Steve Rogers is a man of heart. He is willing to put himself on the line to protect those he feel are being mistreated by injustice. It’s why he wished to volunteer for military service to fight the Nazis in World War II even though he was a sickly man. Even after becoming Captain America, where he would be enhanced with super human strength and agility, he has remained as humble as he ever was. But while compassion and nobility have been his greatest attributes, they can be to his detriment. For there may be no place for a man like him in a world that is pessimistic even to their superheroes.
Captain America: Civil War doesn’t seem like a stand-alone Captain America film. Not when nearly all of the known Avengers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, along with some new faces, are present. Furthermore, each hero gets enough screen time and some story to justify their appearance being more than just a teasing cameo. So why isn’t the clearly ensemble film called Avengers: Civil War instead? Because it still manages to focus squarely on Steve Rogers and how he struggles to maintain the ideological principles by which he stands and lives by against those who want him to surrender to the harsh realities of the world around him. Even if that puts him at odds with someone like Tony Stark.
I must admit that it is astonishing how amazing I found this movie to be. This is despite twelve previous Marvel films that have all consistently been good, if not great. Given how many characters are present, the type of story being told, and the hype that surrounded it for months, it seemed reasonable to me that it would suffer the same fate as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice by being a film that was not as good is it could have or should have been. And yet Civil War succeeds beyond my expectations by telling an incredibly compelling drama about friendship, trust, and vengeance. Yes, there is a healthy amount of comedy and the action sequences are fantastic. But it really tells a rather tragic tale that is thrilling and exciting to watch.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo clearly understand how to visualize the film in such a way that audiences are engrossed with what is happening on screen, be it a heart-stopping chase through the streets of Germany or the tension between Steve and Tony as they debate whether or not the Avengers should heed to government supervision. Their efforts are helped by great writing from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who have written all three Captain America films. They make each scene feel important and keep the film moving at a steady pace, allowing for viewers to really savor the big moments when they happen. I get the sense they crafted the story with a great deal of care, understanding a lot is expected of them, and still manage to dictate how to best present their tale.
This being a super heromovie, there’s a great deal of visual effects to play with. And you do get a whole lot of CG effects all over the screen, particularly in the anticipated and excellent looking group battle at Leipzig/Halle Airport in Germany. But as long as the visual effects were effective and bolstered the storytelling, they can still be exciting to watch. Because the film was very much character driven, there was a great deal of character animation that’s deceptively good and impressive. Some of the ones that left audiences in awe were those displaying the incredible speed and agility of Black Panther. When he throws down, he moves with such incredible grace that some folks might be taken aback. It’s also another case of when reality and animation blur together so well that at times you think you know what you’re seeing is CG, but then you start to second guess yourself the more you watch.
Chris Evans continues to shape a Steve Rogers audiences can get behind and cheer for. He looks dashing and conducts himself as a true gentleman regardless of the situation he is in. This time around, Evans is able to project a greater sense of pathos in the character with his mannerisms and body language. The same can be said about the way Robert Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark in this film. Here he presents Tony as a man who is starting to lose trust in himself, the years of trying to rectify his past misdeeds feeling like they’re not getting better. While it’s easy to view Tony as the antagonist of the two given how cocky and egotistical he admits he is, both Evans and Downey manage to actually show two protagonists who are unsure about themselves and their role as super heroes.
While much of the film is centered on Steve as well as Tony, each of the other major players were presented rather evenly and with enough presence that they manage to fit in very well without making the film feel crowded. Yet three characters in particular stood out for me. Chadwick Boseman is excellent as Black Panther. He is able to portray a great character who struggles with doing what is best for himself as an individual and as the leader of a nation. Elizabeth Olsen really got a chance to shine as Scarlet Witch. Her fears of public perception and of being unable to truly control her powers results in a wonderfully sympathetic figure. And then there’s Tom Holland as Spider-Man. So that I won’t spoil the sheer joy of watching how he plays the character, I’ll just say that he, in my eyes, stole the show.
One element that I think could have been done better, or could have played differently, was trying to provide Steve with a romantic interest. That’s not to say the Sharon Carter character was bad and Emily VanCamp does a nice enough job playing her. I just felt that having her be the love interest, even while she’s been the one most associated as such in the comics, didn’t seem all that interesting or necessary. One can’t help but think that it’s a little weird he goes from being in love with Peggy Carter during World War II to sharing a romantic talk with her niece in the 21st century. Maybe it’s just me, but I think there was a missed opportunity to play up just how close he appears to be with Scarlet Witch, even though they build up the fascinating relationship she has with the android Vision.
Civil War is one of those movies that I actually wish would run just a little longer than it does. It’s a testament to the directors and the writers that they are able to craft a compelling story in 2 1/2 hours and manage to make all of the elements work without feeling like it’s too much or overwhelming to the narrative. But at the same time, it’s because they’re able to get all of the pieces to work together so well that I think few would have objected had they added another 15-20 minutes to the run time to flesh things out just a little bit more. Perhaps I’m asking for too much of a good thing. But I’ll concede that the filmmakers were thoughtful and careful with how to tell their story to get the best emotional response possible without letting it drag.
What Captain America: Civil War manages to do is be a fun, exciting super hero movie that is thought-provoking and a compelling drama. The Russo brothers deliver a film that manages to exceed expectations with a great story, great visuals, and, perhaps more importantly, great characters. Characters that we have grown to care about for eight years and get emotional when they end up throwing punches at one another instead of the bad guys. By the end of the film, the debate won’t be so much whose side was better. I think the debate will be where to rank the film among the best of Marvel films and perhaps the best of the superhero genre.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?