Ok, I'm sure most of you have seen this multiple times already, but, here's my take. If I posted a review for Dawn of Justice, I had to for Civil War, right? As always, this review was taken from my personal blog at www.sithlordreviews.blogspot.com.
Here we go...
'Tis the year of superhero beatdowns in 2016. In March, DC Comics/Warner Brothers gave us the unprecedented pairing of the iconic Superman and Batman (being at odds no less). Now, it's Marvel's turn. The year's 2016 Summer Movie season kicks off with the highly anticipated third entry in the studio's Captain America franchise, Captain America: Civil War.
So, where to start? Well, I'll tell you where I won't start. This review will evaluate Civil War on its own merits and avoid the oft made comparisons with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I honestly don't think anything is gained by that. As much as I preach that both Marvel and DC fans should embrace each other in this "age of the geek" in Hollywood, there's still a vast schism between the two sides. And, I'm really not interested in turning this into a Marvel vs. DC debate.
Unlike previous entries from Marvel Studios, there is no clear antagonist in this ideological war between beloved heroes Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr). Civil War is the culmination of several huge events depicted in the previous two Avengers films and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Most of the gang from those films is back together with the exception of the two most powerful members, Thor and the Hulk. In fact, the cast is so large, Civil War has jokingly (and not so jokingly) been called Avengers 2.5.
Based loosely on the Mark Millar comic book miniseries from Marvel, Civil War has the Avengers divided over the group's threatened autonomy. When another mission on foreign soil goes awry for the team and lives are lost as a result, the governments of the world move to sanction the heroes through the Sokovia Accords (named for the tragic incident from Avengers: Age of Ultron). Through the Accords, the team will be placed under United Nations supervision only able to act when ordered to do so by the group. As implied by Secretary of State, "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt), failure to comply by signing off on the Accords will result in those individuals being deemed outlaws and subject to incarceration.
The idea chafes Steve Rogers. He's seen many occasion, most recently with the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. in The Winter Soldier, where an authoritative body can be corrupt and concerned only with its own agenda. As he says, what if the Avengers are needed somewhere and they aren't allowed to act? What if they're deployed where they shouldn't act? While he acknowledges mistakes have been made, the power to act is best left in the team's hands.
For Tony Stark's part, his conscience is beating the Hell out of him after the events of Age of Ultron. Many suffered for his blunder. Many paid with their lives. As much as he is trying to make amends at the beginning of the film, it's all brought back home for him by a grieving mother whose son died in Sokovia when Ultron attacked. And, it's not just this incident in Sokovia that is driving the Accords. The beginning of the whole mess began with the Battle of New York in the Avengers and continued with the massive destruction in Washington D.C. in The Winter Soldier. The latest tragedy in Lagos is just the frosting on the cake. The Avengers have done a lot of good, but, they've also left a lot of death and collateral damage in their wake. They get to go home every time. The world is left to clean up their mess. As Tony says, "they need to be put in check." But, with him acting as the buffer between Ross, the U.N., and the team, he can make the situation livable for all. If only the Captain would cooperate!
Thrown into this blender are a couple of new players and an old one. First, the latter. "Bucky" Barnes (Sebastian Stan), aka, the formerly Hydra brainwashed Winter Soldier, is destined to play a pivotal role. A conspiracy involving him will put Steve and Tony more at odds with each other and split the Avengers into two distinct teams. Team Cap consists of the super soldier himself, the Winter Soldier, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) who attempt to uncover the conspiracy.
Opposing them is Team Iron Man assembling the talents of Stark, War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), and Vision (Paul Bettany). The two newcomers align with this group. This would be the newly crowned king of the advanced African nation of Wakanda, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman). We soon learn there's more to him than meets the eye as he's also his nation's traditional protector, the Black Panther. Events in the film give him reason to want the Winter Soldier badly. The other member of Team IM? Well, Tony just happens to have followed the exploits of a certain wall crawling teenager (Tom Holland) in the last six months who he recruits to his cause.
And let's not forget the mystery figure with an agenda who's prominent in the conspiracy (Daniel Bruhl). What is his fascination with the Winter Soldier? What secrets will he unlock to tear the Avengers apart? Only the man called Zemo knows.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo have once again crafted a story with several competing emotions at play. They've not only equaled their standout work from The Winter Soldier, they've improved on it. Civil War is the sad fracturing of a family. A dysfunctional one no doubt, but, a family nonetheless. The protagonists are also the antagonists. That makes the intricacies of the script all the more amazing. There are no clear villains here. They're different groups with different viewpoints and each has as much merit as the other.
One danger the Russos could have easily fallen victim to in a film of this nature is the motivation for these heroes to come to blows. This film could have easily devolved into a contrived narrative where we have to accept the sides are at odds just because they are. The layers Civil War is built on from previous movies feels natural and organic. Both sides have talked. They've debated. They've tried to persuade each other. They can't agree. A fight is inevitable.
Even Zemo, whose actions in the film are cruel and despicable, garners some sympathy from the audience as he has some compelling reasons to mastermind the Avengers downfall. He's not the bombastic, psychotic, or mustache-twirling villain you come to expect in movies of this nature. He's a patient conniver driven by emotional pain more than a desire to wreak global havoc. That doesn't make his actions any less dastardly. He's just a different breed. I think Bruhl played this with just the right angle. Cold and clinical with just enough vulnerability to keep the audience from outright hating him. He's a very human antagonist. But, he breaks the team mentally and physically all the same. Or, better yet, he manipulates them into doing it themselves.
As for the other newcomers, Civil War served as much as a launching point for both Spider-Man and Black Panther. We'll start with the wall crawler. I need to see a little more of Tom Holland before I declare him "best Spider-Man ever" as I've read/heard in some circles. But, I will say he's off to rip-roaring start. Tobey Maguire was a better Peter Parker than Spider-Man in my opinion. Andrew Garfield was the opposite. For his brief time onscreen, Holland appears to be hitting the right note on both. He's the nerdy, awkward Peter Parker out of costume and the incessantly chatty Spider-Man in battle. And, again, the writing for his introduction was perfect. He's a total inexperienced fish out of water walking among the titans in the Avengers. Yet, he more than holds his own with them proving his abilities are something to be reckoned with when he becomes a seasoned hero.
The only thing that felt a little odd was that you had the sense that Spider-Man's appearance was a bit shoehorned in the movie (which it was). He wasn't originally supposed to be part of this. Then, Marvel Studios obtained the rights to use him from Sony, and the rest was history. Civil War would have been effective without him. But, I understand why the studio felt the need to get him involved in their cinematic universe as quickly as possible. Spidey was a memorable addition to the film to be sure, but, an unnecessary one if I'm honest about it.
Chadwick Boseman has quickly become one of the better actors in Hollywood. He was a great choice for Black Panther. Powerful, regal, and highly intelligent, the Panther, for me, was the most surprising part of the film. I wasn't sure what to expect as I never followed his adventures much in the Marvel Universe. But, he has a presence that can't be denied. You get the feeling that if Zemo's deception hadn't been revealed, no one, not Iron Man or Captain America, could have kept the Panther away from the Winter Soldier. I knew a Black Panther movie was in the works and I was more or less a little "meh" about the prospect. It's not that I don't think Marvel would make a good movie, it's just that I was a little indifferent to the character. Civil War has made me a believer and so has Boseman. I want the Black Panther film as soon as possible now.
One underrated aspect of Civil War and I think of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general is the profound change we've seen in Tony Stark/Iron Man since The Avengers. We've seen him suffer through PTSD after the Battle of New York. Then, Wanda screws with his mind leading him to believe the creation of Ultron was a good idea. Ultron causes mass destruction dumping an incredible amount of guilt on his already damaged psyche. Then, a grief-stricken mother here in Civil War just pushes him over the top to accepting government control over the team. He's a far cry from the maverick industrialist you last saw in Iron Man 2 and three quarters of the Avengers. The arrogance is still there, but, so is numbing guilt over his past actions.
Speaking of guilt, there's plenty to pass around in Civil War's final act. The big reveal that starts the final three-way dance is a testament to how well the film was written. It's hard to imagine how Cap and Iron Man will ever reconcile. Even if you were on Cap's side, Zemo's revelation about the Winter Soldier can't help but make you sympathetic to Tony. His rage is completely plausible. His breaking of the temporary truce understandable. And Cap knows it, too, which is why his symbolic abandonment of a prized possession is all the more heartbreaking. This is good stuff all around.
I would be remiss if I wrote this review without mentioning one of the most exciting sequences I've seen in any film. If you've seen it, you know I can only be referring to the airport scene. How much fun was that? It's a fast paced mile-a-minute affair that does the impossible of giving each hero a chance to shine and show how capable they all can be. Credit again to the Russos for pulling this off with such a large cast. In fact each character has his/her moment in the sun outside of this scene as well. The control of a large cast hasn't been pulled off this masterfully since Joss Whedon did the same with the first Avengers film.
Civil War is about as perfect as a superhero film can be. If you're a fan of the genre, this one will put a wide smile on your face. It has the signature Marvel humor and winks, but, the stakes are noticeably raised. The Avengers are in disarray. And, if you've been following the MCU, you know it's bad news for the world. Something wicked is on its way. I, for one, can't wait to see how it all plays out.
***** stars (out of 5)