Following the surprise hit of The Winter Soldier, a film that many argue is the best MCU film to date, there was a lot of anticipation for The Russo Brothers’ return to the franchise with Captain America: Civil War, taken from the iconic comic book of the same name. Not only do the Russos prove their capabilities within the MCU in the lead up to Infinity War, but they kick off Phase 3 with a bang, leading to one of the most mature Marvel films so far.
About one year after Ultron’s attack on Sokovia, the Avengers have continued to do their work but the scars are still fresh, especially with those who lost family to the battle. After one mistake too many, the Avengers are approached by State Senator Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) with a proposition from the United Nations, to sign an Accord to place the Avengers under the supervision of the U.N. The team is immediately split in two: on one side, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.); whose guilt over creating Ultron has pushed him towards finally accepting responsibility, and on the other Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans), who still has trouble trusting government figures following Hydra’s infiltration of SHIELD.
Things get complicated when Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is blamed for a terrible attack. Despite claiming his innocence, only Steve believes him. Stark wants nothing to do with it and his attempts to broker peace between the Avengers and the United Nations, which puts a further strain on his relationship with Steve, who wants to keep Bucky away from prison. Eventually everyone is forced to pick a side, all the while knowing that the team might not survive what’s about to come.
For a film this big, the story is very focused and personal. It works better that way, including the larger scale of The Avengers but within the confines of a Captain America movie, allowing for the central relationship between Rodgers, Stark and Bucky to remain the focal point. This is far and away Cap’s film, and you can see throughout the whole thing that the focus is clearly on him and how he comes out at the end of it all.
One minor complaint was that the actual villain, Colonel Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), is sidelined for the most part until a really good final act reveal puts his place into perspective. It’s not a deal-breaker and it’s still great that the film was more focused on The Avengers rather than a villain, but with Zemo’s work there should’ve been more of his storyline.
Rather than putting focus on everyone and spreading the film too thin, the Russo’s cleverly put the majority of the spotlight on the main trio of Cap, Iron Man and Bucky while still touching in on everyone else and how they fall into the grand scheme of things.
On Iron Man’s side we have Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) who holds loyalty to both but knows that it was better to accept limitations and fight within them. Rhodey (Don Cheadle) and Vision (Paul Bettany), both permanent Stark allies, stand with him as well, allowing Vision to have some sweet moments with Wanda (Elizabeth Olson) in the Avengers Compound. Also on Team Stark are new guys, Prince T’Challa, the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Peter Parker, Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Both guys make big impressions for their first outings. Boseman nails the role, entering the film with a harsh edge about him and his own personal reasons for taking down Bucky, while Holland makes his case for the best Spider-Man yet, showing a the excitement and humor that everyone knows and loves from the comics.
On Cap’s side we have his partner-in-crime Sam Wilson, the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), who shares Steve’s distrust of the Government and stands by him as a fellow brother-in-arms. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has a small role, mostly retired from the Avengers, but returning because of a debt he owes Wanda. Wanda herself has a great character turn; a guilt complex combined with people fearing how powerful she is has her starting to question a lot about herself and her place in the team. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) makes an extended cameo and nearly steals the whole film in just a few scenes because his over-enthused and excited demeanor. And Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) returns where we learn a little more about her family history which makes her alliance with Cap make sense.
In the end it’s Cap, Stark and Bucky who make this film. Stan gave a lot of potential to Bucky in Winter Soldier and that comes to a head here. With Bucky being trapped between two minds, putting him in an interesting situation where he’s trying to rid himself of the ugly truth of his past and move on, but with the real threat of his Hydra conditioning kicking in and undoing it all.
Downey manages the big task playing a villain whilst still in essence being a hero and he pulls it off, not being this good since the first Iron Man. Between his guilt over Ultron and being forced to fight one of his closest friends, Tony is having a rough time, and the stress is getting to him. He finally wants to have some responsibility in his life, but it’s not an easy path,
Evans owns the role of Captain America, embodying Cap’s good-willed nature that he hasn’t lost, and yet at the same time building on the character and how far he’s come. What makes this a Captain America movie is how the film includes Steve’s attempts to hold onto his beliefs, his ideals, the very things that he fought for and was frozen for, without giving up, and you can see where he’s coming from. Signing the Accord might be the safest thing to do in the short-term, but the long-term effects could be catastrophic.
Joe and Anthony Russo return to finish off what they started in Winter Soldier and they more than succeed. From a purely visual standpoint the film is incredible. The CGI is pretty flawless on a large-scale and the action hits hard. The opening chase scene kicks things into gear by showing off the team and their new working relationship. A chase scene through Bucharest has Bucky being chased by Panther being chased by Cap being chased by the police and just racketing up the stakes with every new element. The final fight in particular is an intense affair with Stark vs. Steve and Bucky, bringing about some old wounds, some torn friendships and one of the most iconic images in comic book history. The personal stakes have never been higher than they are here and the Russos capture every moment between the three as they struggle to keep it together.
By contrast, the much-touted airport battle is one of the biggest and best scenes of the whole MCU, pitting everyone against everyone and turning it into an all-out war. It’s huge, it’s exciting, it’s funny, and it’s a scene that needs to be seen to be believed.
Where the Russos succeed best is in how they tell this story in order to have everyone’s part matter. With the Civil War comic books being one of the biggest in Marvel history, there was a lot riding on the film to deliver, and they did, eight years in the making, but it feels genuine. You can see why each character turns against each other. In that, the Russo manage to create one of the most mature Marvel films to date, exploring deeper themes than anything that’s come before, questioning loyalties to government against the responsible of self and the ever-present wonder of how far will Stark or Rodgers go in order to fight for those beliefs. While the film does take a little longer to get going than it should, that quieter build-up allows the characters to present their ideals and where they stand before letting loose with the fighting.
Civil War might not be the biggest Marvel film in terms of scale, but it is in terms of ideas. There is a lot of baggage going into this film and a lot more coming out; the ending does not go the way you think it will and leaves a huge door open for Infinity War. This is one of the best of the MCU, bringing a personalized story into the wide breadth of an Avengers movie, and an extraordinarily large cast that allows everyone a chance to shine, complete with the exciting but intelligent and through-provoking direction from the Russos, who prove that Winter Soldier was not a fluke and that they are more than ready to take on bigger challenges from Marvel. This isn’t just the film that Marvel fans have been waiting for since Loki attacked New York four years ago, this is a film that openly forces its fans to pick a side then makes them question if they picked the right one or not.