Release Date: May 6, 2016
Running Time: 147 Minutes
Captain America: Civil War, aka Avengers 2.5 (and having more focus on the Winter Soldier than the film of the same name), couldn’t have come at a more ironic time, just over a month after another hero vs. hero affair in Batman vs. Superman. In almost all the areas where that dour affair failed this latest installment in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe succeeded in spades. Character motivations, humor, pacing, you name it.
I can’t say too much about the plot without spoiling a lot. Near the beginning, an Avengers mission ends in a tragic accident which kills several civilians. This, along with the collateral damage and loss of life in the previous movies, lead the UN to come up with the Sokovia Accords, which will reign in the superheroes and make them answerable to the world’s governments. Feeling responsible, especially for the creation of Ultron and the subsequent destruction of Sokovia in Age of Ultron, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) agrees with this. Captain America (Chris Evans), however, believes the Avengers should be privately run, as the UN is governed by people with varying and often unscrupulous agendas. Complicating things is Captain America’s attempts to find and protect old friend “Bucky” Barnes, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), attempts which thanks to several twists and turns lead to further divisions among the superheroes. The rest of the Avengers, along with a couple other heroes, pick sides as well, leading to the Civil War in the title.
The directors, the Russo Brothers, do a tremendous job showing the pros and cons of both sides. You won’t find yourself actively cheering one side and booing the other, even if you agree with one more. In fact, the final battle is intense and a little heartbreaking, with none of the usual quips and one-liners to be found. I also have to say that this movie barely follows the comic book event of the same name, which is fine with me. The comics version turned several superheroes into jerks, was unbalanced in its viewpoints, and also played a large role in the infamous Spider-Man: One More Day (I won’t explain that disaster here. Check it out yourself if you’re curious).
One potentially major flaw of the film is actually its greatest strength, and that is the presence of so many pre-established characters, building off of previous movies where they were introduced and developed. As with the Avengers series proper, seeing all of these characters get together and mix it up, many for the first time, creates a fun, nerdtastic experience. In order to totally enjoy this film, you have to see all of the previous Avengers, Captain America, and Iron movies, as well as Ant-Man. But it’s totally worth it for the team vs. team battle, which was an utter delight.
While Civil War is in the Captain America series, it’s as much an Avengers movie, with Iron Man sharing roughly the same screentime as Cap. Many of the Avengers are better here than they were in Age of Ultron. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) in particular is much more likeable and interesting, while the Vision (Paul Bettany), who appeared in the last act of his first film, now gets some character development. They even imply that the two might end up romantically linked as in the comics, though the films might keep it as a friendship. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johanson) don’t get much more development, but it’s nice to have them there I actually found myself most excited to see Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) there, which surprised me. Just the way he behaves in the battle is so entertaining and funny. The Winter Soldier’s background is shown a little more, and thanks to years of brainwashing and being forced to commit villainous acts, it’s uncertain when he’ll snap and turn on the heroes, though he really wants to redeem himself. General Ross (William Hurt) finally returns after The Incredible Hulk, now the Secretary of State who wants to limit the actions of the Avengers.
This film also brings in two new superheroes, as well as a villain. The most talked-about debut was Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who Sony finally let Marvel Studios use. I have to say, Holland’s take on the character is pretty darn good. His Peter Parker is a little awkward and looks like the type of person who would be picked on in high school, but once he puts on the costume he’s a total ball of energy, throwing quips left and right, much to the chagrin of his teammates. The other new hero is Black Panther, aka Prince T’Challa of the fictional African country of Wakanda (Chadwick Boseman), who gets an origin of sorts (he already has the fighting abilities and costume of the Black Panther when he shows up). He’s sort of stereotypical noble African prince, but like everyone else he’s pretty cool. He has a more serious vibe. I don’t think he makes any jokes at all. The villain is Helmut Zemo (the second Baron Zemo in the comics; Daniel Bruhl). All he shares with his comic book counterpart is the name and a dislike for superheroes. He doesn’t have a ton of scenes, but he proves to be more interesting and developed than most other Marvel movie villains by the end. To say anything else about him would be a big spoiler.
There are a few quibbles I have. They could have had more personal interaction between Captain America and Bucky Barnes. They seem to spend more time running and fighting when they’re together. The political issues of the titular Civil War get shunted to the background of the second half, as the focus is more on personal issues of revenge. It also bugged me that the Vision seemed to be nothing for large chunks of the team on team fight. What was he doing, being morose about the situation while he floated in the sky?
This is a great movie. I’m tempted to lower Batman vs. Superman’s rating after this, because it does the same things way better. The heroes have real motivations for fighting each other and don’t turn into murderous jerks in the process. The villain’s scheme and motivation makes sense. The movie goes by fast while Batman vs. Superman was a slog, and both were two and a half hours long! There’s more humor, but the Russo Brothers know when to scale it back and make things serious. Overall, Civil War is an amazing film. The Russo Brothers have produced gold twice in the MCU and now that they’re doing the Infinity War two-parter I’m super-excited (as if I wasn’t already!).