Attention, Marvel fanatics! Civil War is here! By that, I do indeed mean Captain America: Civil War, the long-awaited on-screen depiction of one of the most famous Marvel Comics storylines. Directed by the Russo brothers and produced by Kevin Feige, this movie attempted to do the impossible- include twelve superheroes whom MCU fans care deeply about on one screen for one story without losing anybody. At this, Civil War succeeded, hugely. While there were a few flaws, overall Captain America: Civil War is perhaps the best film the MCU has yet to deliver, and sets up for at least three more solid years of excellent Marvel films.
This movie is designed for Marvel die-hards, both MCU and comics. Captain America: Civil War builds off the huge, devoted fanbase Marvel has built up since Iron Man to deliver everything we could want. However, this makes the movie a bit hard to follow for anyone not intimately acquainted with everything that has happened in all the previous movies. Yes, even Ant-Man. So, beware! The rest of this review will assume a familiarity with the events and characters of the MCU up until the beginning of Civil War, as well as a general familiarity with the existence of a few other characters. However, it will not spoil Civil War.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I have not read the original comics Civil War comes from. I did, however, know the general gist of the storyline, including a very important death that occurs in the comics. Therefore, I went into Civil War expecting a very dark movie, the darkest yet from Marvel. The movie handles the same concept a little bit differently. In the comics, based on an instance of collateral damage, the US government passes a Congressional Act requiring superhuman registration and disclosure of secret identities to the government so the Avengers and other superhumans (including the X-Men) will be answerable to the government. Captain America: Civil War begins on a similar premise; a fight gets out of hand, collateral damage takes lives. The events of Avengers: Age of Ultron (read: Sokovia getting dropped out of the sky) have made the UN sensitive, and they decide to sign the Sokovia Accords three days later, which make all Avengers accountable to a UN task force that selected their missions. As if that wasn’t controversial enough among the team, at the signing a terrorist attack that kills an important world leader is pinned on James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, Steve Rogers’ oldest friend and the brainwashed Winter Soldier, who saved his life in Captain America: Winter Soldier. Conflict ensues; heroes new and old alike are drawn into the controversy.
Tony Stark, our Iron Man, believes in the Sokovia Accords. Struggling with overpowering guilt after creating Ultron and experiencing personal problems, he believes that the Avengers ought to be supervised to prevent disaster- or worse restrictions in the future. Steve Rogers, our titular Captain, believes the Avengers’ greatest power still lies in their choice and their ability to be free from government agendas. After Bucky is drawn in, Steve believes even more firmly in their need for autonomy. Steve and Tony have always had a combative relationship, which even Loki tried to play off of, so it’s no surprise that the battle lines are drawn between these two critical characters. Other Avengers are forced to pick sides in this moral and physical standoff, but there may be more going on here than internal problems…
Captain America: Civil War was a thriller! It was fast-paced but understandable, with twists and turns both unexpected and intense. Despite its complexity, there was only one moment near the end where a character jumped from one idea to the next and I lost them, but I think I may have missed a subtlety there that I’ll catch in a rewatch after the shock wears off. It was fresh, funny, and well-constructed. Every second of screen time counts, and there’s a lot of seconds. This movie is looonng, people. The ending is very abrupt though, which I actually liked. That many holes should not have been tied up in one movie, and they weren’t. Even by the after-credits scenes (there are two, do not leave during the credits!). What becomes of some very important people remains vague, though, and I am frustrated (in the best possible way) by that. There was one sequence that I wish had been shown, because it would have been awesome as an action sequence, but I understand that time constraints were a major issue here. In fact, almost all of the problems I mention later I think were caused simply by lack of time availability to address every facet of such a massive cast. Plotwise, almost everyone was necessary for the events to occur as they should have. The teams were well-stacked in terms of powers, which made the fight sequences awesome! There is a lot of violence in Captain America: Civil War, but I didn’t feel it to be excessive, or poorly made.
Visually, as well, Civil War was a treat. There was a moment where the size of Cap’s biceps defies belief, but the effects are cool without being clownish and appropriately used. The soundtrack was done by Henry Jackman, who you may remember from Captain America: Winter Soldier and Big Hero 6. Many of the themes continued sonically, which only improved Civil War’s continuity with the rest of the MCU.
The real glue that holds every movie together though is its characters, and this is especially true with Marvel in a movie that’s so much about relationships. I’m going to review the characters and acting by team, because there is so much going on in this movie, but let me say that I was incredibly impressed. Twelve major heroes have screen time, as well as several very important side characters, and nothing really felt rushed. Everybody grew in some way, even a small one, and the relationships grew organically too. Their bonds felt so real, and so the pain of their split was really real to watch too. In some ways, this is secretly a rom-com about a bunch of friends. They just punch a lot and have cool toys.
Team Iron Man:
Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr): Tony Stark is one of my all-time favorite characters because of his complexity and development over the course of the MCU storyline. Downey once again leads Stark through huge growth in this film. He is, obviously, hugely important, but he doesn’t overpower his team, and even makes valuable additions. Downey is hilarious and poignant, as always. Stan Lee’s cameo gave Stark a new nickname that is sure to stick, too.
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson): While deeply conflicted, Natasha believes keeping the team together is more important than anything. She is Tony’s right-hand girl, taking a real leadership role on the team with huge plot significance. I love the way her motivations are explored throughout this movie. To me, her perspective makes perfect sense. The Avengers are her family, and she just wants them all together. Her characterization is improved significantly since Age of Ultron, and Natasha continues to be one of my favorite characters in the MCU. Johansson is a great actress, intense and strong, and she brought real humanity to the role.
Lieutenant James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle): Rhodey is Tony’s best friend, and a dutiful member of the US military. He firmly believes in the Accords. I enjoyed seeing Rhodey again, but frankly, he is much less fun as a character than many of the other Avengers. The writers and Cheadle both kept Rhodey’s character consistent as always, and his inclusion was important to the plot.
Peter Parker/Spider Man (Tom Holland): I say this as someone who doesn’t really like Spider Man- I LOVED this rendition of Spidey. Holland plays Parker as the awkward high school hero thrown into the big leagues with his heroes to simultaneously worship and punch. While Spider Man didn’t really need to be in Civil War (other than to balance the teams a bit), I liked seeing his character back on a Marvel screen where it belongs. After his Civil War debut, I’m looking forward to seeing Spidey in the aptly named Spider Man: Homecoming, which is to be released next year.
Vision (Paul Bettany): I’m not sure Vision knows what he wants to be. In some ways, he’s still JARVIS, but with a physical form (I really, really miss JARVIS, incidentally). However, he also has immense raw power from the Infinity Stone on his forehead- in some cases he’s literally unbeatable. I think Vision is not meant to integrate well with people- I think he’s written that way. If so, Bettany was hugely successful. Vision still feels like Stark’s watchdog, but that role serves the plot. I also expected more from his relationship with Wanda Maximoff. Still entertaining to watch, but the biggest disappointment on Team Iron Man.
The Neutral One:
T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman): Oh, my goodness, I am so excited for the Black Panther movie now! I knew almost nothing about T’Challa before, and he is such a rich, complicated character. I felt as if Black Panther was on Team Iron Man, but the only reason he helps Tony is because he’s pursuing his own agenda. His growth and contributions are integral to Civil War. His character sets up lots of future storytelling for Marvel, especially inside mysterious Wakanda. Boseman played the role with such intensity. I am very impressed with this character and Boseman. His inclusion was genius!
Team Captain America:
Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans): Cap’s perpetual moral high ground makes him both wonderful and annoying, as usual, but much of the film relies on his moral strength, and Evans portrays it perfectly. Cap is a natural leader and a wonderful friend, both qualities on high display here. Even while occupying such high ground, Steve evolves his sense of right and wrong and grows through the movie, really struggling at the end. As this is the end of the Captain America trilogy, his development is especially obvious. Steve struggled in his own time, and he’s struggled to acclimate into the Avengers’. Here, a chapter closes in spectacular fashion. True justice was done with this character.
Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan): Most of my admittedly little disappointment with Civil War is because of Bucky. Steve risks a ton for Bucky repeatedly in Captain America: Winter Soldier (and again here), and I had really looked forward to getting to know Bucky. However, I don’t feel I understand him much better now than before. His character still feels undefined. Maybe it’s the HYDRA brainwashing? I don’t think Stan had anything to do with it, but I wish I had gotten to know Bucky like I know Steve, Tony, Nat, Clint, and others. Time constraints probably cut his development, but considering a large portion of the action occurred because of him, I just wanted more here.
Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie): As basically Steve’s Rhodey, Sam’s character serves the same kind of role. I like Sam better than Rhodey, though, and Mackie’s portrayal of him is spot on. He and Steve have a pretty legendary bromance.
Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner): Poor Clint. He had to come out of retirement for this. I love Clint as a character, particularly his friendship with Natasha and his role as a guide for Wanda. Renner gives Clint his trademark dry humor and loyalty. While Hawkeye is not essential, his contributions recognize his importance as a founding Avenger and mentor for many younger characters.
Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen): Wanda struggles with her powers and their ethical implications throughout this film, but it is the cage she sees in the Accords that determines her side. Olsen depicts her struggle well. While perhaps one of the most inexperienced and under-confident Avengers, the MCU has the potential to develop Wanda into a key player, which she was plotwise here. Olsen could carry even more emotional weight in future films, I think.
Scott Lang/Ant Man (Paul Rudd): As the most recently developed hero, I was glad Scott was included here. He played a major role plotwise, as well as delivering some of the best lines in the whole movie. Ant Man gets another movie in a few years as well, and I’m glad he is now an Avenger. As for Rudd, I’ve literally never heard a bad thing about him, and he is perfect for the funny, criminally noble character he plays.
Other important characters include Captain Zemo, Brock Rumlow, and Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (is this the same Ross from The Incredible Hulk? I can’t remember…), as well as Sharon Carter. Sharon is hugely important to Steve and Team Cap. I’m not sure if I bought her chemistry with Steve, but romance was not high on Civil War’s list of priorities. Also, it weirds me out a little that she’s Peggy’s niece. I’d be interested to know if anyone else is bothered by this. Obviously, the real stars here are the Avengers themselves and their ever-evolving relationships. Civil War really promotes the importance of the family the Avengers, who are all otherwise misfits, have created for themselves, and ideas on the role of this family is one of the central conflicts for both sides.
Though the thrilling plot and fabulous characters make Captain America: Civil War a really enjoyable movie to watch, I think Marvel’s greatest triumph here is thematic. As I’ve already mentioned, family (and friendship as family) is hugely important. The love between these characters is a driving force that engages viewers emotionally. Revenge is explored as well, as both a result and the destruction of families such as the Avengers. Moral strength is paramount, and clinging to individual beliefs encouraged, even in defiance of the rest of the world. Exploring love, revenge, and morality gives Captain America: Civil War depth.
However, a lot of the conflict in Civil War is secretly political, and I think the statements this movie made in that regard are the most important. Anyone following American (and probably European) politics very much at all can probably pretty easily discern which sides of the political spectrum Steve and Tony fall on. The Sokovia Accords, which promote more government control, clearly push major buttons in our real world, just as they do for our heroes, and the violence of their clash emphasizes the militancy of our real world opposition to the other side’s ideas. However, Captain America: Civil War cleverly presents both sides without extremely favoring one side over another. While I, mostly undecided before the movie, have a definite position (at least in regards to the Accords) afterwards, I’m not sure that everyone would come to the conclusion I did. That balance is remarkable, laudable, well-done, and rare in films today, which often do have agendas. Captain America: Civil War makes an eloquent point about our political climate- there is so much senseless conflict. Ours may not be with shields and arc reactors, but the ideas are the same, and the results could be just as destructive. Marvel manages to convey this picture of our future while still providing the uplifting look at our potential for progress we look for while watching our favorite heroes.
While I did have a few nitpicky problems with Captain America: Civil War, overall this is a truly extraordinary movie for Marvel fans. It remains true to the characters, opens new storylines, and has real-world relevance in a wildly entertaining 146 minute bundle. I highly, highly recommend Captain America: Civil War for immediate viewing. 5/5 stars! If you can’t take my word for it, it’s getting 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, which seems pretty impressive to me.
Have you seen Civil War? What did you think? Team Iron Man or Team Cap? The comment box is hungry!
I’d like to thank the Constant Collectible crew for welcoming me as a contributor! I’m Katherine Viti, a writer and book blogger at Mapping Souls With Words. Stories in all forms excite me, and my favorite universes include the MCU, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Middle-Earth. When I’m not reading, watching, or writing, I’m probably baking. Ask me a question below, or find out more about me on my blog.