Published on May 3rd, 2016 | by Dan Nicholls0
Captain America: Civil War
Summer’s first at bat, Captain America: Civil War, knocks it so far out of the park, it might be tough for anything else to compare.
Just a little over a month since two mammoth superheroes were pitted against each other in a dark fight to the finish and now here we are again, with two more top tier characters — Captain America and Iron Man — duking it out in the name of justice. Given that everyone’s still bummed out by the bad memories of Batman v Superman resting so recently in our minds, one would be forgiven for having significantly lowered expectations for the next big great hero mashup. But rest assured that Captain America: Civil War has a word for your expectations, and a punch to the face, and an emotional body slam as well. It’s perhaps the most flat-out fulfilling comic book movie since Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) and the most thoughtful since The Dark Knight (2008).
Following the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, everyone’s favorite team of superpals is under increased scrutiny regarding the collateral damage their heroic acts leave behind. Another unfortunate incident ends with more innocent victims. The governments of the world become officially fed up with the unpoliced actions of The Avengers and the “Sokovia Accords” (named after the country left demolished at the end of Ultron) are introduced with intentions to keep the heroes in check.
The biggest supporter of this act, surprisingly, is a guilt-ridden Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., which should go without saying). The Accords’ strongest opposing voice belongs to Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans). Take two alpha heroes with a bevvy of powerful friends on each side, give them stringent philosophical opposition, and then let the fireworks fly. And when things pop off with this group of comic book folks the silver screen erupts with a steady and healthy flow for almost the entirety of the film’s two and a half hour running time.
The thematic quandary, “Who watches the Watchmen?” has been addressed many times before in many superhero movies (including the aforementioned BvS). What the filmmakers are working with here isn’t exactly anything new that’s going to plunder the depths of the human mind and soul to arrive at some newfound revelation. But that it arrives at a place so pensive and introspective is a profound pleasure. As far as popcorn entertainment can, Civil War has its cake and eats it too.
It’s a battle between the head and the heart. We’ve got Tony, all genius and wit and logic and strategy. And in the other corner there’s the perpetual underdog Steve, whose moral center may have been tested in the years since he became Captain America, but he’s always remained true to himself. As Cap struggles with his complex feelings towards his old friend Bucky, a.k.a. the brainwashed Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), the audience also questions if maybe Cap’s feelings are getting in the way of a larger problem. Where Cap, Tony, and the surrounding characters find themselves in regards to this fight feels natural and true to the personalities we’ve grown to know and love over the course of a dozen Marvel blockbusters.
Directing duo Joe and Anthony Russo have to be given respect for keeping the movie paced and balanced. There’s a lot of ground to cover here, and a lot of characters to be given their dues, and yet it never feels like too much. Any doubt about the pair’s ability to keep the train on the tracks with the upcoming two-part Avengers: Infinity War pictures has more or less vanished, provided the script is worthy of their talents.
The soon-to-be-famous Leipzig airport sequence is a new classic in the history of the genre; if you’re a true fan of any number of these combined characters you might have chills running from head to toe (I know I did) from the geekgasm on screen. It might be early but it would also be a relatively safe bet to claim that this sequence goes down as one of the most talked about of all of summer 2016’s blockbusters. You’ve got Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Winter Soldier, Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and last but not least, Spider-Man (Tom Holland) all throwing down together at once. And every one of those characters gets at least one amazing moment to take center stage and shine. It’ll make you giddy.
It’s a small slight that we’re asked to make a few too many leaps of faith in regards to the Winter Soldier’s arc. Despite being at the center of the storm, the Bucky/Steve relationship feels like it doesn’t quite get to 100% on the logic or emotional fulfillment levels. The internal turmoil faced by Scarlet Witch is also largely dropped by the end of it all, but we’re left with the implication that the character’s deeper soul-searching isn’t done yet. Minor concessions made in the name of an epic scope and army-sized cast are forgivable in proportion to the film’s bigger themes and agenda.
The filmmakers do not have a dog in this fight. It is ultimately Cap’s journey and he is at the core of the film but in the battle between Cap and Tony, the people behind the camera keep it fair and balanced. Characters’ allegiances shift, as do the viewer’s.
Anyone hoping to be entertained on a solely surface level is going to get more than his or her money’s worth. Where does Marvel go from here? One can only imagine. Perhaps they’re going to embrace their quirky side for a while, with Doctor Strange and Spider-Man: Homecoming just around the corner. A few expertly crafted light-hearted flicks could be a nice palette refresher before the two-part madness of Avengers: Infinity War puts an end to any peaceful truce once and for all. The events of Civil War may or may not be forgiven by each and every character, but they will undoubtedly not be forgotten.