Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”)
Written by: Christopher Markus (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) and Stephen McFeely (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”)
When the cast list was announced for “Captain America: Civil War,” it was hard to not be afraid that it would be an overcrowded mess. After all, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” tried to replicate the success of the first “Avengers” with limited amounts of success. But leave it to brother directorial duo Joe and Anthony Russo to pull off something truly “Whedon-esque.” They take something that, on paper, should not work at all, and turning it into a rousing, action-packed, spirited film.
For being a Captain America film, “Civil War” goes a long way in its development of other characters. In a huge anticipatory move, Tom Holland is introduced as Peter Parker (Spider-Man). While the initial introduction is a bit clunky, fans may be surprised by how much Spidey they get. It is also the first appearance of Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther. It’s impressive how streamlined his introduction becomes, quickly establishing his place in the franchise while not seeming rushed. Of course, at the heart of “Civil War” is the battle between Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) as well as the friendship with Rogers and Bucky, also known as The Winter Soldier. To that extent, it is a Captain America movie. To every other extent, this is basically a third installment of “The Avengers.”
For featuring nearly every Marvel character other than The Hulk, Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Russo Brothers did an astonishing job of not letting the film feel overstuffed. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” was a complete mess that had no discernible structure. On the other side of things, “Civil War” has nary a wasted frame, feeling lean and mean considering its two and a half-hour run time.
A major problem throughout most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the inability to develop a good villain. Sure, Loki was fun, but the threat in all of these movies is always a vaguely evil and impending world domination by an under-developed and uninteresting big bad. One of the biggest reasons that “The Avengers” was so successful as a film was that it pitted these characters against each other. Strife within the group proved to be the most interesting conflict the team has had to face throughout the course of these movies. “Civil War” follows suit, literally dividing The Avengers into teams. It is, once again, the most interesting aspect of the film. It’s much more satisfying and exciting to see Iron Man and Captain America violently beating each other up than it is to see entire city blocks be destroyed by fighting some random otherworldly species.
This all culminates in a scene that has been dubbed as the “airport scene.” In what is one of the most memorable scenes of the Marvel franchise, the teams have a battle royale in a giant setpiece. Not only is this scene immense, break-neck speed fun, but nearly every character gets at least one moment of sheer awesomeness and humor. It’s where Marvel gets to show off that they know what to do with Spider-Man, really Holland being a true motor mouth. It’s also where Paul Rudd actually gets to be himself, stealing every second of screentime and being the version of Ant-Man that should have been in his own previous film.
Something that sets “Civil War” apart from most comic book films in recent memory is that it actually addresses the issue of superheroes destroying cities and killing random folks without consequence. It’s an idea that is somewhat meta, considering that being an actual criticism of the genre, but also an idea that was terribly flubbed by something like “Batman v Superman.” To this degree, “Civil War” actually gives our heroes a real reason to be against one another. While the stakes may never feel quite high enough, the disputes are earned.
The end of the film is a bit of a let-down, but “Captain America: Civil War” is solidly exhilarating, engaging, and entertaining. It’s a truly astonishing feat that the Russo Brothers were able to introduce new characters, stuff nearly every Avenger into a single scene, and somehow make this film feel like a stand-alone rather than a table setter, one of the biggest criticisms of the Marvel franchise. Without question, “Civil War” is easily among the top three films Marvel has produced, and the franchise seems to be in capable hands with the Russo’s.