At this point, Marvel have established themselves as the kings of the superhero genre, with the MCU being the pinnacle of their achievements. Even the weaker films in the MCU (Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World) are still good films. However, Marvel have been getting a reputation for their films being overstuffed and too focused on setting up sequels than in creating good films, and there was a belief that Captain America: Civil War would follow that trend. Thankfully though, the Russo Brothers and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have continued the strong trend of Marvel, creating what may be the best film in the MCU so far.
The plot focuses on the aftermath both of the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron (with Tony Stark being confronted by the mother of one of the people who died in Sokovia in that film) and an incident involving the Avengers which kills several citizens of Wakanda, a secretive African country, leading to the UN creating the Sokovia Accords, intended to be a check on the power of The Avengers to prevent such things from happening again. Support for the accords is led by Stark, mainly due to the guilt he feels over his actions in Age of Ultron, and is opposed by Steve Rogers, who doesn’t trust any form of government after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In the mix is Bucky Barnes, The Winter Soldier, who is accused of bombing the UN meeting where the accords are signed, along with the mystery figure of Zemo, who seems to be manipulating events behind the scenes. In any film like this, it’s easy for the filmmakers to take a certain side, the other one becoming a strawman for views they don’t agree with, what’s smart about Civil War is that both Stark and Rogers are right. You completely understand where they are coming from with every point and as such, you find it hard to actually pick a side because you end up agreeing with both of them, which helps fuel the drama of the film. The film also does a good job of showing the consequences of the actions of the Avengers, not just on a worldwide scale but on a personal scale, how their actions have caused a great tole on the lives of the individual members of the Avengers and as the film goes on, instead of the stakes getting expanded as in the other MCU films, they become more personal and this is probably the greatest strength of Civil War. There’s a reason the film is Captain America: Civil War and not Avengers: Civil War and that’s because the film is firmly Steve’s story. All the other characters, as well written as they are in this film, are more background dressing for the main story with Steve and Bucky, focusing on their friendship and the attempts to keep Bucky from harm, with this, more than the business with the Sokovia accords, being responsible for the conflict with Tony. All the revelations that come about with Bucky and the way they impact the characters make this an incredibly powerful film, probably the most powerful in the MCU with the main fight in the film between Steve, Bucky and Tony being one of the most agonising scenes in the MCU as you desperately want them to stop fighting.
However, that’s not to say the film is all dark, the film still retains the signature humour for the MCU, mainly through the character interactions, all of which feel natural for the film, with special praise going to the initial interactions with Scott Lang and Peter Parker. There’s this sense of joy that permeates all through these scenes which makes the film so fun to watch. There’s also the little details which add to the overall enjoyment of the film whilst also informing the growth in the characters, mainly involving The Vision, which I’ll get to later.
One of the things that is hard to avoid with this film are comparisons with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Many of the main plot ideas are identical between the films, mainly involving Zemo (although his plan makes much more sense than Lex Luthor’s in Batman v Superman, in that it actually makes sense), but there are two main differences between the films. The first is that Civil War is intent on telling a good story first and foremost. Sure it’s also a set up for Black Panther and Spider-Man: Homecoming but, as I said earlier, Civil War is more focused on the personal level. Batman v Superman though is, first and foremost, a set-up for Justice League, the film even stopping to show trailers for the other DC films, which just drew me out of the experience. The second, and probably more important difference, is maturity. Though the themes of guilt, responsibility and oversight are seen in both films, Civil War takes the time to explore these themes, showing how they impact the characters. In Batman v Superman though, they feel like window dressing, the film focusing more on fight scenes, wanting to seem mature but instead takes on the worst Frank Miller style of gritty, Zack Synder and David S Goyer acting more like pouty teenagers than the adults that the Russo’s, Markus and McFeely are. In retrospect, Civil War retroactively improves the other MCU films, but also shows exactly how Batman v Superman completely failed as a superhero film.
On a performance level, the film continues the strong trend of the MCU. Chris Evans does a great job as Rogers, showing his commitment to his ideals and the friendship he has with Bucky, along with his determination in all the fights and his growing grief over the people he knows dying. Robert Downey Jr meanwhile is probably the best he’s ever been in the MCU as Stark. The level of grief and pain he has over everything that has happened throughout the MCU, particularly Age of Ultron comes to the forefront here, creating some of the most powerful scenes in the film. When it gets to the more personal stuff at the end of the film though is when Downey Jr shines. The anger and pain that Downey shows throughout this scene being one of the best parts of the film. Sebastian Stan meanwhile adds more depth to Bucky here than in Winter Soldier, the conflict in his mind and his desire to regain his memories being brilliantly conveyed and the friendship chemistry that he shares with Evans is excellent to watch. The ideological divide is brilliantly shown by Scarlett Johanssen in her scenes, whilst Anthony Mackie adds some great humour in his scenes, something also seen with the performances from Paul Rudd, Don Cheadle, Martin Freeman and Emily Van Camp.
Great character work is also seen by Paul Bettany as the Vision and his attempts to adjust to human life, including dressing like a human and cooking, even though he has never eaten before. Elizabeth Olsen meanwhile does a much stronger job here than in Age of Ultron, showing her guilt over the events at the start of the film and her growing disillusionment with the rest of humanity over their fear of her. Bettany and Olsen also share some great scenes together, creating very compelling characters and showing great themes of the nature of fear.
The new additions to the cast equate themselves brilliantly into the MCU. Chadwick Boseman makes a great first impression as Black Panther, there being a strong sense of affection between him and his father in the brief scenes they have together, along with a fierce regality and quiet rage and strength which makes him a very compelling presence. Tom Holland as Spider-Man meanwhile makes a very strong impression, having the potential to be the best screen version of the character in Spider-Man: Homecoming. The intelligence of the character is brilliantly seen, especially with him creating the webshooters and seeing that he repairs old, broken technology. The humour in the character is preserved here and comes across as great comedic writing rather than the annoyance it was in the Amazing Spider-Man films, along with these scenes establishing that this is a young character. There are also great, quiet scenes with the character showing the love he has for Aunt May, with Marisa Tomei making a good impression, and some feelings of guilt over the death of Uncle Ben. The best new addition though is Daniel Bruhl as Zemo. To say too much would be spoiling the film, but what I will say is that Bruhl has a fierce intelligence and determination throughout the film, with the eventual reveal of his motivations making him one of the more tragic of the villains in the MCU.
On a technical level, the film is very impressive. The Russo’s continue the strong directorial trend they established with Winter Soldier, the action scenes here being amongst the best in the MCU, all of them taking advantage of the skills of the characters. The highlight of this being the fight between all the heroes at an airport, the scene showing the way the characters interact with each other in a very natural way, creating some great geek out moments throughout the scene. Special praise also has to go to the stunt team, the practical stunts in this film being brilliant spectacles, creating a pretty brutal vision of the fights which fits with the overall tone of the film. The costume design here is strong, the new Spider-Man costume being a highlight, with a brilliant reasoning behind the contracting eyes on the costume, along with adding to the relationship between Stark and Parker. The only real downside to the technical side is something that very few of the other MCU films have had and that’s a memorable score, which would have added to the tone of the film, particularly if themes from the other films were incorporated.
Just when I thought the MCU couldn’t surpass itself Captain America: Civil War comes along. More so than the Avengers films, this is the film that proves just how successful the MCU has become. All the strong character development seen throughout the MCU comes to the forefront here, this being the culmination of all the growth seen with the other MCU films. Without the other films in the MCU, this would merely be a great film, but the way it builds on the character growth in the other films, creating a film that’s both joyful and mature pushes this to the peak of the MCU. After DC spectacularly dropped the ball with Batman v Superman, I wanted this film to be good to show the world the power that superhero films can have, and Marvel picked up the ball and ran with it. This will probably be the best blockbuster film of 2016.
My Rating: 5/5