When [Captain America: The Winter Soldier](tag:254973) came out, it did something that no other movie or TV show had managed to do to that point: It made Captain America look, well, cool. No longer just the so-good-it-hurts, perfect Boy Scout that he has sometimes been in the comics, our generation's version of Cap is still a good man to the core, but one who walks with a bit of swagger, just as likely to defy what the government stands for as uphold it. Our Steve Rogers is no longer the dutiful little soldier carrying out his marching orders for Uncle Sam, but a jaded leader shaped by brutal experience.
The opening scene of [Captain America: Civil War](tag:994409) finds Cap right in the midst of that leadership role, rallying part of his new Avengers team - Falcon, Scarlet Witch, and, of course, Black Widow - on a covert mission in Laos, Nigeria. The team is tracking down Crossbones, formerly known as Brock Rumlow (whom we last saw disappearing under a collapsing burning building in Winter Soldier), who is trying to steal some sort of biological agent. Without spoiling anything, a series of mistakes leads to the mission going horribly awry - and I mean, horribly - resulting in the deaths of multiple civilians.
It's the straw that breaks the back of the world's feelings about the Avengers, and public sentiment soon turns against them. To do damage control, the U.N. proposes passing the Sokovia Accords, which, if signed, means that superhero is under the jurisdiction of the government, and all actions are to be sanctioned only by that governing body. As you already know, it divides the team and they split, with Cap taking his anti-Accord faction and going underground while attempting to track down and save Bucky Barnes, who has been framed for a terrorist act as Winter Soldier. Meanwhile, Tony Stark tries to appease the suits at the U.N. by signing. Eventually, as was inevitable, it comes to blows.
This is the payoff of having had years to familiarize us with these characters, to build to this storyline. When they fight one another, you truly feel they're loathe to do it. While each is following the path they truly feel is right, their heart isn't in it, and the emotional upheaval of fighting against someone you once fought alongside presents itself again and again in the film. At one point, Black Widow asks Hawkeye if they're still friends. "Depends on how hard you hit me," he quips. But it's Scarlet Witch who delivers the wallop to Natasha - "You were pulling your punches," she tells Clint accusingly. While she is friends with Widow, it is not her kids who refer to Natasha as "Auntie Nat," as Clint's do, it's not she who has years and years of memories stacked up of all the times Black Widow has saved her life. That's how deep the division goes here.
But it's not unfair to say the most interesting characters in the entire film are the newcomers, and the film does a fine job of bringing the stories of our original Avengers to closer to their end while setting the stage for the new class: Vision and Scarlet Witch grow closer and the hints of the romance they have in the comic books starts to flower. Though Bucky Barnes is as old as Cap, his newly-regained memories have given him something of a brand-new lease on life. No longer the robotic automaton and killing machine we saw in Winter Soldier, he emotes, he regrets, he doubts himself. Likewise, Paul Rudd's Ant-Man provided one of the film's most surprising moments during the airport battle scene, as well as injecting his brand of goofy charm - if Rudd can keep the awkward self-deprecation even as he continues to grow into his role as a superhero, it will be that much more interesting.
And Chadwick Boseman is stellar as Black Panther. It's just a shame that it's taken so long to get the character on screen, as he's been such an amazing, iconic character for Marvel. But true justice is done to the character in Civil War, and Boseman manages to balance regal, wise, lethal, and young all nicely.
But it's Tom Holland who steals the show as Spider-Man, and what a revelation he is. It's the first time we've gotten a version of the character who manages to get both the Spider-Man and Peter Parker halves right. His high-pitched, I-haven't-quite-gone-through-puberty-yet voice and motormouth as Spider-Man, and endearingly skittish turn as Peter Parker are note-perfect. The fact he appears as absolutely tiny when compared to the rest of the gigantic, muscle-bound Avengers and former Avengers further emphasizes the fact he's just a kid. If you're not smiling the entire time he's on screen, then Heaven help you, because something has clearly killed your joy long ago.
That's not to say there aren't problems with the film. There are parts of it that drag, and it suffers from a bit of the same issues that Age of Ultron had, namely, that there are quite a few moving pieces and it's not always clear why we've arrived at Point B from Point A. But for a film with such a large cast, it zips along just fine for the most part. And while there are the usual plot holes and a few unanswered questions, it's a testament to the script of longtime Captain America writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the direction of Joe and Anthony Russo, and the editing of Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt that for a film with as vast a scope as this one, those holes are remarkably few.
It's not a perfect film, by any means...but it's a damn good one.