After the rousing success of 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which redefined a problematic superhero in a post-Avengers landscape, Marvel Studios sustains the introspective atmosphere for Captain America: Civil War.
Returning directors Anthony and Joe Russo know exactly how to play these characters, building on Winter Soldier’s success through inspection while still making time for bulldozing action sequences.
Captain America remains the focal point, but his place as a symbol for freedom feeds into a larger appreciation of heightened abilities and tech and all the confusion it creates in a paranoid world. Civil War teases the Big Ideas while still wholly triumphant as superhero cinema.
Photo courtesy of Marvel Entertainment
Scarlett Johansson really deserves her own movie at this point.
Trying to maintain his position as protector of the innocent, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) leads the Avengers into battle, partnering with Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, who truly deserves her own movie at this point), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Vision (Paul Bettany), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).
Realizing that old friend Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is a HYDRA puppet overseen by Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), Rogers hopes to rescue his war buddy, salvaging the humanity that remains within.
However, Secretary of State Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) wants to contain the superhero infestation, introducing a policing agreement known as the Sokovia Accords. Rogers isn’t convinced of the law’s purpose, but Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is, splitting Avenger interests while Zemo works to divide and conquer.
There’s a formula to Marvel movies, and when it works, it’s wonderful. The Winter Soldier delivered a newly empowered Captain America to audiences ready for Rogers to tear off on his own adventure, aware that the country he represents has been poisoned by corruption. With eyes wide open, Rogers returns to duty in Civil War, now in a leadership position, tasked with preserving the nobility and power of the Avengers 2.0, guiding a motley crew into battle against evil.
The Russo Brothers understand the visual power of Captain America and they handle action sequences remarkably. The titular combat vet transforms into a wrecking ball, smashing through walls and bowling over baddies, propelled by Scarlet Witch’s magic. The introductory clash between the Avengers and armed goons is a great example of the Russo Brothers’ imagination.
Civil War is exciting and swiftly paced, sustaining the MCU flow despite a roster change, with Thor and Hulk taking a break for their own adventure (due in 2017).
Granted, much of the picture plays like an Avengers sequel, but the screenplay concentrates on Rogers, who’s faced with a challenge to American liberties with the Sokovia Accords and remains troubled by his missing years as a frozen man, experiencing the loss of a loved one that reminds him of his splintered identity.
Civil War also takes its time with Stark, as Iron Man tries to move on with his life, pushing away Pepper Potts, while taking a special interest in the afterschool activities of Peter Parker (Tom Holland), a clever teen from Queens. Stark is dealing with unresolved grief from the 1991 death of his parents (one of the key mysteries of the film) and his concern that superheroism is out of control. New combatant Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) joins the battle, finding the vibranium-clad African prince also interested in taking down the Winter Soldier.
Civil War welcomes an entire justice league, including a few old faces from the MCU, a burgeoning relationship between Vision and Wanda, and a human touch in the return of Sharon (Emily VanCamp), who joins Rogers in his moral quandary, while adding some warmth to Captain America’s newly empty life.
There’s a lot for the Russo Brothers to juggle, but Civil War never feels heavy or strained. The story marches all over the globe, but remains intimate, building tensions to a second act payoff that offers a battle royal between the costumed vigilantes at an airport. Such amplified combat complicates allegiances, setting up a third act where Rogers and Stark are forced to establish a new direction as world leaders seek to control them.
Civil War doesn’t bring anything significantly different to the MCU, but it doesn’t have to. Instead of altering narrative directions, it maintains the ongoing evolution of the characters, adding enough dramatic lubrication to feed additional sequels and spin-offs to this already glorious widescreen world.