When you were a kid you used to dream about a movie like Captain America: Civil War but never believed it could happen – getting all your favorite characters into one film to go up against the forces of evil. Well, directors Joe and Anthony Russo must have had those dreams too and brought it all together with a kick-ass story and a stellar cast. Captain America: Civil War is the stuff kids’ dreams are made of.
Of course, this is an Avengers movie in essence, though the title tells us it’s a Captain America film, and in truth, it is because Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is at the center of this story, pitted up against Robert Downey’s Tony Stark in what seems like an inconceivable battle, but all the incongruity of Avenger fighting Avenger is explained and the battle of super friends really does make sense.
There is a danger in any movie that has so many characters, especially daunting ones like Stark and Rogers who have carried their own films but are now part of Marvel’s ever expanding brand, to lose something in the process. It is now almost a given that there can no longer be a standalone movie with any of the Avengers characters only because it is inconceivable that at least one or more of the others wouldn’t get involved to some degree; luckily there is nothing to be worried about here.
The plot is solid and sets up the “Civil War” deftly as we see Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) being revived from the deep freeze back in 1991 Siberia to take on a super-secret mission. We flash forward to the present time and the Avengers are trying to stop Crossbones (Frank Grillo) and others from stealing a biological weapon in the African country of Wakanda. When captured by Rogers, Crossbones detonates a bomb to kill them both, but when Wanda/Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) tries to move the blast away from Rogers she accidentally kills innocent civilians in a building.
What follows is the premise as to why the Avengers will break into factions. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) informs them of the UN Sokovia Accords (ratified by 117 countries) that will provide checks and balances for the team. Stark believes it is necessary (considering his complicity in the Ultron disaster in that country) and Rogers thinks it will inhibit their abilities to help people. Thus the conflict begins.
The two sides align behind Stark (Black Widow, War Machine, Vision, and new recruits Black Panther and Spider-Man) and Rogers (Falcon, Barnes, Scarlett Witch, Ant Man, and Hawkeye). If this appears a little too conveniently and evenly balanced it is, but each character’s reasoning for taking sides is understood.
This sets the table for a battle between the two sides that seems incongruous considering the history of the group; however, the luxury of a film 147 minutes long is that this ensemble cast actually gets time for each character’s motivations to make sense, and new additions Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) particularly get moments to shine.
Of course, all is not as it would seem here, and although Stark and his team are trying to bring in Winter Soldier for his crimes and Rogers is out to stop them, the real villain behind everything is a Sokovian named Zemo (David Bruhl) who sets these events in motion but also – as is usually the case with Marvel villains – has distinct reasons why he feels his cause is a just one.
The script by Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely is filled with great dialogue and, in particular, humor even during battle sequences. When the very young Spider-Man calls The Empire Strikes Back an old movie and uses it to demonstrate how to defeat an opponent in the same way Luke Skywalker took down the AT-AT attackers, it is quite hilarious.
Overall, this film could have been called Captain America-Iron Man: Civil War because Downey has almost as much screen time as Evans, but that is not a criticism. The core of the film is the battle between the two old friends who both have deep connections to events that motivate their actions. It is a battle of wills and brawn, but is not a question of will the best man win, but rather will they not kill one another?
Cinematographer Trent Opaloch’s ability to capture the breadth and scope of this film, including massive battle sequences, and Henry Jackman’s rousing score set a pace what seems for the most part like a theme park ride that only accelerates. However, there are moments when the velocity slows down enough to give us scene gems like Stark going to Peter Parker’s Queens apartment to recruit him for the team and when Vision (Paul Bettany) attempts to cook for Wanda.
This film doesn’t redefine the genre or even try to do anything different; rather, it elevates what a film based on comics can be to new heights and also leaves the door open for more to come from these characters we have come to know, and for the most part, love (Downey’s Stark does sometimes grate on the nerves a bit).
If you are looking for action, adventure, and a story that makes sense, then Captain America: Civil War is the movie for you and an ideal one to kick-off your summer movie season. The one thing that will be difficult to do is to “choose a side” as the promos suggest because both sides contain characters that seem to be doing the right thing and for the right reasons. How many movies have you seen lately that can make you say that?
Photo Credits: Disney Films