Review: ‘Captain America: Civil War’ Swings Into Greatness

By April 13, 2016

In Captain America: Civil War, Marvel studios endeavors down a dangerous path in creating their most ambitious film to date. Not only is the film setting out to adapt the iconic titular comic book series, which pitted the entire Marvel comics universe against each other in a Team Iron Man vs Team Captain America battle, but also introduces several iconic comic book characters into the MCU for the first time, including Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa/Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man. The latter of whom is included in the film thanks to a nearly impossible joint partnership made between Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures.

With all of this and more on their plate with the new film, it’s not hard to see why Kevin Feige and co. would choose Anthony and Joe Russo to direct the film, who helmed Captain America: The Winter Soldier back in 2014, which is arguably the most technically efficient outing in the MCU up until this point. In Civil War they bring the same tactile, charging energy that was ever so present in Winter Soldier and have amplified it tenfold. Moving from one action set piece to another throughout the entire film’s run time, audiences will watch in awe as the battles in the film become increasingly larger as it goes on, whether it be on a physical or emotional scale.

None of that would matter though, if the film’s central, ideological struggle between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) doesn’t feel organic. These two heroes need to reach this point of no more talking in a way that feels real and authentic in the film’s universe and characters. Which is why in a lot of ways, the movie is a slow burn, that despite having action set pieces and plot movements being thrown at you from the very first frame, takes a good 3/4 of the run time before Cap and Iron Man actually start fighting each other. It’s thanks to all of the set up that’s been created in the hour and a half prior though, that the final pay off when the two heroes finally trade blows feels all the more satisfying.

A lot of the credit needs to be given as well, to the film’s screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who have crafted an intelligent and emotionally resonant film here. Much like the Russos, they’ve taken their work in The Winter Soldier, and given a film that very easily could have felt bloated or unnecessary, the kind of precision and emotion that it very desperately needed. Each character in the film gets their own moment, and because of Markus and McFeely’s screenplay, you get the sense of each character’s core beliefs and reasons for fighting, often summed up in just a few short sentences.

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Speaking of the characters as well, Civil War is not running short of any. In fact, you get the feeling watching the film that it’s getting ready to burst at the seams because of just how many characters can be standing in a single frame at any time. That fact only becomes increasingly more apparent as the film goes on as well, and had there been even one more character included in the movie, I imagine that it all would have very dearly fallen apart. It’s a tight rope act from beginning to end, and watching how the film navigates through each character’s viewpoint and the individual plot beats is one of the most entertaining structural rollercoasters that we’ve ever seen in a superhero movie.

Led by Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and Evans’ Steve Rogers as well, the pair give possibly their best performances as the respective characters here. Evans brings a conflicted depth to Rogers this time around, who along with being torn apart by his Avengers teammates, is facing a great deal of personal issues that are staring him straight in the face, and it’s clear that Steve is hanging on by a thread at one point in the film, ready to give up. That is, until Sebastian Stan’s Bucky enters back into the picture, who acts as a kind of call-to-action for Steve at a moment when he desperately needs his friend again.

Dealing with personal struggles of his own, and haunted by his past mistakes, this is the angriest and most frustrated that Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark has ever been as well, and when he acts irrationally, which his character is prone to doing, the outside struggles help to provide some much-needed context into the character’s mindset at each moment in the film, no matter how warped it might be.

Making his introduction into the MCU here as well, Chadwick Boseman infuses T’Challa with a never-ending, burning rage. He’s both consumed and driven by it though, and while his motivations for choosing to side with Tony Stark and his cause should be kept secret until you sit down and actually watch the film, it feels authentic and real from beginning to end. The costume itself is impressive and the blending of practical and CGI effects in his movements and fighting styles are never more impressive than in a motorcycle, tunnel chase sequence that will have you on the edge of your seat and often, gasping out loud in disbelief. He’s the most serious character in the film, but not in a way that ever feels forced or heavy-handed, and provides a refreshing contrast to the more familiar bonds that the other Avengers have with each other.

No other character manages to stand out quite as loudly or prominently though as Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. Introduced in the film at an integral turning point in the story, what the filmmakers do perhaps most brilliantly with their handling of the character this time around, is letting the audiences become acquainted with Holland’s Peter Parker and his home life with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) before even introducing us to his wall-crawling antics. He has one scene in the film that both manages to bypass the traditional Uncle Ben origin story and pay homage to it in the most beautiful way. In just one line, you learn everything that you need to know about Holland’s Peter Parker, his reasons for fighting the good fight, and what makes him possibly the most morally conscious character in the film. For once, we have both a stellar Peter Parker and Spider-Man onscreen at the same time.

This all coalesces into an airport fight sequence that is without a doubt, not only the greatest moment in Civil War, but the greatest sequence that we’ve seen in any of the Marvel films yet. It’s dynamic, well-paced, and choreographed beautifully. The Russo Brothers have called it the splash page scene in the film, referring to the one two-paged moment in a team up comic book where all the heroes would be featured together in this glorious mosaic. Every character plays a role in the sequence, which averages in close to twenty minutes, and while none can quite live up to the verbal diarrhea and pure excitement exhibited by Holland’s Spider-Man, who swings around the environment, impressing all of the characters on both sides, Paul Rudd’s Scott Lange/Ant-Man comes pretty damn close a number of times as well. It’s beautiful, memorable, and everything that I’ve ever wanted to see in a comic book film that manages to end with an emotionally powerful beat that helps to propel all of the characters into the film’s final act.

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What follows the airport sequence is a final act that instead of getting bigger and flashier as well, which most blockbuster films for some reason feel the need to do, Civil War narrows the number of characters onscreen down to only the main few, in an emotionally taxing battle that’s not only well-staged but breathtaking to behold from a thematic standpoint as well. By the time it’s over, you’ll be as tired by the fight as the characters involved are. I’ve never seen a superhero movie, where I wanted the fighting to stop, not from nauseau or annoyance, but for the characters’ well-being. The way that the film ends is a gutsy one as well. Like the rest of the film, none of it is cut and dry and none of it feels easy. These characters have elevated past symbols of hope and become real people, who make human mistakes, and must suffer the consequences in ways that I don’t think anyone would imagine a Marvel movie to force them to.

This all circles back to The Russo Brothers at the helm as well, who have imbued the film with a kind of authentic emotion and understanding of its characters that makes almost every other comic book movie feel only half-complete. I have no idea how this movie works because for all intents and purposes – it should not. It tries to do more than any sensible blockbuster film should ever really try, but thanks to twelve movies of universe and character-building previously, Civil War is a triumph from beginning to end. No matter what The Avengers plot synopsis says, this is what the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building towards.

This is not to say that the movie is perfect. It stumbles and falls at points. Daniel Bruhl’s Baron Zemo, who manipulates a large majority of the film’s plot beats, often feels too omnipresent for his own good, and if you really think about it, there’s no way his character could know some things he does, or predict each character’s actions the way he does. But none of that really matters. They are the very definition of nitpicks, and I imagine that in thirty years Civil War will be talked about and looked back on by audiences and critics in the same way that we talk about movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Back to the Future now.

Where other superhero movies believe that simply putting the characters together onscreen is enough, Civil War is smarter than that, and it understands not only the value in showing small moments of interactions between even the most supporting of supporting characters, but it also understands that an unmotivated and inorganic punch can feel just as hollow and ineffective as eating a bag of air.

Instead, Captain America: Civil War strives for emotional and thematic authenticity from beginning to end and because of that, it shines bright as Marvel studios’ most accomplished film to date, and a crowning achievement in the comic book genre. It’s one thing to pit two iconic heroes against each other, but it’s another to make each person’s case feel justified and well-thought out. By the time Civil War ends, you’ll just want these to characters to stop fighting each other. With that palpable, emotional weight, The Russo Brothers and Marvel have made a movie that is impossible to look away from. These heroes aren’t just punching each other because it feels like the studio really wanted to sell movie tickets. In a sense too, that is the film’s greatest accomplishment.

Captain America: Civil War will hit theatres on May 6th.

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Alex Welch

Alex Welch

Alex dreams of meeting a girl with a yellow umbrella, and spends too much time* staring at a movie screen. His vocabulary consists mostly of movie quotes and 80s song lyrics. *Debatable