Looking at box office numbers, it’d seem like Marvel reigns from the top of the world, breaking their own records every year. Personally I’ve been checked out from the studio’s films since Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s not that I have a specific criticism that can take down the quality of Guardians of Galaxy, or Ant Man, or Age of Ultron. They’re all fine, but that’s kind of the problem. “Fine” isn’t a word that energizes me to spend $15 dollars at the movie theater. These movies have become carbon copies of each other and are the very definition vanilla, inoffensive moviemaking. It’s a far cry from the genuine excitement that we felt when Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Hulk stood next to each other for the first time in 2012 and assembled The Avengers. I’ve been wanting something to change in the formula for a while now. Which is why the concept for Captain America: Civil War immediately caught my attention. This wasn’t the typical sell of “good guys fight the bad guys and go home,” there was the potential of something more. Sure enough, Civil War proves a genuine progression The Avenger’s storyline. It acts as a dark middle chapter in the arc, and plants seeds for both the future of the heroes, and the cinematic universe as a whole.
Captain America: Civil War is unique because it pits the good guys against themselves. Following the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, where the Avengers drop a city on the earth with a huge amount of collateral damage, the global community has turned against the Avengers. In response, The United Nations and America push through a proposal that would bind their activities unless they were specifically government sanctioned. This also means that the Avengers themselves are seen as “government property,” similar to a nuclear bomb. Their gear and equipment, such as Cap’s shield or Iron Man’s suits, wouldn’t belong to them anymore. This issue divides the crew, with some believing government oversight is necessary to reel in their recklessness, and others thinking only Avengers know what’s best.
This plot point of government oversight is ingenious because it not only allows an easy diving-in point for each character’s back story, but is also easily applicable to any audience viewer. Especially in today’s political climate, the concept of private organization versus government operation is something hotly debated in public discourse. Granted this is still “just a superhero movie,” but I applaud Marvel’s efforts to push the franchise into more mature themes. I couldn’t help but think about all the High School essays that might be written about this movie. As for how government oversight affects the characters themselves, each character has their own take on the concept.
Of course the biggest two egos in the room end up being Steve Rodgers (Captain America) and Tony Stark (Iron Man) who end up ideologically opposed, but the film is smart never to depict their disagreement as a cartoonish rivalry. In fact, both characters desperately want to work with one another. Stark has his own reasons for agreeing with the proposal, but he also believes it’s best that the Avengers stick together and is willing to meet Rodgers’ requirements to accomplish cohesion. For Rodgers, he’s close to signing on but his involvement is complicated by the reemergence of Bucky Barnes, the Winter Solider. Barnes’ past as a sleeper agent for Hydra makes him a target for the governments of the world, and Rodgers is set on protecting him. This forces Rodgers to betray the government’s trust, and pits him against Stark and other Avengers.
With Rodgers and Stark making up the heads of the two sides there are obvious characters who go along with them. For example, James Rhodes (War Machine), a staple of the Iron Man franchise, sides with Stark. Sam Wilson (Falcon), a regular in the Captain America series, sides with Rodgers. Again, the film is smart not to portray these allegiances as obvious phone-ins. Rhodes and Wilson come to their decision before Stark or Rodgers utter their feelings on the matter. Although it inevitably ends up as “Stark and friends versus Rodgers and friends,” it feels like natural independent characters making their own decisions. This is summarized best by Clint Barton (Hawkeye) who sides with Rodgers for seemingly no explainable reason, but keen viewers of Age of Ultron will deduce that Barton’s choice is likely due to his loyalty to Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch) due to her brother saving him in that film. This attention to detail is present at every level of the film. Every scene feels necessary, and with such a large ensemble cast, every bit of information is a gift. No character’s motivation is left unattended to, even if it’s the first time we’re meeting them.
Speaking of which, there are two new characters in Civil War. I was pessimistic about the introduction of new heroes after how they handled blatant marketing throughout Age of Ultron. Miraculously, Civil War seems to have taken the opposite approach with the introduction of Black Panther and Spiderman. Both characters seem to be introduced as the solution to a narrative roadblock in the film. Black Panther acts as an elusive third party to the conflict between Stark and Rodgers. He’s not a bad guy, but he’s been harmed by the events that force him to act. His involvement is a wild card that adds another layer of tension, reminding the audience that even if Stark and Rodgers made friends, the story isn’t over. Spiderman is a less necessary addition, since he doesn’t serve a plot purpose, but he’s used to even out the sides of the conflict which otherwise would heavily favor Rodgers. His short scene glances over the “I got my powers, my Uncle is dead,” which hopefully means when Marvel reboots Spiderman in the future we won’t have to sit through that for the third time. Spiderman’s introduction is aptly done, and more importantly his inclusion in the action sequences make the set pieces all the more thrilling.
And the action of this film cannot be understated. Marvel has developed a reputation for quality set pieces, but this is by far the best so far. The choreography is something worth studying and copying until the end of time. Every gun shot, punch thrown, jump made, or hit taken, is easy to follow and the sum of each sequence leaves you bedazzled. Of course the highlight is the inevitable showdown between each side of heroes as they use their full deck of powers against each other, but the rest of the film has equally electrifying moments. The stakes are very high in this film. With an ensemble cast, and the knowledge that a few actors are at the end of their contract, it’s easy to believe that any number of these conflicts could conclude with the end of one of the Avengers. The action certainly sells the lethality of the encounters, and grips your attention for that reason.
In fact, the whole film is exactly that: gripping. While 2012’s Avengers may have survived on likability and comedic relief, Captain America: Civil War relies on a captivating central plot and exciting set pieces. It’s for this reason that for my tastes, I’d say Civil War is the best film from Marvel. It contributes something to your life and creates a conversation point. If you were an Avenger, how would you feel about government oversight? Was Stark or Rodgers right? The film goes in a certain direction to give you a conclusive answer, but the question remains as an interesting hypothetical. Even outside of that central plot. The character developments with Stark’s guilt, Rodger’s duty, or Black Panther’s views on revenge, are more mature than any of Marvel’s previous films. It’s for all these reasons that I left Captain America: Civil War not only impressed with its quality, but energized to see what they’d create next. Consider my faith restored, for now.