Ooh boy, I'm probably gonna catch some heat for this review.
Not because I'm against the majority opinion (91% on Rotten Tomatoes as of press time) or anything, or because I'm about to say something inflammatory, but because people are going to think I'm too positive about things. For the record, I try to avoid bad movies, but it seems that I should probably see more of them because this review is going to be just as positive as my last few.
Captain America: Civil War is the best Marvel movie ever made. Maybe the best superhero movie made, period, just like Mark Hughes of Forbes has been consistently quoted as saying. It is the perfect Marvel film, culminating years of effort and work by Marvel Studios' directors, actors, writers, and producers. It even retroactively improves a number of less superior films in their lineup. Overall, it is a movie that I'm going to have a really hard time complaining about, even though I'll at least make an effort for the sake of objective reporting. Let's get into it, shall we?
The cast of Civil War is a truly astounding group. At my last count it is the largest single group of superheroes ever put on film at 12, beating out the cast of Avengers: Age of Ultron at 11 (this is including cameos from War Machine and Falcon in that film). We get to see some new interactions, a plethora of new characters, the return of some old favorites, and probably the best cast that any of these films have had with all things considered.
Firstly, the four most important characters are as follows: Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and newcomer Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa/Black Panther. These four are AMAZING in the film. Baseman's Panther is a standout, at first a vengeful force but by the end of the film a voice of reason. He plays a regal figure very well and actually has a stellar accent (he is not from Africa, so he worked with a voice coach to capture the nuances of African English). Stan plays a tortured and dark Winter Soldier, and we get to delve into his backstory and character so much more in this film, which is a treat. And the two leaders of the sides, Cap and Iron Man, are played excellently by their two actors in the best portrayals of the characters to date. The family drama is unreal and the chemistry between Evans and Downey runs rampant, even more than previous films.
As for the other Avengers, Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany are fantastic as Scarlet Witch and Vision, Scarlet Johansson once again performs beautifully as Black Widow (give her her own movie already, Marvel!), Jeremy Renner actually does very well in the basically-a-cameo role of Hawkeye, and Anthony Mackie is again a gem as Falcon with some excellent chemistry alongside Steve Rogers's other BFF, Barnes. Paul Rudd has one of the biggest (no pun intended) moments in the film as Ant-Man (no spoilers for that reveal). Don Cheadle shines as War Machine, with another massive moment to his name. And of course, as many other reviewers have said, Tom Holland absolutely steals the film as Spider-Man. His characterization, motivation, and mannerisms are perfectly on par with the comics. I can honestly say that he is the best Spider-Man we've seen, period.
The less important cast are also a good group. William Hurt again rips his portrayal of Thaddeus Ross straight out of the comics, and is a nice callback to The Incredible Hulk, and Emily VanCamp does well as Sharon Carter, who has excellent chemistry with Evans and is a key character. Sadly, Martin Freeman is criminally underused as the gung-ho government agent Everett Ross (no relation to Thaddeus) but I'm sure we'll be seeing more of him in the upcoming Black Panther solo outing.
And we must enter spoiler territory to talk about the film's main villain and other antagonists. Daniel Brühl's Helmut Zemo is the best Marvel villain of all time. Eat your heart out, Tom Hiddleston and James Spader (as much as I love your Loki and Ultron), because there's a new baddie in town, and this one isn't going away anytime soon. Zemo's motivation and plan are remarkably identifiable and he is a very tragic figure, but one that has definitely entered the annals of all-time superhero villains. He is slimy, manipulative, and vengeful, but overall is human and very real. He is also charismatic and truly well-acted, and is NOT killed off, so most likely we will be seeing plenty more of this character. The only downside of the villains is that Zemo is not exactly his comic counterpart, so no purple spandex yet, and Crossbones (who barely appears in the film) is bland as dry toast for most of his time (which is luckily short). He does have a key role, but I'm sure Frank Grillo (who has a lot of zeal for playing a total jerk) is not too happy about its outcome.
The film has a truly excellent narrative and plot, and I really don't have to spoil much to show its good points. It is decidedly family-oriented, as that really is the drama here- a family is being destroyed. At times it is genuinely painful to watch, and there are some very sad moments. The entire concept of it is very well thought out, and the ideological conflict is not thrown aside in favor of more punching. There are more than a few verbal arguments in the film that outline this far better than the action. And the reasons that each character has for siding with either Stark or Rogers are well defined and very much in line with the other films, even though they might not seem to be at first glance. The general conflict over government oversight vs. personal freedoms is essentially ripped directly from the comics, but is done SO MUCH BETTER. I will admit, because of my utter hatred of the comic storyline, I was terrified that this movie would be horrible, but the Russo brothers managed to pull off a version that was infinitely better than that of Mark Millar.
Zemo's plot and motivation in the film are absolutely coherent and result in a much more effective villain-based storyline than that of a certain OTHER comic book movie (don't hate me, DC fans, remember that I gave BvS a positive review). They advance the story rather than hinder it, and thankfully are done right.
Also, the film's storyline manages to retroactively improve other MCU films. Remember how critics hated parts of Age of Ultron's story, particularly the rosy ending? In this movie, all of the fallout from that film rears its ugly head and is basically the catalyst of the conflict, coupled with another incident early in the film that I won't get into. Remember how nobody remembers the Hulk film? Well, now you all have to watch it in order to see where General Ross comes from (personally, I think it's very underrated). Remember how Iron Man 3 (a film that I see as overrated and definitely the worst MCU film) had that awful ending where all of the suits get blown to shreds, and then Tony immediately had to build more so that AOU could happen (contradicting that whole mess of a plot)? Again, the fallout from that appears too, in a brief scene that I again will not get into.
The only downside of the story is that even though the movie is very long, which is no problem, it moves at breakneck speed. The average moviegoer probably won't worry too much, but if you're a movie junkie or a MCU lover, both of which I am, you'll want to catch every little plot detail, and I'd recommend a second watch just to take it in. See, I can say a few negative things about it.
SPECIAL EFFECTS, CINEMATOGRAPHY, AND DIRECTION
The special effects in the film are some of its best parts. The action and fight choreography are beautiful, the atmosphere is amazing, and the general feel and look of the movie are exactly what they should be. The direction by the Russo brothers is also stellar, and it is easy to see why Marvel trusted them with this huge film. It only makes me more excited for Infinity War knowing that they are at the helm of that colossus of a movie duo.
The airport fight scene has been praised by many as the best piece of superhero action of all time, and I can attest to this being the case. It manages to beat out sequences from The Avengers, The Dark Knight, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, all of which I love and are my other favorite superhero films. It is really a splash page right out of the comics, as the directors and writers have called it, and there is definitely praise that is due for both for being able to pull it off. Every hero gets to show of his or her unique abilities, there are some unexpected match-ups between heroes of the two sides, and all in all it is a crazy melee of action that hopefully will up the stakes for future films from DC, Marvel, Fox, and others. I have no doubt that technology will eventually improve enough to top it, but as it stands it is an Oscar-worthy piece of cinema glory, and I'm sure that even the Academy will be hard pressed to find someone else to give the Best Visual Effects award to this year.
No movie that I have seen this year so far can top Captain America: Civil War. It has managed to become my favorite superhero movie ever, and only loses the top spot on my best films ever list to The Force Awakens and The Empire Strikes Back (the latter of which is epically referenced in the film). I am thoroughly eating crow for saying that it would be awful just because of the comic storyline. Hopefully, a bar has now been raised for superhero films from this point out, as if they are all this fantastic, "superhero fatigue" will never set in. This film is a surefire classic and a strong contender for the best film of 2016, but we shall see what other wonders are in store for us.