. His recollection of childhood memories with Steve is quietly moving. Anthony Mackie is given more to do as the Falcon, and he proves himself to be quite good. Don Cheadle provides maturity and reliability as War Machine, and he shows himself to be a man of his convictions. Elizabeth Olsen brings sincerity and conflict to Wanda, who struggles with her power. Paul Bettany is hilarious as the Vision, and it is refreshing to see him interact more with the Avengers. Paul Rudd is hilarious as Ant-Man, and he has a very big surprise during the airport showdown. Bozeman brings a quiet intensity to the Black Panther. His philosophical, thoughtful outlook on life is unique and positive to hear.
It is refreshing to see William Hurt’s “Thunderbolt” Ross again. After his last appearance in The Incredible Hulk, he is more weary and run-down by having to deal with the Avengers. One can hope Ross will return for more MCU instalments in the future. Daniel Bruhl’s Baron Zemo is a modernized version of the villain with a relatable motive for his actions. Unlike Loki or the Red Skull, he intends to seek revenge on the Avengers for the loss of his loved ones in the Sokovia attack. While there is no purple hood or references to the Zemo legacy, it is not out of the realm of possibility for future films to introduce these parts of the character.
Tom Holland delivers a good performance as Spider-Man. Whereas his predecessors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield looked long in the tooth, the 19 year-old actor feels just right in the role. By contrast, Holland is a teenager coming to grips with his powers. His witty banter with Downey Junior and quips feel appropriate. It is also worth noting his interest in engineering, which is shown by his mechanical web-shooters. No doubt fans will be anticipating the 2017 Spider-Man Homecoming film.
The Russos are successful in balancing action and humour within the plot. Unlike Age of Ultron, this movie gives focus to the characters. Each Avenger is given his or her own moment to shine. Fans will be pleased to see references to the Marvel canon, such as Falcon’s Redwing, Vasil Karpov of the USSR, and Ant-Man riding on Hawkeye’s arrow. Those who love the classic Avengers will not be disappointed by Ant-Man’s newest ability, which will make Ant-Man and the Wasp interesting. The film has several sequences to balance the characters and increase the stakes. It is the tense airport stand-off that audiences will remember most.
Civil War struggles under its own weight at times. With all the characters and arcs, there is a risk of too much material in a plot, such as the Vision’s awkward relationship with Wanda. There are some nice moments between the two, but there is little explanation or resolution. Likewise, Rhodey’s choice to support the Accords is one of careful deciding, but this isn’t given much depth or exploration. Frank Grillo’s Crossbones is brought back to antagonize Cap, but he is reduced to a minor threat. Furthermore, Zemo’s motivations are more personal than wealth and power, yet he isn’t given more to work with.
Captain America: Civil War is a stellar action flick. By far, it is one of the best Avengers films in the Marvel canon. Evans, Downey Jr., and cast are outstanding in their performances. The Russos have done well in building on what has gone on before and raising the stakes. While not better than The Winter Soldier or Guardians, the movie succeeds where Batman v Superman should have triumphed. In a way, it could be considered Avengers 2.5.