The beginning of summer has been marked by the release of the latest installment to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the last six years straight, with the franchise taking a break in 2009. While some of these films have certainly been better than others, it’s become something to look forward to as both a fan of comic books, a fan of film, and a general Marvel fan since childhood. This summer we’re marked by the release of Captain America: Civil War, which also happens to be the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Three series of films, leading up to the constantly teased fight against the Mad Titan Thanos, and capping off with The Avengers: Infinity War Part II in 2019. As the beginning of a new phase, Civil War shows us exactly what to expect from the future of the MCU… and does a damn good job with it at that.
The story for Captain America: Civil War is loosely based on the Civil War arc from the comic books, but it handles much of the same material in a more personal, affective way than the comic event did. Without going into too much detail, the United Nations has drafted the Sokovia Accords, the MCU’s version of the Superhuman Registration Act, to act as a governing body for the Avengers, and all other “enhanced humans” as they’re called to make sure that the Avengers don’t go around policing the world as they have been, which has lead to the collateral damage seen in New York from The Avengers, Washington D.C. as seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Sokovia in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and it’s even spurred on a little bit by an event that takes place right in the beginning of the film, when the intervention of the Avengers causes massive damage done in Lagos, killing many in the process. The Avengers are split on the accords, and thus split off into different factions, giving us the titular “civil war.” Along the way, however, we see an agenda being pushed into place by Zemo, one of the new characters who is loosely based on the iconic Captain America villain, Baron Zemo. Zemo is a Sokovian, and wanted to use not only the Winter Soldier, but deeply held secrets of the past to tear the Avengers apart from the inside as retribution for what happened in Sokovia. While Zemo’s plotline does feel a bit forced in and even rushed at times, he serves to give our heroes something to unite against despite all of the turmoil of the Sokovia Accords, and leads to one of the most personally driven battles we’ve seen in the MCU.
One of the major criticisms leading up to the film was how there just weren’t enough heroes in the MCU to constitute calling this a “war,” but the film is leaps and bounds more effective than the comic was, and a lot of this comes from just how few heroes we DO get. When they fight, not only do we get more time to focus on individuals throughout the fight, but we truly feel emotionally connected to the conflict; Steve and Tony have been working together for four years now, and watching them disagree to the point of physically fighting just spoke to me as an audience member. Without getting too into comparisons between the two films, I feel like Civil War is doing here what Zach Snyder was trying to do with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but does so in a much better way; this comes from the Russo brothers having four years of on-screen history together to back up this major conflict, not only meaning that it made more sense in the context of the film, but also that it’s more effective to the viewer as anyone whose made it this far into the MCU has likely been watching at least since The Avengers, just giving the film more gravitas than BvS had. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed certain aspects of BvS and I’m very curious to see where the DCEU goes, but I just feel from a filmmaking perspective, Civil War just did it better.
When it comes to fidelity of the characters to their source material, Civil War just goes ahead and knocks it out of the park. For a series that’s known for their accurate depictions of their characters, Civil War stands out amongst even all of that. The two standouts here come from our newcomers, Black Panther and Spider-Man. Both of these characters are incredibly accurate to their comic book counterparts, with this version of Spider-Man being by far the most accurate to the source version we’ve ever seen in film. While this comes as no surprise, it’s incredible to see just how easily he fits into the MCU mold, while keeping true to what a 15 year-old would be doing in a situation like this. Though his time is brief, his scenes are some of the most memorable, and he takes a major part in what I believe to be the best fight scene of not just the film, but in the franchise as a whole. Black Panther, on the other hand, has his time spread out through more of the film; the film serves as a quite personal, and incredibly engaging origin story for King T’challa, and ends up being memorable in his own right, giving everyone something to look forward to with his solo film coming out in 2018.
For our veteran characters, we all know how accurate they are to their comic book counterparts, but this film gave some much needed, much welcomed development of the characters; Sharon Carter finally gets some expanded characterization as one of Captain America’s closest allies, we see much more of what kind of “person” Vision is than we were able to in Age of Ultron, and we’re seeing how Wanda is coping to her new life as an Avenger (POTENTIAL SPOILER: We also get a hint at some of the feelings Wanda and Vision share for each other in the comics, a welcome addition in my opinion). On top of all this, we see first hand the struggle Bucky Barnes faces as the Winter Soldier, wanting to leave that life behind and just do the right thing, but continuing to be picked up and simply used as if he were a weapon, which he retains no memories from outside of “Winter Soldier mode,” and thus gives him his own conflict to deal with, which he does well in my opinion.
The best character development, however, comes from our headline matchup, Captain America and Iron Man. Iron Man has certainly come a long way in eight years, as the once unapologetic playboy tech mogul has morphed into a desperate, guilt-ridden shell of who he once used to be; Iron Man has clearly been affected the most by the actions of the franchise, and is tired of being responsible for so much chaos and destruction. Because of this, he favors the Sokovia Accords. He realizes they’re too dangerous to the world without this supervision, and despite all the times they’ve saved the world, they simply haven’t cared about the cost up to this point. So while Iron Man seems to be on the “bad side” of the conflict, the film portrays him to do so out of what he feels is necessary. Tony has certainly grown up a lot in eight years, and the film does a fantastic job showing us not just that he has, but why he has.
Captain America, on the other hand, has completed his transition from “America’s best boy” that was started in Winter Soldier. Thanks to the accords and his unwavering loyalty to do what he feels is the right thing, he becomes a full on fugitive from the law yet again by refusing to sign the accords, and harboring Bucky from the government who wants him to answer for a crime he was framed for. Steve shows once again that he does what he thinks is right no matter what the situation is, and no matter who he’s up against, which has become par for the course for Captain America. He hasn’t changed much since his last film unlike Tony, but in a way, that’s the point of their characters. Tony, much like the technology he built his fame around, is constantly changing, and always adapting to what he thinks is right for the given situation, where Steve stands firm in his ideals, unwilling to compromise if it means even one person might lose their liberty over it. Much as the Captain America of the comics told Spider-Man in the Civil War event, and much like Sharon Carter tells Steve in this film, he plants himself like a tree when the whole world says “move.” And all he has to say to that is “No, you move.”
When it comes down to it, this might just be the best MCU film to date in my opinion. The way the film handles the material, both content wise and how personal they were able to make it, the way the film handles both veteran and newcomer characters, and the way it just loves and respects the comics the series came from, Civil War is sure to be a delight, not just for fans of Marvel comics, but for fans of the MCU and even film fans in general. I’m giving Captain America: Civil War 5/5 stars, and I urge anyone who hasn’t yet to please go check it out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, as it isn’t just a good superhero movie… it’s a damn good film.