Movie Review: Captain America: Civil War was exactly what we wanted and more
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Writers: Christopher Markus (screenplay), Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Mark Millar (comic book)
Stars: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Daniel Brühl, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp
Synopsis: Political interference in the Avengers’ activities causes a rift between former allies Captain America and Iron Man.
Anthony and Joe Russo surprised many back in 2014 with their first leap into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The Russo’s found a way to transcend the superhero genre by not only giving us fun, superhero action but they also made a riveting spy-thriller in the process. Back in the director’s chair for Captain America: Civil War, they have once again transcended the genre, this time by deconstructing it leaving behind large-scale destruction for more confined action sequences and by stripping away all cliche villain tropes.
After seeing mass amounts of devastation and casualties, based upon events in The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron, as well as an explosion at the beginning of Civil War, the United Nations has created the Sokovia Accords, which will essentially control when the Avengers are released upon the world. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), shouldering the blame for Ultron, is in favor of the Accords. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) isn’t convinced. As a result, the team becomes divided and there’s a heavy debate over what’s best for the Avengers. The debate becomes more intensified after an explosion at the signing of the Accords, which causes Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) to retaliate, making the situation even more vulnerable. This all leads to Cap and Iron Man recruiting allies in an attempt to contain the situation and find resolution.
There are a lot of characters in Civil War, and the plot could have felt convoluted, but the Russo’s spend so much time investing in the characters, while getting fantastic performances, that everything feels fluid and authentic. There is some action in the first hour but the film pauses often to let the characters reflect, making them feel very human in a world were our heroes are, well, more than the average Joe. The side effect of being that intentional is understanding. It’s easy to sympathize with the motives of every character introduced into this story and why they are here, even down to William Hurt’s Thaddeus Ross, who is now Secretary of State. It would have been easy for screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely to villain-ize Ross as the “big, bad” government who is trying to take control, but everything Ross says is reasonable and makes sense. Really, that argument can be made for every character involved here. By the end of the film, Markus and McFeely make it known where you should stand but throughout most of the film, you don’t know which side to stand on because everyone is right. And the Russo’s do a great job of resonating both sides effectively.
As fleshed out as that debate is, it’s not just the hero’s you sympathize with in Civil War. Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl) represents something that has influenced the MCU more than any “villain” has to date. I use those quotations very purposefully too. Zemo is not so much a villain as he is a victim masked as a villain. The true villain of Captain America: Civil War is guilt, the potential for guilt and heartache. That emotion is scattered throughout this entire film and it drives every action see on screen. Pretty much every character, in some form or another, displays guilt or the potential for guilt and how that has affected them in some way. It’s especially at the root of Zemo’s motives, which has elicited a strong emotional response that the Russo’s do a great job of depicting, along with a solid performance by Brühl. However, it’s not just Zemo, it’s Stark, it’s Rogers, it’s T’Challa, it’s Bucky Barnes, it’s Wanda Maximoff, it’s Peter Parker and both Natasha Romanoff and Vision verbally express this emotion at one point. The brilliance of Zemo’s character is that he’s fully aware of his place in this world. He can’t compete with the Avengers and he doesn’t try to. In all honesty, he really doesn’t do that much. All he does is plant the seeds of guilt and heartache and then let the Avengers foster that emotion to dangerous levels where eventually they take it out on each other. It’s brilliant writing and the way the Russo’s layer those emotions throughout the film is poignant and expertly crafted. It gives the film an emotional resonance that not only drives the plot, but the characters in making them feel vulnerable in a dire situation. The MCU may not have a great history with villains but how Civil War uses an idea, an emotion, as a villain, that causes severe turmoil for the heroes, is truly impressive.
Civil War may not be Citizen Kane but there is thick, delicious meat that separates this film from most blockbuster fare. And as satisfying as the meal is, the dessert is pretty dang delicious too. This film is a lot of fun on top of being dramatically compelling. Civil War introduces Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and Spider-Man to the MCU, a notion many Marvel fans have been salivating over for quite some time (myself included). Some were a little hesitant on Holland in the role but he nails it. His nerdy Parker is on point and his dialogue and one-liners in the Spider-Man suit also come off with that witty tone that defines the character. Simply, Holland is really funny, charming and had instant chemistry with Downey Jr. that made for a quintessential debut for Spider-Man in this Universe.
Paul Rudd is also hysterical reprising his role of Scott Lang, or Ant-Man. He has some significant screen time during the airport sequence that is just a blast to watch. Anthony Mackie as The Falcon may be at his very best here too. Don Cheadle, Sebastian Stan and Emily VanCamp are also worth mentioning and have some solid moments that work very well. Scarlett Johansson is always great but one of the bigger surprises come from her best friend, Hawkeye. Jeremy Renner is a great actor and he’s proven his comedic abilities in the MCU but overall, Marvel has kept Renner rather restrained, that is, until the third act of Civil War. There’s a scene between Hawkeye and Tony Stark that Renner just chews on so wonderfully, making for a potent moment in the film. I could continue to go down the list but in essence, everyone gets their time to shine, and boy do they.
If you go see Civil War and you walk unhappy and didn’t enjoy yourself at all, these films simply just aren’t for you. Civil War is one of the best superhero films of all-time, and I’m not using that phrase lightly. The heavy consciousness and moral dilemma of our heroes is beautifully on display, and with real purpose. The MCU has proven that it’s not blind to the collateral damage it’s featured in it’s previous film, and not just the physical damage, but the emotional damage. The way Zemo taps into our heroes emotions adds a great pathos to the film and it makes for a riveting final fight between Iron Man and Captain America that ends on a really intense moment. Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans won’t win any awards for their performances here (and they probably shouldn’t) but what they deliver in this final act is emotional perfectionism. The film begins with guilt and heartache, cultivates richly and eventually becomes a pivotal crux that weighs heavily at the very end, in a way that will drastically change the course of the MCU.