Warning: The following is free of major spoilers. However it is not completely spoiler-free. If you would like to see the movie with no knowledge whatsoever, come back to this one. Don’t worry, we can wait.
The Marvel Universe has often pondered the moral validity of being forced to stand up and count one’s self as super powered. Registering gives the government the ability to name a person as Other and, it was always feared, control a person and use their powers as a weapon of the State rather than recognizing the humanity hidden behind the mask.
In Anthony and Joe Russo’s latest installment in the MCU, Captain America: Civil War, they pose the question of whether the good these superheroes have done and the lives their actions have indirectly saved outweigh the chaos that follows in the wake of their heroics? As Vision (Paul Bettany) points out, the world simply didn’t have this many supervillains bent before the Avengers showed up on the scene. Are they the cause of the problem or the natural response at having to restore balance in the world?
Over the course of multiple movies, the Avengers have inadvertently wreaked mayhem across several continents. As Civil War opens, the United Nation has decided that it is now the Avengers turn to be registered. The Sokovia Accord would give the UN power over where and when the Avengers act. No more rushing off to defeat aliens or monsters simply because they are terrorizing humanity–the Avengers would have to ask permission to act in humanity’s best interests.
At a meeting about the Accords, the team quickly realize the implications of what is being asked of them and the fissures that have been forming across two Avengers movies finally crack wide open. Captain America (Chris Evans) wants to do what is best for his country, but the eternal boy scout has grown up and is no longer prepared to take orders from a man sitting behind a desk in a fancy suit. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), sitting slightly behind the team and wearing an expensive bespoke suit, believes that the Avengers need to monitored and guided by hands other than their own. The team splinters down sidekick lines with Falcon (Anthony Mackie) joining Cap, and War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Vision joining Iron Man. For reasons that are never well articulated, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) chooses to join Iron Man.
To make matters worse it appears that the Winter Soldier, Steve’s friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan), is responsible for blowing up a UN conference meant to make the Sokovia Accord official. Ever loyal to his friends, Cap makes his split from the Avengers official by defending Bucky when police and military attempt to capture him.
The centerpiece of the movie is an epic battle. Most actions movies use a confrontation between the good guys and the bad guys as their climactic centerpiece. What makes Civil War’s big fight scene different is the ambiguity of which side the audience should be rooting for. Since this is Captain America’s movie sentiment would seem to lean in his direction but Iron Man’s team believes they have a moral high ground since they are siding with the civilian authorities.
The fight that unfolds is worthy of the comic book panels from which the movie finds its origins. On one side, Captain America, Winter Soldier, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man, and Hawkeye stand ready to defend their leader’s ideals. On the other, Iron Man, War Machine, Black Widow, Black Panther, and Spider-Man prepare to defend a powerless world against the encroachment of superheroes.
The over inflated cast is a constant reminder that this is less of a Captain America movie and more an Avengers outing with Iron Man trying to pull focus at every opportunity. Stark proves himself to be the overbearing step father no one asked for, doing everything from literally locking Scarlet Witch in her room (Avenger’s HQ, whatever!) to bribing Peter Parker to join Team Iron Man. The only time Iron Man’s humanity leaks through is when a member of his team is injured and even that moment is ruined by bit of petulant pouting more suited his teenage charges than a grown man.
Romances and bromances abound in Civil War, but as in all Avengers movies the most important relationships are those of family. Kindred spirits who both feel at sea with their newfound powers, brothers in arms, and the strength of friendships strengthened by fire.
Civil War also serves as a launching pad for two new Marvel franchises: an unasked for third iteration of Spider-Man, and the highly anticipated Black Panther. Tom Holland’s younger more annoying Spider-Man is the kid brother that made you look into the legalities of justifiable fratricide. Despite having a great costume and webbing that fans have been waiting for, his nonstop quips and constant, earnest hero worship of Tony Stark made me want to stomp on this arachnid. Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, on the other hand, was the highlight of the movie. T’Challa’s reasons for joining the fight are clear and although his backstory is briefly touched upon, enough is left unsaid to leave fans counting the days until his solo movie hits the big screen. It is rare for a tertiary character in an MCU movie to be so well developed which is a real credit to screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFreely.
In the past, Avengers movies have hung on the balance of the movies that preceded them. The solo MCU hero movies, on the other hand, were forced to stand on the strength of their individual characters and storylines. Captain America: Civil War tries to be all things to all people: it introduces the possibility of future stand alone movies and reflects on the ones that preceded it. Despite this, Civil War constantly feels like little more than a cog in the Marvel Cinematic machine rather than a wonderful embodiment of its own whole self.
In the coming weeks, article after article will be written deciding where in the pantheon of Marvel movies Civil War should rank. People will devote column inches to dissecting Daniel Brühl’s excellent portrayal of a villain given too little to work with. Friends will debate whether Team Cap versus Team Iron Man was more about which team was better looking rather than which team was actually in the right. And actual civil wars may erupt when fans start start comparing critical response to BvS with that of Civil War.
In the end Captain America: Civil War is simply a good movie. It doesn’t try to be Citizen Kane yet still succeeds in offering viewers more food for thought than most mindless summer blockbusters. It works not because of lofty ideals or fan wish fulfillment but because this group of actors made us believe in superheroes. For all its faults Civil War is built on a strong foundation and while newcomers to the franchise may feel left out of the loop no one will leave the cinema anything less than satisfied.