I recently saw the movie Captain America: Civil War, and these are my thoughts about it (this review contains some spoilers). It should be noted that I am a big fan of comic books, and Marvel Comics in particular, and have been so since I was at least five years old. I am sure that fandom biases my review in some way.
By way of introduction for the uninitiated, Civil War is a movie based on Marvel comic books that falls at the beginning of Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This movie is the thirteenth in the film series, which also includes three seasons of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (a television series), two seasons of Agent Carter (also a television series), Daredevil and Jessica Jones (Netflix series), and five Marvel One-Shot films. Needless to say, this film is deeply entrenched in a clearly established, long running, and sprawling interconnected media universe.
I thought the prior Captain America film, called Winter Soldier was the best of the Marvel movies thus far, but I think Civil War is just as good, if not better still. If the viewer is a comic book fan and/or Marvel Cinematic Universe fan, this movie hits all the right spots. This movie is nearly top to bottom action and almost all of it is really well done.
When I first heard about the full cast in this movie, which more or less includes almost every major movie superhero thus far (Hulk, Thor, and a couple of others are noticeably absent), namely Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Agent Carter, Scarlett Witch, Vision, Falcon, War Machine, Ant-Man, Winter Soldier, Thunderbolt Ross, and Agent 13, as well as two new (for the franchise) superheros, Black Panther and Spider-Man, not to mention the villains (Crossbones and Baron Zemo), I got concerned that this film would fall prey to what afflicted Spider-Man 3 and the later Batman films in Burton series, which was way too many characters crammed into a film. My concerns were unfounded. Marvel has done an astonishing job juggling its characters over all of its films and, as a result, they have been able to include a boat load of characters in their films very successfully. I think that is because, despite the long list of characters, they do not weigh the film down as there is no imminent need to flesh them all out in this film in particular as Marvel is confident future films will do the job. Merely plugging them in where needed, and adding in those puzzle pieces for the purposes of advancing the story of this particular film suffices for the moment; they will be fleshed out elsewhere (or have been fleshed out elsewhere already). This reflects the new reality of serialized film making and I like it.
As with the other Captain America films, this film relies just as much on the emotional relationships between the characters as it does the action sequences, which is refreshing because, although fans of these movies really look forward to the action, the character development is really what drives these movies, makes them interesting, and keeps them popular. The relationship between Captain America and Iron Man is, obviously, a main focus of the film, but there is also the relationship between the Vision and Scarlett Witch (hints of a romantic relationship just like in the comics), Hawkeye and Black Widow, the Black Panther and his father and the Winter Solider, and Captain America and the Winter Soldier that are highlighted.
The dispute that arises – which causes all of these relationships to strain – centers on whether the Avengers – and other superhumans – need to register with the United Nations, as the world has determined them to be too powerful to be left unchecked. Iron Man supports registration while Captain America supports affording the Avengers the freedom and liberty to act as they need and when they need. While the world pursues registration and the Avengers debate its merits – due to the various disasters in which the Avengers were involved – Baron Zemo (who, in this iteration, is not a Nazi, but someone who lost his family due to the events in Avengers 2) simultaneously incites a conflict between the Avengers in the context of the registration by framing the Winter Soldier for the assassination of the Black Panther’s father and discovering how to trigger the Winter Soldier’s Hydra/Soviet mind programming. Of course, the lines are dawn between the Avengers, which results in a conflict and a fantastic battle scene among them that is, at the end of the film, left fairly unresolved. I like the idea that the conflict is not wrapped up in a tidy bow at the end of the film. There are still a lot of issues to address in future films, which, in my mind, makes them even more interesting to anticipate. There has been a lot of criticism leveled at this movie that no one of significance died or was killed, but I am not sure how significant that is in light of the fact that the characters are disunited, the relationships between all of the characters is strained, and the dispute of the film is unresolved in significant ways; these aspects give the story weight and significance (and death is not the only means to that end). It is also worth noting that the fights were between friends, so it would not not be surprising that they pulled their punches in order to not significantly hurt one another; that may explain why no one died as a result of the battles.
In addition to a clear and compelling story with actual significance, this movie also featured the patented Marvel comic relief. As much as I appreciate more “serious” comic book movies (like B v S), I always love how Marvel can work in some light moments. This film is arguably the “darkest” of the Marvel movies, yet even in this film, the occasional humorous moment is appreciated and always well placed.
With the exception of the primary antagonists (Captain America and Iron Man), the standout characters, to me, were Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Ant-Man. I went into this movie expecting Black Panther to be just another character and, possibly, a little lame (I am not a big fan of his in the comics). I can honestly say that I was completely wrong. The Black Panther is one of the characters who drives the story and he, to put it simply, is just so cool. His fight scenes were absolutely fantastic – my favorite of the film – especially his fights with the Winter Solider. Those fight scenes were some of the best and expertly choreographed that I have ever seen. The Panther’s fighting style is light and exciting, but his impact is heavy and quite serious. His suit is not lame in the least (as I expected) and leaves some mystery as to how it works (it is vibranium). Furthermore, his role is not merely as a superhero, but as the head-of-state for Wakanda (his superhero persona is the embodiment of Wakanda), so that makes his approach and perspective a lot more interesting than mere superhero. Also, and refreshingly, he is a noble character who introduces the concept of forgiveness to the mix.
Spider-Man is my favorite comic character. He only made a cameo appearance in this film, in order to introduce him for his upcoming solo film, but what he did do was, to turn a phrase, amazing. I am so happy that it seems movie makers finally got Spidey right: a young, skinny, teen-aged boy, with a squeaky voice, little money, absolutely no idea what he is doing, and a constant flow of words which are generally pretty funny. Spider-Man, appropriately and needless to say, was the source of a lot of humor in the movie. Quite honestly, the movie did not need Spider-Man at all, and his scenes were clearly inserted a a way to introduce the character as opposed to advance the plot of Civil War. In that way, I imagine one could criticize his insertion into the film as unnecessary, superfluous, and somewhat shameless in promoting another Marvel movie. If I were not a Spider-Man fan – and did not absolutely love how he was presented in the film – that criticism may have had traction with me; however, as I love Spidey and what they did with him, I loved it.
The same goes largely goes for Ant-Man as it does for Spider-Man. Now, Ant-Man was previously introduced in his own film, so Civil War did not serve quite the same purpose for Ant-Man as it did for Spider-Man. In saying that, however, Ant-Man is a sort of minor character and the film did help push him into the greater story in a way his own film really was not able to do. In addition, Ant-Man, in addition to Spidey, was another source of humor in the film. It seems Paul Rudd (the actor playing Ant-Man) can’t help but be funny. So, with Spider-Man on Iron Man’s “side,” Ant-Man was on Captain America’s “side” that side’s bug-themed superhero providing comic relief. Without giving too much away, Ant-Man revealed a secret that made his presence a lot of fun and added another, and unexpected, element to the battle scene.
Finally, it is worth reiterating again that the fight scenes in this film were fantastic. They are probably my favorite of the Marvel movies so far. I think it helped that the battles were mainly between friends who really did not want to hurt each other, which allowed some humor (mainly via Spidey and Ant-Man) to get into the mix.
As a final word, allow me to say that I was a little jarred at the casting of Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. Her role will obviously be fleshed out more in the upcoming Spider-Man film, but, as a purist, I was a little disappointed that Aunt May was not an older woman as she is in the comics. In saying that, I guess it does not make much sense that a 15 year old’s mother’s sister is elderly, which probably explains the younger casting. Also, I absolutely loved how, as a nod to the comics, the Falcon controlled a small bird-like drone. His ability, in the comics, to communicate with a bird is, quite frankly, lame, so I am glad they made it cool in the movie.
In sum, I highly recommend this film. It has a good plot, some fun humor, fantastic fight scenes, good characters, and a real impact on how the franchise will play out in the upcoming films.