The latest Marvel Studios film is out and doing extremely well in the box-office from the most recent reports. I saw it, loved it, and realize that it’s not just another hero versus hero movie.
Official synopsis from Marvel Studios: Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War finds Steve Rogers leading the newly formed team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. But after another incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by a governing body to oversee and direct the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps—one led by Steve Rogers and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Tony Stark’s surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability.
Calling Captain America: Civil War a “superhero movie” is selling it short, I think. It’s so much more. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo and screenwriters Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely—all of whom previously worked on 2014’s much-lauded Captain America: The Winter Soldier—have crafted a brilliant story that is equal parts grim, funny, dramatic, and action-packed. The production’s large cast (this is practically a full-on Avengers film) should have been too big to handle, but each member gets their moment to stand out and yet it is still solidly a Captain America film.
I was solidly #teamcap going into the movie and stayed that way coming out. There is so much to like about Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America and it is to the screenwriters’ credit that the reasons given for why Captain America does what he does in this film are understandable. He couldn’t be any other way. But they’ve also made the cause led by Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) sympathetic as well, and that balance is one of the key strengths of the film.
Captain America: Civil War is about guilt and control. It’s about Tony Stark’s guilt over the deaths caused by weapons he created in his previous career as an armament manufacturer, the innocents killed during the times the Avengers saved the world against the Chitauri invasion, and his part in the creation of Ultron. It’s about Stark’s realization that he, and by extension other superheroes, need someone to help them rein in their power to minimize the risk of collateral damage and that they can’t regulate themselves on their own. It’s also about Steve Rogers’ guilt over the “death” of Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), how he wants everyone to be free to control their own actions and fate, and how he doesn’t trust others to control the Avengers with the world’s best interests in mind.
Both Stark and Rogers have valid points, but they also let their guilt drive them against each other in a conflict made inevitable by the machinations of the film’s villain Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl). Zemo’s own motivations are surprisingly given fair play—as much his actions are in the wrong, the viewer can’t help but understand where he’s coming from. And in a welcome departure from the standard superhero movie outline, Zemo actually wins in the end, even when it seems like he’s lost the battle against the film’s assembled heroes. Why do I say this? Because at the end of the day, even though all the heroes survived, Zemo accomplishes his goal of driving a wedge between the original Avengers. They can never go back to the way they were. Sure, Tony might recruit more heroes to join the team, but it won’t be the same, and they’ll have to operate under the Sokovia Accords and all that it implies moving forward. Steve Rogers will never be able to be an Avenger under those conditions.
And what about the relationships that have been destroyed? Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) never felt like friends, but it seems less likely that it will ever happen after the events of this film. Can they even be teammates? The friendship between the Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) has been damaged almost beyond repair just as it was starting to develop.
If there are any partnerships that can survive the rift, it might be the one between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Professional spies before they became Avengers, they are used to navigating a world lit in gray. They understand that there are rarely any black or white answers to be found and that the bonds of genuine friendship can withstand ideological differences (which just shows that the personal relationship between Iron Man and Captain America was probably not that strong to begin with).
For a film with such a large main cast, it’s impressive that only one character gets noticeably short shrift, and that character is Hawkeye. The fan-favorite archer is relegated to a couple of good lines and what amounts to “here’s Hawkeye!” scene just as he was in the two Avengers films, but I can’t really complain too much because the character moments are executed well.
So much could have gone wrong with the introduction of so many new characters, and I was especially worried about the appearance by Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland). His scenes go over well, I’m glad to report, and I am now looking forward to the solo Spider-Man film tentatively scheduled for a 2017 release. The same can be said for Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa/Black Panther. The African monarch’s role in the story is clear and he never feels out of place in the proceedings.
In terms of the action and the fight scenes, they are tightly choreographed and refreshingly easy to follow. There aren’t any obvious cases of characters’ powers being depicted inconsistently for the sake of parity, which is a common thing in superhero comics.
Ultimately, Captain America: Civil War leaves viewers with a mess that will have to be resolved in future films in the Marvel Studios franchise. It’s a mess with understandable causes and sympathetic players, however. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t wait for 2018 to see how the Russos start putting everything back together. I need to know now.