In 2014, directors Joe and Anthony Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely produced the best entry yet into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Captain America: Winter Solider.
Now, continuing the legacy of Steve Rogers, they’ve done it again with Captain America: Civil War. While not as tight or solid as Winter Soldier, this film is nothing short of outstanding, a culmination of eight years of world-building and character development that results in genuine, deeply felt consequences. It’s entirely due to the superb craft and love these directors and writers (and Marvel at large) have shown these characters and this story over the past several years.
The film works both as political thriller and character study. After all the destruction that has followed in the Avengers’ wake, a document called the Sokovia Accords is drawn up to bring them under the control of the UN. However, our heroes find themselves on opposite sides of this decision. Throw in a brand new villain who is orchestrating devastation for our heroes in multiple, layered ways, and this film hurdles along through its 147 minute run-time.
There were initial concerns about the size of this film’s cast and balancing them, but Markus and McFeely do an excellent job of giving each character key moments that both move the film forward and also further develop the character. It’s not an easy feat, and this is how it should be done.
I had more personal concerns about the size of the cast sacrificing Steve’s story, who is by and large my favorite character in the MCU, for what’s basically an Avengers film, but luckily those turned out to be unfounded.
The heart of this film, and the blood that courses through it, really lies with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). It’s a continuation of the story in Winter Soldier, of Steve doing anything possible to get his friend back, which is only made more emotionally distraught by the off-screen death of Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and furthering Steve from his original home.
Both actors’ performances are fantastic, conveying the years of grief and trauma they’ve both had to endure. But what remains is their deep, unshakable bond, which will tug on every single one of your heartstrings by the end of the film. These two characters cling to one another, and everything that is made familiar and sure by their presences, and it is fantastic character work. Plus the continued Winter Soldier musical theme will give you chills.
The other hard-hitter of the film is Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark. This is some of the best work he’s done since Iron Man 3, and he turns out a performance that is raw, heartbreaking, and bitter. It’s incredible to see, especially when you remember he’s the one that started this all, and how far this character has come.
Everything comes down to these three characters by the end of the film, and their final fight – which I called months ago – is not only one of the most exhilarating on-screen fights, but also one of the most emotional. If you have been with these characters since the beginning, seeing them get to this point is absolutely devastating.
And speaking of fights, Civil War’s action moves at breakneck speed and it’s breathtaking and excellently choreographed, but more than that, it’s fun.
Despite being a film with serious emotional weight, there are numerous moments where you will laugh out loud (so many great jokes!) and cheer (especially in that airport scene, which everyone is talking about with good reason, because, clocking in at 17 minutes, it is spectacular) and that is a big part of what makes it so exciting to watch.
A lot of that fun has to do with the characters themselves and their chemistry, as well as the way we see, and believe, them as a team. There’s a natural ebb and flow, which could easily be watchable for hours. From Steve and Tony watching out for Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) in their own, different ways; Bucky’s tenuous friendship with Sam (Anthony Mackie); the depth of history between Tony and Rhodey (Don Cheadle, and be prepared for this guy especially to gut you); and the subtle, but touching way this film develops Wanda and Vision (Paul Bettany), they are all a treat.
Even the (relative) newcomers get their time to shine, both independently and working with other characters. Chadwick Boseman as Prince-turned-King T’Challa aka Black Panther is regal, dignified, and powerful. His own arc is wonderful to watch unfold, and it’s impossible not to get excited for his 2018 film after this. Plus he kicks major ass, and I’ll just say this: The best post-credit scene involves him and some other choice characters.
The other two new stand-outs are, as predicted, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland). While the former has his own film, I know people who never saw it who now want to after Civil War and it’s mostly thanks to Rudd’s affability as an actor (also his role in the airport scene). As for Holland’s first outing as our friendly neighborhood web-slinger, he’s chatty, funny, and full of a manic energy that borders on annoying but mostly stays in the entertainment camp. Juxtaposing him against Downey, Jr. certainly helps, and they provide a fun duo. Neither of these characters are particular plot-drivers, but they’re enjoyable to watch.
Ultimately, this film doesn’t pick sides and that is, at its core, why it’s such a triumph. It believes so wholly in its characters and serving them as best they can, and it makes for a rich and satisfying story, which is elevated by its outstanding action and entertainment. It climaxes in a way that will leave you drained, but hopeful, and entirely ready for this universe to continue. If superhero fatigue started to settle in, this film dashed it. Bring on those Infinity Wars.