It’s been 10 years since Marvel kicked off its Civil War event; a comic book extravaganza that lasted months, spanning almost 100 issues. Two years later, Iron Man marked the beginning of Marvel’s MCU. And now, in 2016, these two have finally collided. Captain America: Civil War is a lot of things. It is the third film in the Captain America series, the 13th in the MCU, and the first of Phase Three. In addition, Civil War serves as the direct sequel to both 2014’s The Winter Soldier and 2015’s Age of Ultron. Taking all of this into consideration–the hype, the buildup, the source material–there is absolutely no reason why Civil War should be this good.
Beware: Spoilers Ahead
Let’s get one thing straight: Captain America: Civil War is not perfect. It hurts to say so, but it’s true. However, as a viewer expecting the worst following Batman v Superman a few months ago, this movie provided what is possibly one of the best movie-going experiences I’ve had in a long time. Having said that, Civil War doesn’t succeed in the same way The Winter Soldier did. The latter was an incredible experience because it never tried to dumb down what a comic book movie could be. It was gritty, tense, and emotional, and while the same can be said for Civil War, the difference is Winter Soldier put the story first, whereas Civil War’s emphasis is on its characters.
The important thing to note is that this disparity is perfectly okay. Although these two films emphasize different parts of their narrative, this doesn’t make one inherently superior to the other because they are trying to achieve very different things. Civil War works so well because, for the past eight years, Marvel has worked incredibly hard trying to bring the most authentic versions of their characters onto the big screen. As an audience, we have reached a point where these actors are living, breathing versions of the characters we have read in the panels for, in some cases, dozens of years.
The beautiful thing about Civil War is that these characters have been marinating in our subconscious for almost a decade. We’ve been watching these actors for twelve movies, so not only are names like Evans and Downey synonymous with Captain America and Iron Man, respectively, but at this point in time these performers have reached maximum understanding. They see the way the fans react and devote themselves to these movies, and I truly believe it pushes them that much harder when they start filming the next entry. Best of all, Marvel keeps finding actors who click instantly whenever they decide to add someone new to the universe.
To close out Phase Two, Marvel released Ant-Man last year, and while the movie was flawed like most Marvel films, Paul Rudd was perfect. He’s such a charismatic guy that you managed to get sucked into his little world of mayhem, regardless of some of the other weird creative decisions. Now with Civil War finally out in theaters, fans are given introductions to both Black Panther and (the amazing) Spider-Man, and they just work. Chadwick Boseman played his role with such conviction that I felt like I’ve been following Panther’s character my whole life, and Tom Holland literally made me cry because he is quite possibly the best Spider-Man we have seen on the big screen so far.
I say all of this not to disparage Civil War‘s story, however. It may be true that it takes very little from the crossover event from 10 years ago, and that its main focus is much different from that of The Winter Soldier, but it’s still incredibly engaging, even if there are a few stumbles here and there.
After a fierce and blood-pumping battle with Crossbones in Lagos, the United Nations is preparing to pass the Sokovia Accords, which essentially acts as the Superhero Registration Act from the crossover event. It is clear from the gate that there are opposing sides, and before long, literal teams are created: Steve Rodgers vs. Tony Stark. Behind the scenes, however, is Zemo, an unknown third-party who has taken issue with our beloved Bucky. As he strokes the fire, a fight ensues, and lives are put at risk.
What makes the story so enjoyable is it feels like a culmination of everything we have seen thus far. It has the playfulness and internal rivalry found in The Avengers, the more serious tone of Age of Ultron, and the mystery of The Winter Soldier. Like its characters, the main plot thread acts like a kind of melting pot; creating something that feels fresh with familiar ingredients fans both know and enjoy, for the most part. Unfortunately, Civil War has its own share of problems, most notably the inclusion of some weird, out of left field moments, and a climax that feels like more of a retread.
For example, regardless of the canonical nature of the relationship, them hinting at a Steve / Sharron romance so soon after finding out she is related to Peggy was a little weird. There are billions of people in the world and you had to go for her niece? It seems out of character for someone who has such a strong sense of morality. Also, there is a moment during the big airport fight when Rhodey gets hurt, and Tony seems willing to go off on anyone rather than accept the fact that this was a possibility from the start. He was so eager to take responsibility for the innocent lives lost while saving the world from destruction, but not for something he could have actually avoided. I just found it overly hypocritical, even for Tony.
As the dust began to settle, and the audience approached the film’s climax, I experienced a moment of dread: our disjointed group of heroes still hadn’t addressed Zemo’s potential threat. Time was literally running out, and fear began to set in that the Russo brothers would not have enough left for this final confrontation. But they somehow managed to pull through with an unexpected twist, and while one threat was eliminated, it gave birth to another: Steve and Bucky vs. Tony. A fight that was emotional given the franchise’s history, but could have been more impactful if we hadn’t just seen it.
It’s important to stress that this scene’s emotional weight does not dismiss the repetitive nature of the fight itself. As a fight scene in a Marvel film, it’s iconic, and you know it’s going to create a ripple effect in the MCU. However, it was placed in a movie that acted almost as an extended fight scene. From the moment we enter Lagos, Civil War takes off at a sprint. There is an incredible tension on screen that is only really remedied, ironically, when the big duel is going down at the airport–due mostly to the inclusion of Ant-Man and Spider-Man. There is fight after fight, explosion after explosion, so to end with the Steve and Tony duking it out again felt off.
What I can’t wrap my head around, though, is how essential this fight is while simultaneously feeling so lifeless. It was a necessary scene for what it means for the future of this universe, but it isn’t clear how the film could be rearranged to better accommodate its inclusion. One could argue taking out the airport fight, but then that results in the loss of Ant-Man, Hawkeye, and Spider-Man. In order to make the film flow a little better, is the answer really cutting out an incredibly fun (and memorable) fight scene? It’s an unusual conundrum because, as a whole, Civil War is surprisingly well paced. There’s rarely a lull, if ever, and yet, as a result of everything that preceded it, one of the most crucial scenes comes off as more of the same.
Is Captain America: Civil War the best superhero movie ever made? Truthfully, I don’t know. With films like The Dark Knight and The Winter Soldier out there, it’s hard to make a verdict after a single viewing. However, I will say that it definitely has the potential to be my favorite superhero movie up to this point. It feels more like a comic book movie than The Winter Soldier did, but it’s not nearly as campy or cringe worthy as some of the other entries in the MCU; it exists as a beautiful medium between the two. As an introduction to Black Panther and Spider-Man, it was perfect. As a movie, we’ll have to see after a second viewing.