It’s a rare feat for sequels of superhero films to actually offer up more than simple plot continuation — only prequels are generally considered more pointless than sequels. So take a third Captain America-centric film, led by the gentle hunk, Chris Evans, toss in the kitchen sink of new and old heroes and you have what, by all rights, should have been a travesty worse then what we witnessed in March from DC. But Captain America: Civil War is not just a sequel. It’s not even a consolation for what Avengers: Age of Ultron failed to give us; it’s the culmination of everything these films have been leading up to, and one that easily holds up the heavy weight of its own atmosphere.
Of course, it’s always frustrating when you’re required to binge watch a lot of films to understand one movie, but the beautiful thing about Civil War — well, one of the beautiful things — is that the buildup is over without taking the plot to place it can’t continue from. And instead of being another gratuitous film having a bunch of “super” people punching each other, this one actually justifies the need for violence.
Despite having a great deal to do with Steve Rogers’/”Cap’s” strained relationship with his once best-friend, Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), now assassin on the run, the events of Ultron and other films are the driving force behind Civil War’s conflict. Believing that our group of so-called enhanced humans must be held accountable for the casualties and damage they have caused, Tony Stark/Iron Man supports the Sokovia Accords, which would give the government absolute authority over the Avengers movements. After he suspects Barnes has been set up for a bombing, he and a group of rogue Avengers, including Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), take a stand against the law that now calls them criminals.
Though it may be unfair to compare the two, it’s no secret that Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and Civil War have a lot in common. Perhaps the most morally ambiguous question our beloved heroes will ever have to ask themselves is the question of whether or not the world can afford their security, when all they seem to bring is death and destruction. It’s this kind of heavy material that made Dawn of Justice that much less enjoyable, but filmmaking brothers Anthony and Joe Russo have clearly been taking notes.
They proved themselves when directing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but as slick and effortless as it was, the sequel to Captain America’s origin film might have left fans feeling just a tiny bit cold — kind of like Barnes’ metal arm. While its subtle acting was out of this world — quite literally — especially Stan’s, it lacked some of the emotion that Cap normally rouses. But, like everyone else, Civil War screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who will go on to write both Avengers: Infinity Wars films, are careful not to let the film fall into the trap of being too smart for its own good.
In fact, maybe the most surprising thing about watching a film whose very name suggests carnage is the amount of times you’ll laugh while watching the CGI catastrophes and green screen fight sequences. Improving upon prior efforts, it feels like the creators have struck a balance between well-executed jokes and serious material, and trying to pin the magic down to a science might be nearly impossible. For instance, while we understand that Bucky has been living a peaceful life the past couple of years under the knowledge of everything he has done, he can still share moments of levity with Wilson, Cap’s right hand man, without it feeling like he’s too much like Bucky and not enough like the assassin he was brainwashed to be all those years.
Fans of the comics have been speculating and theorizing from day one about how a “Civil War” arc would look on screen, and the reaction was understandably mixed when we learned just how many characters would be taking of space. Spoiler alert, it’s the most of any in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And while some characters suffer a little from a lack of attention, at no point does it ever seem as if we’re seeing too much of someone. Everyone, even Lang, T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) don’t crowd the screen too terribly much, and Rudd especially gives us some of the much-needed light moments to break up the dourness. The decision to introduce T’Challa and use Civil War as a platform for his stand-alone film in 2018 was always a risky move, but Boseman’s dignified bearing adds a level of class and civility to what could have been an all-out-brawl of a film. Actually, his introduction was worth it just so that we could hear Wilson comment on ridiculousness of a grown man dressing up like a “cat.”
A certain web-slinger’s appearance might be the thing that divides fans the most, as he is one of the most exciting and confusing aspects of the entire film. But the simple fact is this: while the film 100 percent could have gone on without him, we wouldn’t want it to. Since Holland’s perfect marriage — maybe we should just call the whole film was one big glorious marriage — of boyish charm, twitchiness and wit is without a doubt going to give us the “Spidey” we’ve been waiting for, we can forgive the Russo brothers from getting a little carried away with his glorified extended cameo. If that’s one of Civil War’s biggest missteps, we might as well just give up and call this the best Marvel film to date — unless you’re partial to Guardians of the Galaxy.
Certainly not without its faults, Captain America: Civil War is an undeniable force that will draw you in and never let go. You’ll laugh when Spider-Man stares at the stacked superhero field in awe and then a second later you’ll want to cry when friendships are broken. Chalk it up to the Russo magic touch, but the last Captain America film before all hell breaks loose in Infinity Wars is the most put together and developed story to this day. Now, if only it didn’t make us leery of the bonds of friendship.
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