Without venturing too far into spoiler territory, the Marvel Cinematic Universe now has its The Empire Strikes Back, meaning its darkest, and best, entry. With Captain America: Civil War, directors Joe and Anthony Russo have followed up their (also excellent) Captain America: The Winter Soldier, by going bigger while maintaining perfect control of a film with a lot of moving parts. For a superhero movie featuring twelve different superheroes, Captain America: Civil War has remarkable focus and an astounding lack of bloat; and it’s fun, really fun.
If there is one thing that Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice did well, and it might have been just the one thing, it was recognizing that epic, skyscraper-leveling battles would result in some civilian casualties. Unfortunately that film was a dour slog. Captain America: Civil War is similarly concerned with the fallout from these superhuman melees. When the Captain (Chris Evans) and his new Avengers team: Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and old pal Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), accidentally blow up a building housing a team of humanitarian workers in the course of foiling a terrorist plot they are presented with the option to work as agents of The United Nations or operate as international criminals. The Avengers find themselves split into two camps, the pro-UN crowd led by Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and the pro-independence group led by Cap. The team finds themselves torn asunder even further when the Captain’s old friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan), the Winter Soldier of the previous Captain America, reappears as the lead suspect in a deadly bombing, sending Steve Rogers on a mission to reunite with his comrade before his former teammates can apprehend the master assassin.
Every element of Civil War, works. While it is almost certainly the bleakest entry in the MCU, it also maintains a breezy sense of humor throughout, utilizing Downey’s gift for smug sarcasm and allowing Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man to be the MVP for twenty minutes. The action scenes are stunning too, shot and edited with a tremendous kinetic energy while never making it hard to track what’s going on. It’s all so cool; the Russo brothers are demonstrate how all the heroes’ various powers and powered suits can be used in unexpected ways to delightful effect.
The Captain America in the film’s title is a bit of misnomer, this is really a third Avengers film. The Captain essentially splits time with Stark, and the rest of the team is given ample opportunity to explore their own issues. Notably, Olsen’s Scarlet Witch must deal with her guilt over the deadly accident at the film’s opening and the fact that people around her, including her compatriots, respond with fear to her unsettling powers. Introductions for new characters, a Spider-Man who actually looks like a teenager (Tom Holland) and the brooding African warrior-prince T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), are given plenty of breathing room without taking away from the forward momentum of the plot.
Where Winter Soldier was a Three Days of The Condor-style conspiracy thriller with costumed crime-fighters, Captain America: Civil War plays like a superhero version of the Jason Bourne films, with a rogue agent on the run from the government for which he once operated. It’s a smart move, plugging superheroes into another familiar genre brings a freshness to the proceedings that might not be present were it simply a “superhero movie.” With apologies to Joss Whedon, between Winter Soldier and Civil War the Russo brothers are now the premier directors of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and if the intent of these Avengers film is to get audiences excited for more Avengers films: Mission Accomplished.
Frank Anderson is the head movie writer at The Renaissance Fan.