Issue, ahem, film #13 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and the first of Phase 3) is Captain America: Civil War. This is going to be my very best attempt at a spoiler-free review, but here’s what you need to know in a nugget: go, you will not be disappointed, and you do not know anything you think you do from the trailers. In a 2.5-hour super hero epic that is the pinnacle of everything Marvel’s been doing right for the last eight years, Marvel flips its universe on its head, introduces Black Panther, fixes Spider-Man, does justice to every character it uses and only leaves you wanting the next installment. I am not sure if Civil War is the best MCU film, but that’s only because I have no distance from it yet. I’m not sure if it’s the best movie of the year because there’s another pretty flawless film in The Jungle Book to weigh it against. But to walk out of the biggest film of the summer with those as really my only problems is not a problem at all.
Civil War is loosely based on a Marvel Comics event of the same name, but really the only thing the two stories have in common is the basic premise. This Civil War is very much the continuation of Avengers: Age of Ultron; really the pay-off to that film. So much of what has happened thus far in the MCU comes under extreme examination. Civil War is really about the consequence of actions. Every action has a consequence. The brilliant thing about Civil War is that it has twelve films worth of actions to bring weight to these consequences. It’s built each of these characters up, lent them back stories and history, so that by the time Cap and Iron Man are beating each other relentlessly in the third act, you feel almost this sense of dread. You can see exactly why Cap is doing what he’s doing and why Iron Man is doing what he’s doing and their motivations lead them into direct conflict without compromising either character. That’s a statement that can be expanded to every member of the cast. Every character in this film, leaves with scars. But scars are what make characters interesting. It’s what makes them relatable when they’re these gods and monsters. We all can compare scars, and in that sense see ourselves in the context of this super powered world.
The marketing for this film has been really brilliant. The trailers have given everyone a sense of feeling they know what is going to happen in the movie, or making you feel like maybe they’ve wasted or given away too much. The airport fight that has been the focal point of the trailers: is so much better than you could ever imagine. You have no idea how good that showdown is or what the consequences (there’s that word again) will be of that much firepower being released. You also are lead to believe it’s the showdown of the film. It’s the spoiler-free review, so all I can say on that note is…you don’t know what you think you know.
I have been raving about Chadwick Boseman since I first saw him in 42. I thought his casting as the Black Panther was awesome, and he is the featured character introduction to the MCU of this film. T’Challa is in the film almost as much as Cap, Iron Man, and Bucky, probably more than any other supporting character. They give him a strong foundation, and I would say he’s going to be the breakout star from the film, but my audience may have loved one other character a hair more.
Marvel sure knows what to do with their characters. You make lousy Punisher movie after lousy Punisher movie; Marvel fixes the character in two episodes of Daredevil. You say you’re so sick of Spider-Man you never want to see him again (which was pretty much my attitude after Amazing Spider-Man 2); Tom Holland is the best Spider-Man ever. He accomplishes, in a supporting role that is pretty confined to the movie’s middle act, to make you love Peter Parker again. He’s completely and totally a high school kid. They know you’re sick of the origin story. He does quippy Spidey in fights more effortlessly than has ever been achieved in the five films Sony put out. He owns this character. He also has a great dynamic with Robert Downey Jr. The two characters naturally have a bond as inventors, and I walked out of the movie stoked to see this character again in his own movies. I can’t wait to see Spider-Man: Homecoming now. That’s the point of introducing him here. All the negative baggage from Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s tenures is cleared. Spidey fits right into the MCU. THE EYES! That the eyes on the costume have movement…is so fantastic. I don’t care what the tech is behind it to make it plausible, it’s so much better for the character (which, naturally, is why Marvel did it).
A lot of people have been calling this film “Avengers 2.5” and that’s honestly accurate. This is every bit as integral a story for Iron Man and the Avengers as it is for Captain America. You could as easily say this is Iron Man 4. It’s essential to Tony Stark’s character development to see what happens to him in this film. Captain America is the cornerstone of Marvel Comics, but Iron Man has been the foundation of the MCU. It’s a testament to what Chris Evans has done with the character over four (this his fifth) films that now it feels like you could only really have this kind of MCU-wide event within the confines of a Captain America film now. This film is extremely deft at knowing the Marvel formula, executing it, but managing to juggle 25 or so characters with ease. That’s promising for Infinity War (which will also be directed by the Russo Brothers, who have been fantastic directors in both Winter Soldier and this) when they’ll be balancing roughly 70.
There is a gravity to everything that happens in Civil War, more so than in any Marvel film previously. The simple world that began with Tony Stark bumping into Nick Fury at the end of the first movie is now a sprawling, complex universe. There are real, character-changing consequences (yep using that again) for all the participants in this war, but it’s also a very funny film. It manages to inject humor into all the serious events, and they string the tension along so relentlessly that you really need the laugh when it comes. I have been home for my screening now for about two hours, trying to think of a reason not to give this movie a 10, and I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t like in the film….oh, ok, there’s a song in the end credits and I have no idea why it’s there, but it seems weird. That’s my only flaw that I can find after an initial viewing, and I don’t think that’s enough. I’ve only given one other Marvel film a 10 and it was Captain America: Winter Soldier. I don’t want to keep fawning over what Disney does like I can’t pick apart a film, but they’re on such a roll right now that I am handing them their third 10 since December (Star Wars & Jungle Book). I’ve had YEARS where I don’t give 10’s, but this happily won’t be one of them. Remember to stay through ALL of the credits for two scenes. You probably won’t want to leave any way.