Captain America: Civil War, is a finely tuned, tightly paced, smartly scripted, big budget, action-packed jamboree. It’s both a continuation of Captain America’s (currently) 5 movie character arc, and the 13th episodic chapter in the ever expanding Marvel movie lineup. Most of all, it’s proof that Superhero films don’t need to be trivial to be fun, and don’t need to be “angsty” to be deep. They simply need creators who get what they’re working with, and why it works. Civil War is quite nearly a damn flawless movie, and it’s an indication that Marvel isn’t losing steam – they’re just getting started.
The directing Russo brothers have proven in their second go that their work on The Winter Soldier was no fluke. If Marvel has a “house style,” they have mastered it. The airport battle between dueling Avengers teams is one of the greatest action scenes of all time (certainly in the Top 5), and it’s a distillation of everything that works about the film. There’s no dramatic lighting. No thunderstorm. But the scene, already driven by powerful (and reasonable) motivations, nimbly bounces from serious character building moments to “Squee”-worthy geek-out match ups, to hilarious and pitch-perfect banter, to “Holy Shit” edge-of-your-seat tension, and then back around again. The fate of the world isn’t what hangs in the balance, or even the heroes’ lives. (They’re trying to subdue, not kill each other.) In a genre where coming back from the dead is almost a forgone conclusion, the film gives us far more valuable stakes: the friendships in a family that we’ve grown to love.
The important part is that they’ve earned this love, and their titles as heroes. Every character in this film, even the antagonists, are trying to do the right thing, though sometimes in the wrong way. Perhaps Crossbones is the one exception to this, having gone full crazypants since his role in Winter Soldier. He does, however, introduce the theme of vengeance, and whether it is ever justifiable, to a film that ponders it very heavily.
If there’s one true weak spot to the movie, it rests in an underlying nefarious plot that relies a bit too much on happenstance. Zemo’s motivations make sense, and he’s actually one of the most relatable villains in any of the movies so far, but it’s a bit difficult to tell if he’s a scary genius, or just really really lucky when it comes to pushing the Avengers’ buttons.
The score is a bit of a letdown after the fantastic combo-string of Guardians, Ultron, and Ant-Man. Henry Jackman splits the difference between his edgy Winter Soldier score and Danny Elfman’s rousing Avengers remix. The result is only passable.
The only other disappointment is that, while Cap is at the forefront of the longest MCU film yet made, his screen time and arc are still diminished in the wave of supporting characters. This film is half Captain America 3 and half Avengers 2.5. While the balls are juggled miraculously well, (each character has never been represented better than they are here,) it still feels like Cap could have used more “me time” in his own film.
As for the newcomers: Chadwick Boseman sprints right out of the gate with a powerful first showing as Black Panther. There has never been a hero like T’Challa on screen before, and after a fantastic first arc, his solo film (due for Feb 2018) can’t come soon enough! As for Tom Holland: he’s the Peter Parker you’ve all been waiting for, embodying the perfect blend of amicable, earnest, spazzy, hyperactive, fiercely intelligent, outrageously chatty, and just so damn excited to be here. Peter has always shined brightest against the other Marvel heroes. He’s been the eyes that sees the best in all of them. If anything is missing here, it’s his role as the conscience that sees all sides, (though he has plenty of time to develop into that as his role in the MCU grows).
If there’s a “Marvel formula” in the movies, or the comics, it is this: they have always been more interested in how superpowers affect the lives of their characters more than how punchy they can be with them. Captain America: Civil War is definitely in the top echelon of films that Marvel has created. It handles the human stuff Marvelously, and the punchy stuff is the best the genre has seen yet. As a comic nerd, I haven’t had this much fun since The Avengers, and am more excited than ever to see what Marvel studios has to show us next!
3D Recommendation: Not essential to the experience, but smooth sailing for those who enjoy the format.