10 out of 10
Chris Evans as Steve Rogers / Captain America
Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man
Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes / The Winter Soldier
Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson / Falcon
Don Cheadle as Lieutenant James Rhodes / War Machine
Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton / Hawkeye
Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa / Black Panther
Paul Bettany as Vision
Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch
Paul Rudd as Scott Lang / Ant-Man
Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter
Tom Holland as Peter Parker / Spider-Man
Daniel Brühl as Zemo
Frank Grillo as Brock Rumlow / Crossbones
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
Captain America: Civil War Review:
When you make the promises that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made since the beginning, eventually you have to deliver on those promises. Since Iron Man in 2008, Marvel Studios has not only given us some incredible imagery and story, it has given us characters to cheer for, characters who aren’t simple caricatures of the comic books but ones that actually come off the page in a truly cinematic way. We’ve spent hours with Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, the Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, so many others… all of these characters have rich inner lives and inner struggles. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is constantly measuring himself against the values of his father and finding himself wanting. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has steadfast beliefs that, while true for him, conflict with the politics and the needs of the modern day. The MCU films have never been lacking for spectacle, but we have seen these stories play out over the space of 8 years now, and the potential for where these films could go has been teasingly just beyond the horizon.
No longer. In Captain America: Civil War, Marvel Studios has fulfilled those promises and then some, resulting in what could be the best superhero movie yet. “Civil War” couldn’t have gotten here any other way, and not to disparage other superhero movies from the Distinguished Competition, but it is due to the audience’s investment in these characters that makes the emotional resonance of what happens in “Civil War” even possible, and it’s not a place that can be reached with a single movie. We have watched these relationships build and be tested, and Captain America: Civil War is payoff for much of what we’ve seen with these characters so far. Moments of quiet conversation become riveting, intense moments because we are so engaged with these people – even the new ones, who although are placed right in the thick of things, are no less compelling than the ones we’re already familiar with.
I don’t want to dive too much into the plot; first, the story really isn’t all that different than Batman v Superman, with many of the same beats. It’s just that this time, the moments stick. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo are masters at orchestrating each battle (with second unit help from John Wick’s Chad Stahleski and David Leitch!), with cinematographer Trent Opaloch keeping things bright, and knowing when to set up that comic-booky iconic frame. In some of these shots (one major battle sequence is shot with IMAX cameras, and it is glorious to behold), all that was missing was the pre-requisite POW! BANG! and SMASH! Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely know these characters, know their rhythms, and best of all, know when to be funny and when to go darker. It is so graceful how the directors, the cinematographer, and the screenwriters tell this story, giving us bits of information and character development, so that during the film’s devastating third act our home is on the edges of our seats.
Second, the surprises of the film are best not telegraphed ahead of time – we know that Iron Man and Captain America will come to blows, but how we get there is everything to this movie. When those punches are finally thrown, it’s an earned moment, no matter how much we do not want to see these characters go to war. There is a sadness that fills the movie, a sense of inevitability, and a feeling that while we do not want to see this conflict happen, we understand why it does – why it NEEDS to. Indeed, it’s been set up already in the first Avengers film:
Steve Rogers: I know guys with none of that worth ten of you. I’ve seen the footage. The only thing you really fight for is yourself. You’re not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you.
Tony Stark: I think I would just cut the wire.
Steve Rogers: Always a way out. You know, you may not be a threat, but you better stop pretending to be a hero.
Over the years, Tony Stark and Steve Rogers circle each other’s values and choices, and while their positions may change, how they reach those changes is integral to their characters. Captain America: Civil War‘s plot is heavily character-based; there is no world needing to be saved here. Instead, it’s an ideal, a mission statement between two inexorable forces – who is worth saving? Who deserves redemption? When lives are on the line, how important are your ideals?
Steve Rogers’ ideals have not changed, even in this bold new world that he has woken into. Indeed, he sticks closer to them more than ever, refusing to compromise them in a more complex political landscape. For Tony Stark, each life lost in these conflicts is another scar on his already shrapnel-scarred heart. Tony counts every single one of them – from the days when he sold weapons to any buyer who could afford them, to his days as a hero and an Avenger – and when this is brought home to him in a personal way Tony decides to take the initiative to prevent further loss of life. But for Steve, who with Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is still tasked to find his friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), these compromises are too much. A personal loss further cements Steve’s resolve, while Tony is reticent to even put the Iron Man suit on for fear of more collateral damage. When a global incident occurs and Bucky is blamed, both Steve and Tony are forced to test their beliefs, and their relationship.
Captain America: Civil War deepens and expands on already-established characters in terrific ways, but the real joy of the movie lies in the introduction of two new superheroes. Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa is a noble, righteous prince of Wakanda, and when his kingdom comes under attack, as the Black Panther he seeks justice and vengeance for himself and his people. Boseman is electric as T’Challa, and if there were any concerns over Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther film, those will be disposed of immediately. I love the ferocity of Black Panther’s attacks, but even more, I love the innate goodness of the regal T’Challa, and Chadwick Boseman brings real empathy and emotion to the role. He leaves the audience wanting more in the best way, and his interactions with the rest of the Marvel characters are revealing and entertaining. I foresee that Black Panther will do well when it is released in 2017.
Of course, the second character is well-known to everyone, but due to the Sony/Marvel deal we finally get to see Spider-Man in his rightful place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What’s even more wonderful is that in only a few scenes, Tom Holland and the writers accomplish what it took five films to only accomplish sporadically, even though Sam Raimi’s films are an achievement on their own – this is the Spider-Man of the comics. Living hand-to-mouth in a small apartment in Queens with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), Peter Parker is driven to be a hero, and his scenes with Robert Downey Jr. are funny as well as touching. We’ve seen Spidey’s origin a few times now, and Captain America: Civil War wisely skims over it to get to the heart of Peter Parker quickly and honestly. Plus, this Spider-Man fights exactly like we imagined he would on screen – fast, formidable, skilled, and always popping a quip or a joke. Holland has the total charisma required to play our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, and how he interacts with the other heroes is worth waiting all those years for. Spider-Man: Homecoming gets a terrific jumping off point in Captain America: Civil War and I’m so happy to see this beloved character off to the right start.
In fact, the airport battle may be the best action sequence ever in a superhero movie; hell, in any recent blockbuster. Although the stakes are high, it’s wildly entertaining, funny, and true to the characters. Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man is a standout – Scott Lang is just happy to be there, and during an unexpected moment in the combat, Rudd is both hilarious, menacing, and oddly sweet at the same time. Unfortunate comparisons will be made to Batman v Superman, and it may be lazy criticism to say that everything that film does wrong Captain America: Civil War does intrinsically right, but it’s also true. When these characters are in pain, we are in pain, because at this point we have such a deep rapport with them.
While there are a few more films in Phase III to go before we get to Avengers: Infinity War, and new characters to introduce, the confidence of Marvel Studios in taking us there is overwhelmingly strong. Even when Marvel doesn’t quite stick the landing in these films, they still fit well into the long story arc that Marvel is telling here. There’s an alchemy here that shouldn’t work, but it does – we get great writing, great acting, spectacle with real thematic weight, and characters that we adore. That hasn’t happened to this degree since the heyday of the Star Wars original trilogy. And it feels like Marvel is just getting started. Can you imagine the stories that these films will inspire? There will be some 7-year-old kid who will see these movies and think, “I want to do that.” I can’t wait to see the art that these films will inspire. Until then, we’ll just have to settle for the glory of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Captain America: Civil War isn’t just perfect summer entertainment – this is one of the best blockbusters ever made.