Despite many people most frequently looking to DC’s Oscar-winning Batman opus, The Dark Knight from 2008 as the highest proof that comic book movies have grown up considerably in the modern era, taking on heavy political and philosophical issues with gusto, another popular example to prove this point is Marvel’s similarly acclaimed 2014 offering, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Presenting an espionage-flavoured look at the bureaucracy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, drenched in moral greys and providing no easy answers as to the state of our modern world, even beyond fantastical superheroes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has since gone on to be considered not only one of Marvel’s best movies to date, but also one of the best superhero movies in the history of the film industry!
That leaves some pretty big shoes to fill for Captain America: Civil War, the follow-up to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which places Joe and Anthony Russo back in the directors’ chair, and kicks the Captain America movie franchise into an even higher gear, as it incorporates a greater roster of heroes from various other corners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while also loosely adapting one of Marvel Comics’ most beloved modern story arcs, Civil War. Once again, politics strike at the heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but this time, the very heroes themselves are divided, when the world’s governments begin to step in with a concerted effort to regulate the use of enhanced individuals on the battlefield against the world’s enemies. Our heroes have never been weaker or less sure of themselves, and yet, it is with no exaggeration that I say that Captain America: Civil War beats the odds, and could be an even better movie than the stellar Captain America: The Winter Soldier!
Just like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War is a movie that just gets pretty much everything right, and there’s no better way to describe it. Everything from the action to the drama to the politics to the special effects to the humour, it’s all supremely crafted and polished to perfection, leading to a movie that consistently engages your mind as much as your senses, and yet also makes you laugh and cry at the same incredible frequency that it makes you think. It’s practically an unofficial Avengers sequel in all but name, given the sheer amount of movie heroes that are showing up to the event this time (only Thor, Hulk and the Guardians of the Galaxy aren’t present), but that’s fine, since, despite the large cast, everyone gets plenty of moments to shine, and everyone is a crucial part of the brilliant story and how it proceeds.
Obviously, Marvel fans will absolutely adore Captain America: Civil War, as will superhero enthusiasts in general, with this movie being a perfect antidote to the rather disappointing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in terms of giving us the cinematic superhero duel that we truly deserve. Moviegoers in general absolutely shouldn’t miss this movie though, since it’s such an amazing blockbuster spectacle that pretty much anyone can find lots to love within, regardless of what they’re going for. May’s only just started, and already, we have an easy contender for one of this year’s best Summer blockbusters, and best movies overall!
In terms of pushing the characters to new emotional and political challenges as much as actively pitting them against each other, Captain America: Civil War accomplishes a good chunk of character struggle that Avengers: Age of Ultron didn’t fully succeed at last year. Despite the ensemble focus of the Civil War event from Marvel Comics, Captain America: Civil War obviously primarily unfolds from the perspective of Captain America, who continues to assist the government in international affairs, despite the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. during Captain America: The Winter Soldier. As with the source comics, Cap ends up a fugitive, again, when he decides to reject U.N. government-mandated restrictions on when and how the Avengers can operate, believing that it will cause more problems than it fixes.
Again, as with the source comics, the chief champion on the other side of the fence is Iron Man, who feels that the team should comply with the government’s restrictions in the multi-national act, The Sokovia Accords, inked after the Sokovia disaster that occurred during the climax of Avengers: Age of Ultron last year. Tormented by guilt, and berated by the relatives and friends of innocent people that the Avengers were unable to save, Tony Stark is desperate to find a way to make things right, to make his team of heroes accountable for their actions, despite Cap feeling that the safest hands are still the Avengers’ own, and that they alone should have discretion when it comes to saving people and stopping evil.
Something that makes the character drama throughout Captain America: Civil War very powerful and emotional, especially for avid Marvel fans, is that there is no right answer to the Sokovia Accords. The movie does a fantastic job of making both Cap and Iron Man sympathetic, and not portraying either man as being a hero or a villain. Both are simply doing what they think is right, and that unfortunately pits them, along with several other heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at odds with one another, as they’re forced to choose sides in the conflict. This leads to a movie that goes beyond the idea of good guys and bad guys, and offers a look at clashing ideologies that is both inspiring and tragic in equal measure. Regardless of your determination to be, “Team Cap”, or, “Team Iron Man” when going into this movie, just about everyone is probably going to flip-flop at least a couple of times, since both the Pro-Registration and Anti-Registration groups raise good points, come at the issue intelligently, and make both factions look good and right in their own ways.
Of course, when it comes to the actual heroic clash, that definitely doesn’t disappoint either. Seeing the characters actually duke it out is something that the movie sets up and earns well, especially when it doesn’t sacrifice humour and fun when it comes to the personalities of each hero. As much as it should be sad to see our favourite Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes trading blows, it’s also kind of fun and hilarious too, which is very true to the spirit of the Marvel Cinematic Universe overall. Even recently-introduced characters like Falcon, The Winter Soldier, Vision, Scarlet Witch and Ant-Man get to join in the fun, and all of them, along with frequent heroes like Black Widow, Hawkeye, War Machine and, naturally, Cap and Iron Man themselves, have a good share of cool moments in the action, as well as inspiring and smart moments in the rest of the story. Everyone has their place, and nobody is wasted, making this a superb use of an ensemble cast overall, even in a movie that still primarily stands as a Captain America story.
The only slight drawback to what’s otherwise a very compelling, morally uncertain conflict on both sides amongst the heroes, is the movie still feeling the need to crowbar in a black-and-white villain, in the form of Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo. I do have to commend Marvel for at least attempting to be subversive with this character, whom Bruhl plays pretty well, as he has pretty much nothing to do with the Marvel Comics character that inspired him, Baron Zemo, yet creates a new personality that fits well into the ideologically grey atmosphere of the movie. It’s just too bad that Zemo’s presence feels forced, and like he’s primarily there to just make sure that the heroes don’t fully stop being likable because of their separate agendas clashing. The movie still goes to shocking, bold places, and still does an excellent job of portraying the cost of war, especially to one’s values, but despite Marvel’s efforts to make Zemo an interesting and different sort of villain for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he sadly gets overshadowed in the end, lost in the noise of what’s already a plenty strong hero-vs.-hero conflict anchoring most of the movie.
Of course, that’s not to say that every new character introduced in Captain America: Civil War fails to register. Quite the opposite is true, in fact! Noble African hero, Black Panther is introduced in this movie, ahead of headlining his own solo movie in 2018, played by Chadwick Boseman, and Boseman’s Black Panther is a fantastic character here! A raw, burdened prince who suddenly finds himself in charge of pulling his nation together in the wake of tragedy, Black Panther is a captivating new hero for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having a driven, unyielding sense of honour and courage, and, most importantly, he’s a truly badass fighter too! Black Panther is an incredible force to be reckoned with in combat, and when the conflict pits him against Cap’s forces, he quickly proves to be formidable in all of the best ways! Amazingly, Captain America: Civil War does a superb job at establishing everything you need to know about this character within this story, and by the end, you will be highly anticipating the dedicated Black Panther movie that’s coming out in a couple of years, since it will be the next chance to see more of this great new Marvel Cinematic Universe personality!
Even more monumental in Captain America: Civil War however is the introduction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Spider-Man, who is finally joining the other big screen Marvel heroes in this movie. Tom Holland portrays the new Spider-Man, and you will be all the more over the moon at Marvel and Sony Pictures inking a deal to share the character on the big screen, since Holland is easily the best big screen Spider-Man to date! A brilliant, but very poor young teenager who has mysteriously found himself with his familiar abilities from Marvel lore, which quickly have him in way over his head, a very unrefined Peter Parker quickly finds himself under Iron Man’s wing in this movie, who exploits an opportunity to recruit the fledgling Spider-Man to his side, fixing up his hilariously awful costume (yes, finally, Peter Parker does not inexplicably have the ability to sew himself a fantastic, movie-worthy Spider-Man costume!), and that gives Spider-Man a chance to be established in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (along with Marisa Tomei’s assertive and beautiful Aunt May), without the same tired old origin story playing out again.
You’ll quickly grow to love Holland’s Spider-Man with no effort, who has a lovable earnestness to his simple-minded heroics and desire to please the people he looks up to, and, yes, he’s not a downer in the slightest, with Holland already mastering a cavalcade of wisecracks, along with having a whip-smart sense of humour. As with Black Panther, audiences will be very eager to see more of this character in his own solo movie upon witnessing him here! At least that one’s set to arrive next year, so it’s not too far away.
I cannot stress enough how much every character in this movie is firing on all cylinders. Every moment with these characters is executed to perfection, with the movie never failing to elicit any thoughts or emotions that it aims to bring up in any given scene. Zemo is unfortunately a weak link, and his presence means that the movie has to go beyond its big superhero melee to wrap up the rest of the villain’s own plot against the dueling good guys, but even then, Zemo has his share of good scenes, and is performed well. Even when juggling so many characters, Captain America: Civil War never becomes unfocused or unappealing, and somehow, it makes its ambitious ensemble effort look easy, even as it’s taking pretty much every one of its heroic personalities to frightening new territory!
With its morally complex storyline and heavy themes of political backlash and the cost of peace, you’d think that Captain America: Civil War would be an uncharacteristic, self-indulgent bore for Marvel. Amazingly though, it avoids being that, presenting a storyline that feels very rooted in fun, upbeat Marvel Cinematic Universe sensibilities, but one that still balances that with real-world allegories that give the titular conflict a very strong sense of weight and stakes. Essentially, Captain America: Civil War takes the best ideas that were all throughout Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and then takes them further, while also steering the franchise in an interesting new direction, and that’s exactly what a good sequel should do!
The simple idea of a spat between Captain America and Iron Man snowballs into a very riveting issue that ends up sucking in almost every movie personality in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, beyond the ones that would give the street-level heroes a blatant combat disadvantage anyway. In the process, the heroes are forced to re-examine themselves and their beliefs, trying to figure out what’s right in a world that is gradually making less sense with every passing year. This movie also comes at a smart time for the progression of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, since cosmic big bad, Thanos is right around the corner, and will no doubt put the very universe itself to the test, come the release of the two Avengers: Infinity War movies in 2018 and 2019.
As with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War is a fantastic testament to a truly mature superhero movie economy that has broken out of its childish roots, and can actually engage even the world’s greatest minds and hearts in a lively debate about where the line is, and what’s necessary to do what’s right. Even considering the legacy of Marvel’s Civil War comic, Captain America: Civil War presents a superhero movie that is a cut above most of the rest in terms of brains, and also in terms of fun factor and engagement. It’s extremely difficult to tell a story that is both highly entertaining and highly thought-provoking, but somehow, Captain America: Civil War pulls it off, and then resets the bar for superhero movie story quality while it’s at it!
As for post-credits scenes and other such big developments and tie-ins to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they’re surprisingly quite minimal, given the large nature of the movie’s key conflict. There are two post-credits scenes in the movie, with a mid-credits scene having Winter Soldier go back into stasis after Black Panther agrees to hide him in Wakanda, possibly suggesting a story thread for 2018’s Black Panther movie. A second post-credits scene shows Peter Parker playing with a Spider-Man-themed watch after he lies about his bruises from the superhero fight to Aunt May, claiming kids at school beat him up. The Spider-Man scene does foreshadow next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming to a point, but largely just exists for a couple of funny jokes to round things off.
Joe and Anthony Russo already did a phenomenal job directing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but even then, they manage to outdo themselves in Captain America: Civil War. Despite the massive and ambitious movie that they’re helming, the Russo brothers pretty much nail every scene that they conceive. Everything from character moments to action to gags, and of course, to the big superhero showdown that this movie primarily marketed itself on, is realized nigh on flawlessly, with the movie always knowing when to move between emotional scenes to funny scenes to thrilling scenes, without ever feeling like the pacing stalls, or a scene is out of place.
Captain America: Civil War is a movie that is clearly very calculated, down to its smallest detail, and yet, it doesn’t feel calculated. The Russo brothers once again steep the world in sort of a Cold War spy flick-inspired flavour, but also place everything through a chillingly modern lens, making every scene feel like it matters, not just to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but to our real world! The conflict behind the movie is one that somehow manages to mirror similar matters in real life, and the crowning achievement for Joe and Anthony Russo is that they’ve helmed a movie that is about superheroes fighting each other, and yet they make you really deeply, intimately care about it on a very personal level, far beyond the surface spectacle, and far beyond a simple geekgasm.
As I said, the Russo brothers’ direction has taken the best ideas from the action, drama, humour and effects behind Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and pushed it forward, while also charting a new path for it. In a way, Captain America: Civil War feels like the perfect transitional movie for the Russo brothers, as they move on to replacing former Avengers director, Joss Whedon in helming the two Avengers: Infinity War movies set to arrive over the next few years. This movie perfectly bridges the gap between the political satire and commentary behind the Captain America movies, while also capturing the grand scale and character clashes of the Avengers movies. The result is the best of both worlds in two of the finest franchises currently under the Marvel Studios banner, with this movie possibly representing some of the best directing work in any superhero movie made to date, Marvel or otherwise!
Henry Jackman once again returns to compose the score for Captain America: Civil War, which, as with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, feels evocative of classic spy thrillers such as the 1970’s James Bond movies, for example. There’s a modern grit to the score though, which goes with the Russo brothers’ direction in taking classic spy media, and putting a modern spin on it. This leads to yet another superb musical score for Marvel in Captain America: Civil War, and one that Marvel fans will likely want to own and listen to at their leisure.
The rest of the audio suite hits as hard as you would expect it to, which is to say, very. The Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes haven’t started pulling any punches, and that’s especially evident in IMAX theatres, where the conflict will really wallop audiences with full force! Many of the sounds are familiar, such as the whirring of Iron Man’s technology, the humming of Captain America’s shield, and the reality-bending of Scarlet Witch, but it all sounds as appealing as it ever was. With heroes like Ant-Man, Black Panther and Spider-Man now being tossed into the mix, a cocktail of super-powered convention is provided in the audio, wonderfully bringing your comic book fantasies to glorious life, as the sounds once synonymous with heroic alliance have turned on one another.
Captain America: Civil War is still as polished as they come when it comes to big screen blockbusters. Popular effects like Scarlet Witch’s sorcery and Iron Man’s Repulsor Beams are as effective as they ever were here, adding some nice powered flash to the big hero-vs.-hero conflict that’s founding the movie. The spectacle level is still beneath that of the Avengers movies, since Captain America: Civil War doesn’t aim to be too fantastical, lest it lose its timely real-world themes, but the action, destruction and eye candy is as appealing to watch as it ever was.
As with Captain America: The Winter Soldier though, the real highlight of the visual polish in Captain America: Civil War isn’t special effects, but actually, handmade stunt work. The stunts in Captain America: Civil War are absolutely phenomenal, and even the most devout of action movie fans will constantly be impressed at just how slick and yet believable the action throughout this movie is. The stunts are incredibly fast, and the action choreography is amazingly tight, but it’s never difficult to follow what’s going on, or how action is proceeding. The stunt team are as much stars as the lead actors in Captain America: Civil War, because they have raised the bar for action filmmaking just as much as this movie has raised the bar for superhero-themed storytelling!
The only slight knock against the otherwise excellent visual polish in Captain America: Civil War is that the 3D presentation is kind of weak. The 3D is improved a bit from the rather lacklustre job on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and you will notice a few more 3D flourishes during the action scenes in Captain America: Civil War, but the 3D is still nothing special, and if you’d rather just watch the movie flat in 2D, you’re really not missing anything.
The IMAX and IMAX 3D cuts of Captain America: Civil War would be equally unremarkable, were it not for the handful of big action scenes that were shot with IMAX cameras, which make them feel especially grand and impressive on IMAX screens. IMAX showings generally add more to the sound than they do the visuals in Captain America: Civil War, but these IMAX-shot action scenes by themselves are well worth shelling out to see this movie in an IMAX theatre, or similar premium formats, especially for Marvel fans. The 3D can be skipped if you just want to go with a flat 2D IMAX showing, if that’s an option at your local theatre, but if you want the most out of this movie’s biggest and most awesome moments, it’s worth paying the extra few dollars to see Captain America: Civil War in an IMAX theatre, or whatever in your area is akin to that.
2016 as a whole seems to be a year that wants to aggressively contest the belief held by some that superhero movies have grown tired and stale. After 20th Century Fox’s Deadpool subverted the expectations behind a superhero movie in its own way to excellent effect earlier this year, Captain America: Civil War does the same, only by turning the genre on its head in a whole new direction. DC might have attempted the idea of superheroes fighting each other on the big screen first in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice back last March, but Marvel seems to have actually fully done the idea right, often succeeding with Captain America: Civil War where DC stumbled with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
It’s not a light claim to say that Captain America: Civil War could be one of the best superhero movies ever made to date, especially with how spoiled modern audiences have been between so many amazing superhero movies in recent years, especially from Marvel Studios, but Captain America: Civil War truly deserves that lofty claim. It’s got mind-blowing action, compelling drama, deep political themes, hilarious comedy, and a whole lot of stylish visuals. You really can’t go wrong with this movie, regardless of your taste in movies, since it just does pretty much everything right, beyond its questionably necessary villain.
Unless you’re irrationally and illogically determined to hate superhero movies, there’s no denying that Captain America: Civil War is another masterpiece for both Marvel Studios and the Russo brothers, and perhaps Marvel’s finest masterpiece overall at this point! Even as plenty of exciting Summer movies begin to arrive this month, aggressively vying for audience attention, Captain America: Civil War already stands as the champion Summer blockbuster to beat for 2016. Absolutely no one should miss it, least of all Marvel’s True Believers. We’ll be spoiled all over again if the bulk of Marvel’s Phase Three movie releases are even half as good as this one!
- Excellent superhero ensemble that's put to smart, memorable use
- Perfect mix of emotional drama and laugh-out-loud comedy
- Deep, smart political themes that raise the bar for superhero movie storytelling
- Zemo is an overshadowed, mostly unnecessary villain