Captain America: Civil War - A Perfect Union of Action and Story
In 2012, Marvel’s “The Avengers” proved a shared cinematic universe, akin to the kind found in its source comic books, could work in terms of tying several films together and that it could generate untold amounts of business. Now “Captain America: Civil War” proves a shared universe is also a legitimate narrative device.
Building upon the previous eight years and 12 movies of character development and interaction, “Civil War” is the emotional climax of the Marvel cinematic universe.
After a typical Avenger team intervention in Nigeria results in the deaths of innocent civilians, the Avengers are forced to face the unintended consequences of their superheroics. A United Nations council puts together the Sokovia Accords, a thick book of regulations that oversees and controls the Avengers.
While Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is completely on-board after the destructive fights in New York, Washington D.C. and Sokovia, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is unwilling to be under such oversight.
When Rogers’ best friend and former antagonist of “Winter Soldier,” “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is indicted in another crime, Rogers sets out to prove Bucky’s innocence. The gradual breakdown of friendships follows as ideologies and beliefs clash.
What makes “Civil War” more than a simple “superheroes fighting each other” movie is the central conflict between the ideals of Captain America and Iron Man. The tension between these two has been building for years, and audiences have been privy to that buildup of conflict and to the growth of both characters.
And that conflict has, most importantly, been earned. What’s on display in “Civil War” isn’t just two characters hating each other for the purposes of conflict. What’s on display is the natural result of two people developing different methods for the same goal. Neither one is wrong, but neither one is willing to back down.
Captain America believes in his inherent instincts of good, but his emotions might be compromised by the appearance of Bucky. Iron Man believes it better to accept oversight to preserve the Avengers and win public trust back, but his guilt over all the destruction might hinder his actual decision-making skills.
At the end of the movie, when all the physical fighting is over, the emotional turmoil remains. Not every conflict has an end, especially when the two leads may have said too much while their emotions were running high.
But while the story is centrally one about Captain America, with Iron Man serving as a great foil, directors Anthony and Joe Russo show off their ability to skillfully juggle an ensemble cast by giving the ten other heroes time to shine.
Every other character is given some amount of screen time to either have stakes in the plot or add more nuance and different perspectives. Then, in what has become a Marvel staple, these characters are allowed to bounce off of each for interesting and humorous moments of interaction.
Vision and Scarlet Witch discuss the nature of their powers and how other people view them. Falcon and Winter Soldier become snarky companions of Captain America. Ant-Man bewilders everyone else with his decidedly non-superhero demeanor.
Then there’s the stand out introductions of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Boseman nails the regal fury of Marvel’s premiere black superhero, both in and out of his fantastically-realized costume. What’s most surprising is that Black Panther has substantial stakes in “Civil War’s” narrative and even gets his own character arc a full two years before his stand-alone movie.
Holland as Spider-Man is possibly the best live action rendition of the webslinger since Tobey Maguire. Clearly, Spider-Man’s part in “Civil War” is no mere cameo to celebrate Marvel getting joint custody back from Sony.
Holland’s Peter Parker is a young, inexperienced superhero who has already had his own origin story and character arc before the movie. Thus, he is able to bring a more nuanced and prepared Spider-Man into the story, who is ready to begin bouncing off all the other characters without any kind of slowdown.
What makes all these characters and conflicts so engaging in “Civil War” is the change in scope in which they take place. Of course most of the movie is gradually and organically building towards the big airport fight seen in all the marketing, which shockingly undersells just how epic and exciting the actual fight is.
However, the movie’s scope begins to shrink down. The conflict remains but eventually morphs from a dazzling superhero brawl into an intimate, violent fight between former friends. The audience’s cheers for seeing all the superheroes at once changes to tense silence as they wonder if their heroes will make it to the end intact. That kind of reaction is only possible because they knew and understood the characters, and their relationship, beforehand.
“Civil War” is a high water mark for the superhero movie genre. It perfectly blends the colorful action and funny character beats with thoughtful themes and human drama. The actual fights are a sight to behold but only serve to underline the narrative and the arcs of the characters. “Civil War” demonstrates that the shared cinematic universe isn’t merely a gimmick—it’s a way to tell a good story.