Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo
Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely

As Marvel Studios begins its third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, it would be easy at this point to dismiss the latest Captain America movie as “just another Marvel movie”, or even label it as a third Avengers film due to its quickly expanding cast of superhero characters which includes, well, practically all of the Avengers. Even Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye can’t stay “retired” in this one. However, after two “phases” of their universe, Marvel must begin a delicate balancing act which includes staying true to their source material, even though the MCU is meant to not be a direct adaptation of the comic books, but rather inspired by them. Marvel has built such a full world that it seems it would be impossible to make a Captain America movie without the Avengers, for why would Cap face a foe without the support of his buds? But Marvel also cannot afford to just keep making Avengers movies because there must be focus on each specific character for them to grow within the universe and for fans get to know them better, to latch on to. With Captain America: Civil War, Marvel makes great strides to begin this tricky balancing act.

After an unfortunate tragedy after an Avengers encounter with a baddie where innocent lives were lost, the United Nations proposes an Accord in which the Avengers will no longer be an independent organization whose actions are not kept in check. 117 nations agree to have oversight over the Avengers, which causes a rift within the superheroes, spearheaded by Iron Man Tony Stark (Downey Jr.), who has shown a conscious for the innocent lives lost, and Captain America (Evans), who feels giving up control of the Avengers would limit their ability to do good in the world. The rift grows after Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) is seen at the scene of a bombing at the Accords signing. Loyal to his friend, and believing him to be innocent, Captain America pursues Bucky to defend him while the rest of the world, Iron Man included, pursues him to bring him to justice for his alleged crimes.

At its core, Captain America: Civil War is a film about friendship and what it means to be a friend to someone, in good times and in bad, when you feel your friend is right and especially when you feel they are wrong. Captain America and Iron Man are friends, but what they are presented with here is an issue they don’t agree on. They don’t agree on the Accords, and they don’t agree on Bucky, and how the screenwriters and directors delicately balance the issue at hand between the two superheroes and their friendship makes the entire film tick, and ultimately work as a deeper dive into the psyche and personality of Captain America, which makes this more than an Avengers movie. It is deserving of its Captain America moniker in many ways. Not many films have the wherewithal to take this difficult approach, to capture what being a loyal friend means, especially in darker times.

The entire cast of the film contributes to the proceedings with wonderful sub-plots and character exploration, including introduction of a few more characters, and expansion of some we’ve seen before, like Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man. Marvel manages to leave enough room for all of them, which is mostly the result of this being the product of 12 previous films within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To expect this film to exist within a vacuum is unrealistic. Marvel has set out to its audience what it is doing, and as such, prior knowledge of these characters is crucial. The MCU has moved past the “stand alone” movie, and if that leaves fans behind, then so be it, but it is what they’ve created, and they should be applauded for creating such a richly defined, interconnecting universe where all these great characters can exist. And it makes sense for all of them to exist together.

The ambiguity of the plotting here ends up as a real strength to exploring the intentions and different personalities of our superheroes. By pitting friend against friend, we are shown a real world example of two people striving for the same thing, safety and justice, by two different means. I really cannot blame Iron Man for accepting the Accords as a means to check an otherwise unbalanced and vigilante power. I also can’t blame Captain America for taking the opposite side, especially as it relates to standing by his friend Bucky.  As always, there are plenty of great one liners and witty, funny dialogue throughout. There are also plenty of great character moments to grab a hold of as great shining moments. As I said earlier, although the cast of characters is large, each is given enough to do, and enough development to warrant inclusion past the large royal rumble which the film promises. This is a testament to the stellar job Marvel has done in interconnecting all these disparate story lines into a single “Cinematic Universe”. I would expect this to continue as Phase Three gets underway and builds toward the much anticipated Infinity War.

Captain America: Civil War ends up feeling like the most cohesive and well thought out Marvel film to date. It’s not perfect, as some of the fighting, especially with the 3D technology, becomes claustrophobic and nauseating at times, though overall I have no qualms about the choreography of the fight scenes. And despite being overloaded with special effects and the obligatory action, the film balances these scenes with plenty of time to catch your breath in between and spend time with the gigantic cast of characters. It also does a great job of having the trademark light comedy while also being serious at all the right times. Overall, I have held a rather high opinion of the Marvel franchise, with plenty of good, entertaining films and a serious lack of clunkers included within the list of films, but that being said, Captain America: Civil War may very well be one of the best to date.

***1/2 – Great

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