Heroes versus heroes has been a recurring theme in live-action comic book adaptations this year. It’s been done well, Daredevil taking on The Punisher, and less well, Batman hunting Superman. Now Marvel Studios, the reigning king of page-to-screen adaptations, takes its swing with Captain America: Civil War and, of course, hits it out of the park.
Captain America: Civil War is a compelling psychological thriller wrapped around a massive superhero showdown. In the eight years since Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) told the world, “I am Iron Man,” the number of incidents with excessive collateral damage and civilian casualties has increased exponentially, especially when all of The Avengers are involved. The world has drawn the line after the battle of Sokovia in last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and another terrible tragedy early on in the film.
With the approval of over 100 nations, the Sokovia Accords are introduced and under its provisions, The Avengers must agree to oversight from a United Nations committee. The Avengers have to sign the Accords and cannot take action without the approval/direction of the committee. If they refuse to sign, they must retire, for if they act independently, they will be arrested just like the criminals they fight. Tony Stark is in favor of the Accords while Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans), is opposed. The rest of The Avengers are evenly divided on each side of the issue.
This is one of the key successes of Captain America: Civil War. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have created a valid issue to divide the heroes and done so in a way that nobody is wrong or antagonistic. Tony, Vision (Paul Bettany), and James “War Machine” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) all believe The Avengers should be acting with what they see as the consent of those they wish to protect. Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) feels the same way, surprisingly putting her on the opposite side of Cap, with whom she bonded in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Steve Rogers is not looking for a rebellion. The man who once lied on enlistment forms to join the rank and file military has had his trust in the government betrayed one time too many. Like Rogers, Sam “Falcon” Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Wanda “Scarlet Witch” Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), and Clint “Hawkeye” Barton all believe that failing to save any lives because of potential corruption or red tape is far worse than not saving every life when they act on their own.
The wild cards in this story are Scott Lang, better known as Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Peter Park/Spider-Man (Tom Holland.) Ant-Man and the best cinematic Spider-Man ever are last minute recruits for Team Cap and Team Iron Man, respectively. Black Panther, in a standout performance by Boseman, has his own personal concerns that ultimately align him with Team Iron Man.
Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), formerly (everyone hopes) The Winter Soldier, is caught in the middle when he’s accused of bombing a UN meeting about the Sokovia Accords. In the process, Bucky becomes the first case that puts the Accords to the test. Naturally, Bucky sides with Team Cap, as he’s sticking with his best pal Steve Rogers till the end of the line.
The best part of all this is that the characters actually get to express their feelings on the issues at hand. We do not have to wonder what they think. We get to hear them tell us. Everyone’s perspective is accounted for and delivered in a way that makes their positions and actions completely credible.
The conflict is expertly constructed in the script and directors Joe and Anthony Russo get the most out of it with a beautifully balanced tone throughout the film. We care about these characters and we like them, so even though things get dark and go to deep, emotional places, the movie maintains its sense of humor and we are afforded many opportunities to just have fun, especially in the major showdown between all the heroes at a German airport.
“The Airport Sequence” is, simply put, the most spectacular scene in the history of superhero movies. It is a non-stop thrill ride from start to finish with heroes trading their best moves and verbal jabs with one “Who would win” scenario after another. All of the humor in the scene works, both as a sign of the characters’ natural personalities shining through and as a coping mechanism to help them deal with being in a fist fight with their best friends.
Ant-Man and Spider-Man steal the show here with hilarious banter and incredibly cool action beats. We will be talking about “The Airport Sequence” for as long as we talk about superhero movies and it will draw audiences back to the theater for many repeat viewings. It’s that great.
Captain America: Civil War is action-packed and The Russo Brothers have cemented themselves as the best action directors working today. They’ve upped the ante from Captain America: The Winter Soldier with an amazing opening sequence that shows The Avengers as a a finely-tuned machine. They crank up the suspense in an awesome fight/chase/fight again scene with Bucky on the run in Bucharest and more intense action before we even get to “The Airport Sequence.”
Spectacle is an appropriately massive part of Captain America: Civil War, but The Russos reign in the film’s final fight to give it the emotional weight it needs. The political divide between heroes becomes very personal, making the battle much more intimate, brutal, and heart-wrenching. Emotions are running high and the action becomes much more savage. Even though the scene is great, you want the fight to end because you care about the characters and ultimately do not want to see them hurt each other in ways that do not heal.
Captain America: Civil War undoubtedly benefits from the groundwork laid in previous Marvel Studios films, but even on its own, the movie completely works because it does not assume every viewer already knows these characters. Each character gets at least one meaningful moment to earn the audience’s affection and most of the actors, particularly Downey and Evans, turn in their best performance as their respective characters. The only ones who don’t are Renner and Rudd, who are both great here, but just don’t have quite as much to do or say here as they did in Avengers: Age of Ultron (for Renner) and Ant-Man (for Rudd) last year.
Daniel Brühl is not at all what you would expect from a Marvel villain as Zemo. He is a departure from his comic book counterpart and spends most of his time working behind the scenes, but he proves to be a formidable and, more importantly, interesting foe. Martin Freeman and Emily VanCamp round out the stellar cast as Everett K. Ross and Sharon Carter. They both give excellent performances in smaller roles, especially VanCamp, who gets in on the action and also begins Sharon’s inevitable and complicated romance with Steve.
Captain America: Civil War offers everything audiences seek from not just superhero movies, but their favorite summer blockbusters. It has all the spectacle one could hope for, but more importantly, it is supported by a fascinating story that examines the roles of superheroes in our modern society. It is full of characters we love expressing valid viewpoints and displaying the traits that have allowed us to connect with them even when things get rough.
There have been a number of great films centered on superheroes and Marvel Studios has produced several of them. Captain America: Civil War now stands atop the mountain as the very best. It offers the spectacular imagery that compels kids to pick up their first comic book along with the classic storytelling and outstanding character work that allows adult fans to keep that piece of their childhood with them. Thrilling, emotional, and packed to the brim with action, Captain America: Civil War is a complete cinematic and entertainment experience.
Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War is in theaters May 6.