Captain America: Civil War is another great entry into Cap’s saga, but the introduction of Spider-Man and wedging in every last MCU face feels too forced, even if those elements work on their own.
Cap and the current crop of Avengers are busy hunting down the last remnants of Hydra when their collateral damage finally comes home to roost. The United Nations gets a majority of the world’s countries to come together and agree that the Avengers must be regulated and deployed by a special committee, granted by the Sokovia Accords, to hopefully limit their destruction and loss of innocent life. This sign up or be an enemy mentality the U.S. Secretary of State throws around splits the team in a hurry, with Cap and Falcon falling on the side of no go, Tony, Rhodes and Vision agreeing to the oversight, while Wanda and Natasha find themselves a bit stuck in the middle. When the signing ceremony of the Sokovia Accords is bombed, reportedly by the Winter Soldier, the King of Wakanda is killed. The son of the Wakanda King, T’Challa, vows vengeance on Bucky and it becomes a race between him and Cap to see who can track down the Winter Soldier first.
There is a lot of plot rolled up into the first half of this film and I was eating it up every step of the way. I know this feels like Avengers 2.5 based on the marketing, but that really is only the case for an extended chunk of the film where the two sides have to act out the titular Civil War. The thing is, they could have gotten away with a lot of the infighting going on in the film, even put it out there on a physical level, and the film would have been really great and felt like a cohesive and singular story. Instead, we get this detour into something that feels completely separate from the rest of the film and you can feel the strain of Civil War having to play into the greater needs of the MCU. This is never a problem for me with MCU films, but I felt that strain here in a number of aspects, wishing we just stayed with the Captain America/Winter Soldier/Iron Man/Black Panther story.
At first, all the disparate threads are integrated really well. We get to see the dynamic of the Avengers, we see how they are slowly driven apart, and we see how they still respect one another even when they have these differences over how they are currently being managed. I loved the way they bring Bucky and Cap back together. I loved the tension between Cap and Tony, with a wavering Natasha being just as conflicting for Cap. The character building of Vision and Wanda felt a bit outside this story, but the beats were working between the two and I liked seeing Wanda struggle with her powers. They even perfectly folded in T’Challa/Black Panther into the fold as an excellent counter to Steve as they hunt down Bucky. Where things get a little wonky is when the film grinds to a halt to introduce Spider-Man into the MCU and bring back every superhero in a Marvel film that still resides on earth.
Now, this isn’t to say these elements don’t work on their own. I really enjoyed Tom Holland’s take on Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and I loved seeing him get a piece of everyone in the big tarmac battle, but his intro feels so forced; a blatant setup for Spider-Man: Homecoming. From there it drags Hawkeye and Ant-Man into the fold with no reasoning at all, and while they are both very funny and have some great action beats they bear no consequence on the outcome of the story. All of these guys are here just to have this big, fun, awesome fight. I just wish it all felt like it mattered, because as a piece of superhero action filmmaking, it ranks right up there with the best the genre has to offer. Vision and Scarlet Witch barely even feel right being there, especially when the battle boils down to needing to stop Cap and Bucky from getting on a plane. If this set piece had been replaced with a thrilling chase sequence/fight of some sort between the principal players not mentioned in this paragraph, the film would have felt like it stayed on point with its plot and been much more narratively satisfying. What we get is a blast to watch as an action set piece, but is ultimately a fun distraction from a compelling and serious story swirling around the main players. Does this make me excited for what the Russo’s are capable of when they take the Avengers reigns, for sure, but all this extra stuff ultimately got in the way of a really great Captain America movie already in progress.
Thankfully, things get back on track pretty quickly and a couple of third act twists set into motion the emotional stakes of the finale, which are taken to a place higher than any other MCU film. The final struggle is brutal, and while there might be a lot of cool fighting going on, every punch hurts as you watch these friends try and tear each other apart. It really makes you appreciate the understated development of everything going on in the Captain America A-plot, whether it was the calm determination of T’Challa, the slow reveal of the meaning of the opening scene or the methodical unveiling of our villain’s plan, the Russo Brothers beautifully bring it all together in the end. Daniel Brühl deserves mention as that villain, Zemo, as he constantly keeps us intrigued without ever throwing a punch and only giving us a steady drip of his plan and why acts the way he does. Tony, Cap, Natasha and Bucky can also all play their parts rather low-key because we know all of these characters so well, they don’t have to resort to big emotions for us to know how these guys feel in these situations; one big bonus of the MCU.
I spent a lot of time discussing the things that get in the way of this film from being something truly special, but there is still a lot of special to be found in Captain America: Civil War. Chris Evans just continues to be the absolute best as Steve Rogers, and I could watch him kick people for hours as Captain America. Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark is what we’ve come to expect, and that is a good thing. Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen take full advantage of the opportunities to expand their characters and I found myself wishing we got more time with them. Sebastian Stan also really nails the tormented nature of the Winter Soldier, while Anthony Mackie is again one of the best sidekicks a man could ask for. I do wish Scarlett Johansson got a bit more to do here, she’s my biggest complaint character wise for the film, but I do love her big moment with Black Panther in the tarmac fight. Lastly, Chadwick Boseman is wonderfully stoic as T’Challa and the film effectively primed me to want to see him in his solo film in a couple of years, especially with where they leave that character off and what he has to protect.
The action in Captain America: Civil War is just as brutal and intense as the Russos delivered in Winter Soldier, but I feel like I need to see it again to gauge whether or not the quality is on par with that film. The edit seems more frantic than Winter Soldier, and the camera felt too tight for a lot of the action, but I was also sitting a bit closer to the screen than I would have liked. Still had a blast watching Captain America kick people, and I really enjoyed the foot chase with Cap, Panther and Winter Soldier, but the brutality of the final battle I wasn’t ready for. You can’t pick a side and everyone is justified in feeling the way they want to feel. Also, loved Black Panther in pretty much every way. He just pops up in the action like the cat he is supposed to be and going toe to toe with Cap and Winter Soldier was an impressive debut.
The stuff in the big “Civil War” fight is endlessly inventive from start to finish, giving us a look at everyone’s ability, and it is all played with a tone of we got to stop each other, not kill each other. Well, maybe not Black Panther. That playful tone might have played a part in the scene feeling so separate from the rest of the film, where the stakes always feel life or death. As fun as this scene is to watch, you know there aren’t going to really be any major consequences. Even the one Avenger who does actually get messed up, we know Tony Stark is going to fix them up sooner or later.
The stakes in general are possibly the biggest weakness of the film, as I was quite disappointed that things went from some of these characters ready to kill one another to pretty much the status quo after one letter. Yes, the Avengers’ headquarters only houses three members at the end, one of which might be paralyzed, but that cooler heads have seemed to have prevailed so quickly was a bit deflating to the emotional through line of the film beforehand. If only Marvel had the guts to kill someone who matters. Still, I can’t wait to see what the Russo’s do when they have everyone at their fingertips in the next Avengers film, as they have proven that they can certainly deliver on the action side of things. Maybe the stakes will be allowed to be higher when Thanos comes around.
Captain America: Civil War is a great continuation of Cap’s story, but the MCU gets a bit in the way. The “Civil War” elements of the film feel out of place, even if they are executed as great as anything the MCU has to offer action wise, and it unfortunately pulls you out of the Captain America narrative that works so well. Thankfully, the Russo’s are able to reign it all back in once they are able to just tell their character’s story, as Chris Evans continues to be the best thing going in MCU.