The superhero film genre has a lot of trilogies to offer. Most of them are good like the X-Men and Spider-Man trilogies. Some of them are sporadic like the Wolverine and Thor trilogies. And then, you have a few that are great like the Dark Knight trilogy, but I believe the best of them all to be the Captain America trilogy. What started out as a lighthearted, campy WWII action series evolved into a political thriller and then into a grounded ensemble that defied the superhero genre. Captain America: Civil War is the tremendous conclusion to the best superhero trilogy of all time, and it stands as my favorite MCU film as well.
SPOILERS FOR CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
Captain America: Civil War opens in the wake of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The public is testy with the Avengers due to the severe amount of damage caused by their previous outings. Many of the main heroes have either stepped down from Avengers or are off doing their own business, so Cap now leads a team of relatively new heroes. After one of their missions to take down Crossbones goes wrong and innocent lives are lost, the Sokovia Accords are drawn up. The team must decide between signing the Accords and going under governmental watch or standing up for what they believe in.
There are so many great aspects of this movie that it’s hard to know where to start, but one of the best things is how it deals with new and veteran characters. Captain America and Iron Man are obviously the highlights. The film both respects their previous iterations while also allowing them to evolve.
Steve Rogers is one of the most unique characters in the MCU. Unlike a lot of the others, the writers don’t rely on quips and funny humor to connect him to the audience (not that there’s anything wrong with that). He’s simply a man with hardened, tried and true values who’s willing to fight for what he knows is right. Prior to Civil War, we had seen Cap come out of the ice leaving his friends and the world he had become accustomed to behind. He saw things that challenged his beliefs and learned that the world isn’t always black and white. The organization he thought he knew and trusted turned out to be the very same group he swore to destroy. It’s no wonder he doesn’t want to place his freedom in the hands of another government organization by the time Civil War rolls around. His actions in this film go beyond just not wanting to sign a document, though. The real inner conflict comes when Bucky, his lifelong best friend and brainwashed assassin, turns up again. Despite what Steve knows Bucky has done, he still strives to help him because he knows his best friend is still there. Most of the reason Steve becomes a fugitive of the law is that of his efforts to save Bucky. I think we would all be lucky to have a friend like Steve Rogers. I could go on about Steve’s character in Civil War, but all of it can be summed up by Sharon Carter’s great speech at her aunt’s funeral,
“Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say ‘No, you move’.”
One of the benefits of long-running movie franchises is the opportunity to see a character evolve over the course of several films. The character with the greatest arc in the MCU is none other than Tony Stark. We’ve seen him go from an arrogant billionaire with no concern for the lives of innocent people to a kind-hearted, charitable man who wants nothing else than to protect the people of the world, even though his plans often blow up in his face (Ultron). His development is only continued in Civil War. Most people think it’s out of character for him to want governmental restrictions put on the team, but if you look at how he’s grown, it’s not out of character at all. The aftermath of the Battle of Sokovia left a huge impact on him, and the only way he knows how to deal with his guilt is by helping others. But it isn’t until he is confronted by a victim first hand that he realizes this can’t happen again. We still get the same, funny Tony Stark in this movie, but he’s noticeably more serious. When he created a murder robot, he simply laughed it off, but now that he’s seen the consequences of his actions, he will do whatever it takes to bring about change.
Bucky is yet again a conflicted character in this movie. We see him go from a reserved pedestrian to full on assassin to, quite simply, Steve’s best friend. This wide range of emotions is portrayed excellently by Sebastian Stan in the most subtle and extreme ways. Bucky is the connective tissue between all three Captain America movies, and his journey and his relationship with Steve is one of the best parts of the MCU.
Civil War had the tremendous task of introducing two of Marvel’s most popular characters. The first was Black Panther, who quickly became a household name after his appearance in this movie and his very own solo outing. T’Challa has the best character arc in the entire narrative. Coming from a third party, he doesn’t have much involvement or say in the debate between the Avengers. His motivations instead come from revenge after he believes Bucky to be the murderer of his father. He has little interest in the Accords or stopping Cap, he just wants to avenge his father at any cost. Only after realizing the truth and seeing what vengeance has done to Tony and Steve does he finally retract his claws and spare the life of the man responsible. These are the qualities that will make T’Challa a good king, and this carries over in Black Panther.
The other character introduced in this movie is Spider-Man. After the two previous iterations of the web crawler failed, it was finally time for Marvel to show the world what they could do with their most popular hero. Despite my love for Tobey Maguire, Tom Holland is without a doubt the best incarnation of Spider-Man put to screen. In only the short amount of time he’s in the movie, he steals the show. Everything from the relatability and philosophy of Peter Parker to the inexperience and humor of Spider-Man is showcased in his two to three scenes. However, while I love this version of Spider-Man, one of the only flaws of the movie stems from his presence. Peter Parker’s inclusion in the movie can’t help but feel a little shoehorned. Leading up to his introduction, Tony is only given a short amount of time to apprehend Steve who may or may be accompanied by a mass murdering assassin. While it makes sense that Tony would be keeping a watchful eye on Peter due to his abilities and actions in New York, this just doesn’t seem like the right time to recruit him and take on a mentor position. Unlike Black Panther’s role in the film, Spider-Man doesn’t really add anything to the story. If you took his part out, nothing would be lost. I can almost forgive this problem, though, because of how well it transitions into Spider-Man: Homecoming. Peter’s relationship with Tony is one of the best in the MCU, and it all started in Civil War, no matter how contrived it was.
All of the other minor characters in Civil War are great as well. Scarlet Witch and Vision were given much more depth here than in Age of Ultron, and I can’t wait to see what they bring to the table going forward. Black Widow gets further developed as a conflicted spy and even makes some surprising decisions for both sides. Ant-Man was just as funny and even more interesting than his last appearance, although, he’s not completely necessary here. War Machine and Falcon are great; they continue to support their respective heroes with War Machine having a little more impact on the story. Hawkeye’s inclusion in this movie is also the best we’ve seen of that character.
It’s no secret that Marvel has a bit of a villain problem. Most of the antagonists in the MCU are only there for the hero to have someone to fight, and they usually have a cliche, world ending plan with very little motivation. When Civil War was announced, I was concerned with it even having a villain at all. I thought the confrontation between Tony and Steve should be enough to carry the film, and I was worried it would end with the two prematurely settling their differences to team up against a common threat. Helmut Zemo completely shattered my expectations. Unlike most major villains, his plan isn’t to destroy the world or gain total power. He just wants revenge after his family was unfairly taken from him due to the Avengers’ actions. He knows he can’t hurt the Avengers himself, so he devices a meticulous and well thought out plan to tear them apart from the inside. While his plan is a little over complicated at times, I can chalk it up to Zemo being a man who takes advantage of the circumstances at hand. With enough experience and patience, a man can accomplish anything. I’m glad Zemo was spared by Black Panther because I want to see a lot more of him in the future.
One of the things that set Civil War apart from other superhero movies is it’s incredible action scenes. Even the smaller ones like the team taking down Crossbones in Lagos and Bucky and Cap escaping the police are eye dazzlers. People credit the airport scene as being the best sequence of the movie. It’s probably the largest ensemble sequence of any superhero movie and it has great action and amazing interactions between almost all the characters. It’s a fun scene, but it pales in comparison to the final fight between Tony and Steve and Bucky. This grounded battle of pure emotion has me on the edge of my seat with my heart pounding every time I watch it. Neither Tony nor Steve are in the wrong, which makes it all more the depressing to see the two of them in an all-out fight against each other. I almost thought one of them was going to kill the other on my first viewing. Cap’s final drop of his shield is a resounding statement to Steve and to the audience that things will never be the same after this moment.
There are only a few problems I have with this movie. Sometimes the jokes don’t always land, and the tone is inconsistent at times, especially during the airport sequence. Not all of the characters are completely necessary to the narrative like Spider-Man and Ant-Man, but these are only minor gripes.
In the grand scheme of things, Captain America: Civil War is so great because of its grounded narrative and character centric story. The Russo brothers proved that have what it takes to direct a superhero ensemble with this movie, and I’m all the more confident they will hit another one out of the park with Infinity War.
Rating – 9.5/10