I went into Captain America: Civil War with little hope for a positive experience. With every screen these days touting its ads and no shortage of articles looking to uncover every plot point the movie had to offer months in advance, it was hard not to feel like the hype train had run over my anticipation. And with so many characters to juggle, and two newcomers no less, I felt certain that the Russo Brothers were merely riding the coattails of their previous Marvel Studios outing, Captain America: Winter Soldier.
I am so glad I was wrong.
Captain America: Civil War is not a perfect film, but no superhero movie is these days. Whether it be because of a misunderstanding of the source material, the constant switching of directors and visions, poor attempts at Hulk films or the flimsy stories that are pushed aside to give our leads an excuse to fight, there will never be a perfect comic book adaptation on the big screen. And I am more than okay with that, because, while perfection isn’t obtainable, Marvel Studios usually does an incredibly good job with what they’re given, and this is no exception.
I mentioned something about flimsy plots a couple of sentences ago, and that’s because this film doesn’t escape that trend. Sure, it bases the initial conflict after the start of the comic book event by the same name, but as the film goes on, that portion feels like it disappears, not so much from the narrative, but from my mind as a viewer. The registration of heroes under the banner of the American government is touched on, but not expanded much, rather acting as a consequence to allow stakes to be established. Instead, there’s a B-plot involving the villain commonly known as Baron Zemo that drives the story once the intro sets everything up. And, to be fair, his plot, once revealed, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, something that is rather reminiscent of the comics. The narrative is passable enough and never distracted me from what was going on, besides a moment or two of confusion in terms of progressions of certain conversations. Rather, what makes the story work and what makes the entire experience work isn’t the story itself, but the characters and their relationships with one another.
Civil War is a story of family and how it all falls apart, and it does so spectacularly. Each of our heroes is driven by the relationships they have with one another and how their decisions are affected by their friendships and animosities. Captain America struggles between his friendships with Bucky Barnes and Tony Stark, but is forced to fight the Winter Soldier and Iron Man at different points to try and defend what he thinks is right, the very crux of his characterization that works well here. Tony struggles with the consequences of what he’s done in the past as well as those that stem from the events of the film, which at times, for him, are crippling. Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch, and Vision retain some of their chemistry from the comics as they struggle with what the people around them see them as, with different viewpoints on how to handle the judgments of others. Black Widow struggles between what she believes is right and her loyalty to Cap, driving her emotionally in a way that wasn’t possible a few films ago, but feels natural here. On top of all this, Black Panther is brought into the mix, as he faces an internal struggle between his honor and responsibility as royalty of Wakanda and what he believes his familial ties dictate. And Spider-Man, while touched on loosely, sees Iron Man as something of a mentor and father figure from the first scene they share, helping to cement the theme all the more. Every action, every motive, everything is driven by the characters butting heads with each other, and it works beautifully. Unlike its abysmal DC Comics doppelganger, Batman v Superman, Civil War gives us as viewers a reason to care from the get-go, and pays back longtime followers in spades as we watch almost everyone change and evolve due to the trying circumstances they face. A movie making me genuinely care about that many characters, despite some of them having stunted screen time? That’s a feat worth recognizing.
And at no point did I feel like the incredibly large cast detracted from the experience like I feared it would. Iron Man and Captain America are very clearly established as the leads and are presented with much of the development and bigger moments. But everyone else is given their time to shine in one way or another, each with their own memorable turning point or experience that stands out in my mind. Simultaneously, no character overstays their welcome. It conveys the feeling that each figure is a piece of straw in a wide, encompassing basket, with their fates tied to one another in some manner.
This is only assisted by the emotional beats the film unflinchingly utilizes in ways that are potent and shaking. Yes, some are a little predictable, but the ways they are presented and handled makes the delivery of familiar ideas feel new and invigorating. There’s a lot of loss that either raises the stakes or reminds the audience of how much our leads are fighting through, both on the battlefield and within. Not that this is an overly serious or depressing film; there are various jokes throughout the help lighten the mood, and certain scenes are downright hilarious due to some of the conversations or deliveries by the actors, allowing for those emotional moments to be that much more impactful.
For those of you going to the theaters to see some jaw-dropping action sequences, you will not be disappointed. While the very first battle is pretty standard and nothing to write home about, the fights ramp up in intensity as do the character developments, building to the grand fight that’s been advertised so heavily. It mixes smart fight choreography with the banter that is signature for comic book battles in a way that feels very natural in the moment and allows more relationships to be either expanded or touched upon. Seeing best friends like Black Widow and Hawkeye duke it out is emotionally difficult for the two, and their dialogue reflects that in a way that works well, considering their history. And when I realized the giant superhero brawl was only the second-to-last fight of the film, I was rather concerned that we’d be left unsatisfied with a smaller fist fight, but the intimacy and, again, emotions being conveyed in those last moments really helped hit home and make clear the story that was being conveyed.
In terms of the actors, everyone does a generally great job in their roles. Chris Evans (as Cap) and Robert Downey Jr. (as Tony) reprise their roles marvelously, acting as the two primary support beams that held up the film as a whole. Sebastian Stan does a fairly good job as a conflicted Bucky, as does Scarlett Johansson with Black Widow. Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany kill it as Scarlet Witch and Vision respectively, bringing a lot of humanity to their otherworldly characters. Anthony Mackie continues to be a fantastic wingman to Cap, but Don Cheadle definitely falters as Tony’s best bud, War Machine, by far the weakest of our main cast. This may have to do with how few lines he’s given and how he’s been pushed to the side for the last few films, but it’s apparent and fairly distracting, especially considering how the commercials have presented him. Jeremy Renner and Paul Rudd return to their roles of Hawkeye and Ant-Man flawlessly, and do a lot with what few moments they are given to work with. Emily VanCamp returns as Sharon Carter, who feels like a throw-away character whose presence can be summed up in the phrases “plot convenience” and “sexual tension with Cap.” Chadwick Boseman slips into his role as Black Panther naturally, and delivers a great character evolution, especially considering this is the first time many people are experiencing him as a character. Tom Holland does a fairly good job with Spidey, although, for me personally, he’ll take some getting used to, as he can come across as a little whiney and obnoxious at times. To be fair, this makes sense for him considering the character’s age, but it still was a little irksome for me. His chemistry with Robert Downey Jr., however, was astounding and makes me rather excited for Spider-Man: Homecoming. Martin Freeman appears briefly as Agent Ross, but does little with the role as of yet beyond being a somewhat standard government official. William Hurt returns as Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, perhaps the only surviving cast member of Marvel’s most recent attempt at a Hulk movie, but comes off as an uninterestingly stern military general who tries to boss our heroes around on occasion. And Daniel Bruhl does a good job with Zemo, all things considered. He isn’t the most fun or interesting villain the Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen, but he didn’t need to be, playing his part well enough.
While I feel like I hardly need to touch on them, the music and special effects are to be expected. The music sits in the background and stays there, only rarely coming to the forefront of a scene, and when it does it feels jarring and took me out of the scene for a moment. In the last fight, it feels like someone cranked the volume to 11, and did little to make the scene much better, distracting from it to a degree. Otherwise, the score is by no means bad and does its job well enough, although you won’t be humming any of the tunes after you leave the theater. The special effects, similarly, won’t blow your mind, but does a good job of immersing you in every scene, never detracting from what’s going on. If you like what you’ve seen in the trailers, then you won’t have any problems with this movie from a visual perspective.
I can’t believe I feel the need to have a portion of the review dedicated to the after credits scenes but… well, it’s a Marvel movie. While I won’t say what either is about, both feel somewhat weak in terms of what they are presenting. The first helps to tie up some loose ends of the film in a way that is very fitting, but is clearly meant to be more of a plug for one of Marvel’s upcoming films. The other feels unnatural and is some fan service for one of our newer characters, blatantly telling fans that they will return in future films as if we didn’t know already. Neither are what I expected, but they were okay, considering what they were delivering.
Captain America: Civil War reminds us of why we love these films so dearly; the characters. The stories are often not the best, and for a film critic like myself, some might look down on me enjoying such simple summer blockbusters. But Civil War helped remind me why I’ve followed the progression of Marvel Studios for so long, from when Iron Man first hit theaters in 2007. It showed me that all that dedication and interest could pay off in some tangible manner, showing me a story that is enjoyable in its own right but accentuated by all the films that came before it. As reluctant as I was to enjoy it, I really did have a great time watching this film, and I would highly recommend it to those of you who have followed along like I have. If Marvel continues to surprise me like this, they’ll keep me coming back to the theaters for years to come.