“Captain America: Civil War” is the thirteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it’s the third installment in the Captain America trilogy, Joe and Anthony Russo returning to direct after helming “Captain American: The Winter Soldier”. In this movie, the U.S. government introduces the Sokovia Accords, a piece of legislation that will officially out the Avengers under complete government oversight in order to prevent any more destruction on their part. Tony Stark is completely in favor of this oversight, whereas Steve Rogers is fully against it, leading to the Avengers being split down the middle in terms of what to support and whose side to fall on.
This movie had quite the difficult task. It’s following up one of the most acclaimed MCU films in “The Winter Soldier”, and it’s also having to serve as both a direct sequel to that movie as well as being an adaptation of one of the most iconic Marvel comics, “Civil War”. But it doesn’t stop there. This movie also has to introduce the characters of Black Panther AND Spider-Man after Marvel finally obtained the rights to the latter in early 2015. So this movie has to be a sequel, an adaptation, an introduction to iconic Marvel characters on the big screen, and set up for other MCU films, it being a pivotal point within the Universe.
The central conflict in this movie is the disagreements over the Sokovia Accords, introduced by General Ross in his first appearance since “The Incredible Hulk” in 2008. Tony Stark ultimately decides to help enact this legislation after being confronted by the mother of a child who died during the Battle of Sokovia in “Age of Ultron” and he naturally feels responsible since he helped create Ultron. As I said back in my review for “Iron Man”, Tony Stark is a good man who genuinely cares about people, despite his arrogant personality. He’s seen what his weapons have done and he’s seen the threats that face Earth and it’s all lead to this. Stark has now been confronted with the unfortunate truth that maybe the Avengers have done more harm than good. Maybe he and his friends are to blame for all of the innocent people that have died, a point that’s validated in the film’s opening scene with Scarlet Witch unintentionally killing civilians in Nigeria. You really do see his side in this and you don’t see him as a direct good guy or bad guy. He’s just a guy who wants to protect people and he’s doing what he feels is the necessary thing to do in order to save lives.
On the other end of the spectrum is Steve Rogers and he’s opposed to the Accords, also for good reasons. On the surface level, it appears that he’s against them because he’s Captain American and he’s also for freedom, including the freedom to act on their own as the Avengers. But if you listen to Rogers’ arguments, he’s arguing from past personal experience. If you go back to “The Winter Soldier”, you see that he’s shaken to his core with the revelation that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised by HYDRA and they haven’t been who they said they were. What if something like that occurs within the government body that is overseeing the Avengers? What if the oversight committee has a more nefarious agenda, sending the Avengers to a place they don’t need to be whilst being kept from a place that desperately needs their help? There’s legitimate arguments made by both Tony and Steve (the latter also receiving some motivation from a speech at Peggy Carter’s funeral) and it’s great that this movie doesn’t make it a black and white portrayal of one being good whilst the other is evil. They’re both just two guys who want what’s best in terms of protecting people, they just have differing ideologies on how to do it. The movie can make you side with one and then immediately switch to the other and it’s these clashing ideological differences that make the movie so compelling to watch.
In terms of continuing the storyline with Bucky as the Winter Soldier, this movie also does that very well. Steve and Sam Wilson continue their pursuit for Bucky in the midst of this controversy with the Accords and it finds a way to tie into the Civil War story. Bucky ends up being framed for a crime he didn’t commit, the bombing a building, resulting in the death of King T’Chaka of Wakanda and father of T’Challa. And once more, Tony sees this situation with Bucky as further proof that something needs to be done in terms of controlling the Avengers. And the situation with Bucky trying to recover from being the Winter Soldier is interesting in that he’s the unwilling pawn in the scheme of a villain with motives that aren’t what they seem, but more on that later. What needs to be stated now is that this movie does a good job of continuing the Winter Soldier storyline, infusing it into this movie and not making it come off as too busy or convoluted.
As it was just mentioned, Bucky is framed for the death of King T’Chaka and now his mantle of Black Panther is passed down to his son, T’Challa. The character of Black Panther is handled very well in this film. You instantly sympathize with him as he sees his own father murdered before him and you instantly understand that he seeks revenge on Bucky. The first revelation of Black Panther is in a terrific hand-to-hand fight scene with Bucky, leading to a great chase scene with Black Panther, Bucky, and Captain America involved. Black Panther is certainly entertaining to watch, but his arc is also great to watch unfold. His ultimate goal is revenge, but upon finding out that Bucky was framed, he learns to let go of this anger that nearly resulted in an innocent man being his victim and he begins his steps towards becoming the next King of Wakanda, something handled well in this year’s “Black Panther”.
The other new hero in the mix is Tom Holland being introduced as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Holland is great in this role because he not only nails the nerdy, unsure of himself Peter that also feels a sense of responsibility with his new powers, but he also captures the young, quippy Spider-Man who’s also awestruck by being roped into an official mission with Iron Man. He has that smartass side of of him for sure, but more than anything, he’s just a kid in a suit who’s doing and saying what most kids would say in his position. But what I love most about this portrayal of Peter Parker is his contrast to Tony Stark. Tony sees a bit of himself in Peter, a man who simply wants to help people because of his extraordinary abilities. Tony and Peter instantly form something of a bond and it’s one of the more pure moments in the entire film. Needless to say the the Russo brothers did a great job with both Spider-Man and Black Panther.
The one sequence in this movie that virtually everyone loves is the airport battle between Steve’s side of the Avengers in Bucky, Falcon, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Ant-Man vs. Tony’s side with War Machine, Black Widow, Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Vision. It’s a giant all-out battle between most of our favorite heroes and it’s literally everything that you could want out of a fun comic book spectacle. There’s great moments like Spider-Man nonchalantly stopping Bucky’s metal arm and fanboying out over it, Ant-Man crawling in the Iron Man suit and eventually becoming Giant-Man for the first time, and just basically each character getting their moment to shine in this battle. It’s fun, entertaining, hilarious, and it really shows the Russo brothers strength in action as well as Marvel’s strength in making pure comic book fun for all to see. The only time the battle gets serious is near the end when Vision accidentally shoots down War Machine, paralyzing Rhodey, further angering Tony and giving him even more reason to go against Steve and company.
Before I get into the movie’s climax, I want to talk about the antagonist who has set this whole thing in motion, Helmut Zemo. There are some people, like myself, who think Zemo is a good villain. His motive is straightforward and simple and you actually do feel bad for him at a point in the film. His family was killed in the Battle of Sokovia and now he wants revenge, but he goes about it in a completely different way. Rather than trying to kill the Avengers, he decides that the best way to beat them is by tearing them apart from within, something that’s never been done by any MCU villain before. As I said, I think Zemo makes for a solid villain in this movie, but others dislike him for lacking any type of presence or not being very memorable. Sure, he may not have presence in that he’s not a huge, diabolical bad guy who gives grand, villainous speeches, but he’s not suppose to be that. If anything, he’s just a personification of the lives that the Avengers have unintentionally destroyed and he’s also the culmination of their damage throughout the years. He fits in with the main conflict of the movie and I personally think he works well as an antagonist.
At first glance, it looks like Zemo’s plan is to awaken a small group of cryogenically frozen Winter Soldiers also controlled by HYDRA at a secret base. I remember when I first saw this movie and I was sitting in my seat hoping that the climax would be something more than just Captain America and Iron Man teaming up to fight an army of faceless, last minute bad guys and you can only imagine my joy when that concept ended up being thrown out the window. The potentially by-the-numbers climax is flipped on its head and instead we get something more personal and something that makes the Tony vs. Steve conflict come to a head.
In the beginning of the film, we see HYDRA sending Bucky on an assassination attempt of people who we don’t see at first, but in the climax, Zemo plays footage of the assassination and the victims are revealed: Tony’s parents. We learned about their deaths at the hand of Bucky in “The Winter Soldier” and now it’s come to this, the murder of Tony’s parents staring him straight in the face while he faces down the man who killed them. Again, this isn’t a black and white fight. There’s nuance, Tony understandably angry at Bucky for killing his parents and also being angry at Steve for keeping this a secret from him, and Steve just wants to protect his friend who wasn’t even in the right state of mind when he committed the murders. A fight between them breaks out and I was anxiously sitting on the edge of my seat watching it for the first time. Tony is going all-out in his Iron Man suit and Steve can only do so much to protect Bucky. It’s an intense, personal brawl that left me genuinely worried that someone was going to die.
Iron Man ends up blasting Bucky’s metal arm off, but Steve bests him in the fight as he breaks Tony’s mask and rams his shield directly into Tony’s arc reactor. This ends the fight as Steve and Bucky leave, the former dropping his shield and leaving Tony alone in the base. Nobody dies, but Zemo still gets what he wants. The Avengers are now damaged, split down the middle as half of them are now imprisoned by General Ross and the other half go about their lives not in the group that was started from the very beginning. Still, Steve stays in character and makes the offer to Tony to be there should he ever need him, hopefully in the attempt to fix their friendship and the Avengers as well.
Overall, I think “Captain America: Civil War” ranks as one of the MCU’s very best films. It not only makes for a fun comic book spectacle with all of these heroes clashing, but it’s much deeper in how it provides a gripping duel of men with the same goal in protecting people, but with different views on how to do it. This is a great clashing of ideologies between two iconic heroes and in the year where this movie came out just a couple months after “Batman v Superman”, this is obviously the superior feud between comic book characters.
Rating: Better Than Sex!!