By: Muneeb Arshid
Were you on Team Ironman or Team Cap, as the trailers for Marvel’s newest blockbuster have been constantly asking about? That’s a question that many people were contemplating and many made their decisions as to their position in the major Marvel Civil War that was to come. Not only did Civil War come, it arrived with a bang! What Captain America: Civil War is able to accomplish is something that April’s major blockbuster, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, was hoping to do; portray the internal conflict within the superstars making up DC’s stable of superheroes. I don’t wish to begin this review with talk of BvS, but considering that within a span of a month or so, we’ve received TWO comic book films that have parallel storylines, it’s difficult to mention one without the other. Captain America does a very good job in holding to its established central thesis of internal conflict while the DC tentpole film suffered from a myriad of issues in the process. Thanks to ably juggling the mass amount of characters (both new and old), Civil War is able to stick to its guns throughout its duration, right up to the bitter end, something that BvS managed to do after trudging through a jumbled first hour.
Captain America: Civil War is loosely based on the Marvel comic-book storyline of the same name. It is also the first entry in phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This phase will ultimately conclude with the battle against uber-villain Thanos, who has JUST barely been teased so far in films prior. It follows the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron and the fallout from the final battle that took place in the fictional city of Sokovia. We have the re-introduction of Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), this time promoted from the role of army General in The Incredible Hulk to Secretary of State here in Civil War. Ross brings forth the Sokovia Accords, which are either good news for those on Team Iron Man or terrible news if you are on Team Cap. The accord advocates for the establishment of an oversight committee, which divides our heroes into camps either for or against it. While the catalyst for Civil War is the Sokovia Accords, each character’s motivation for choosing one side or the other stems from previous experiences as a “superhero.” The film does a great job in outlining the issues that the two sides have as a collective. The film then overlays personal issues that each of the characters are hampered with as a result of the events of previous films and allows that to dictate their role in the story.
The amount of characters that are in this film may suggest that Marvel would have been better off naming the movie Avengers 2.5 or something similar. However, without getting into spoilers (which I’m trying my best not to), the movie does a great job in balancing two separate story-lines (with a weaker 3rd one, which has the potential to become something big later). The main storyline concerns the collective conflict of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) versus Captain America (Chris Evans) due to their ideological differences and stances in regards to the Sokovia Accords. The second source of conflict centers on the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which followed the titular Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and the ensuing witch hunt that consists of governing bodies around the world attempting to capture him and make him answer for his crimes while under a hypnotic spell. This sees Bucky and Steve Rogers attempting to disprove the notion that the Winter Soldier has essentially gone rogue and is a victim of his past. This is precisely why this film was correctly titled as “Captain America,” as the moral focus is mostly on Cap himself and his relationship with Bucky. This becomes fodder for Tony Stark to prove his point that superheroes should not operate without oversight, as outlined in the Sokovia Accords. The third storyline is the introduction of the main villain, Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl), a Sokovian native who lost his family in the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and is now hell-bent on creating a rift between the superheroes as his way of exacting revenge. His storyline is the weakest of the three, however, does become a possible setup for future MCU flicks if Kevin Feige so chooses.
This brings us to the actual sides that war with each other in the film. There has been quite an ideological inversion that has occurred with both Cap and Iron Man. As the audience, we’ve always been led to believe that Iron Man was and still is the playboy rogue of the Avengers who likes to do whatever his heart desires while Cap is seen as a man of principle, one who would never go against the ideals of the ruling establishment.
This, however, is the thirteenth film in the MCU and just within the stand-alone films of both Iron Man and Captain America, both characters have witnessed and performed actions that go against their inherent personal ideologies. It is those experiences that have essentially caused this role reversal to form. They also altered the accepted perception that Cap would gladly sign the Sokovia Accords while Tony, in true rebel form, would be against such a move. There’s no need to elaborate on all of the characters but it is worth mentioning the teams themselves if you haven’t seen all of the promotional material pre-release. Team Iron Man consists of Stark himself, his old buddy James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Vision (Paul Bettany in a wonderfully witty and stern performance), and two mystery characters who I will not reveal just yet. Team Cap is comprised of Cap, Bucky/Winter Soldier, Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) along with the return of Sharon Carter (better known as Agent 13 from Winter Soldier) played by Emily VanCamp.
Now, those two new superheroes I mentioned? They absolutely steal the show in a film that was already fantastic as is. Tom Holland debuted the all-new Spider-Man while Chadwick Boseman introduced us to the Wakandan King T’Challa/Black Panther. I can say that Spidey is definitely on Team Iron Man (as the trailers indicated) as he is recruited by Tony Stark to join the fight. Black Panther, on the other hand, proves to be quite a mystery in terms of his allegiance. His storyline was the most intriguing in terms of setting up a new character and providing the foundation for a future stand-alone film. His motivation is intertwined with his kingdom of Wakanda and its fate and how it is affected by the events of the film. The subtle nuance and just the way that T’Challa is introduced to the Avengers is very well done, as none of them know who he is in the mask until he opts to reveal himself. However, what makes him such an intriguing character is his development within this film itself, going from someone who has an utter disdain for the Bucky/Winter Soldier (due to certain spoilery events that occur with the mass public scapegoating Bucky/Winter Soldier), to eventually learning that it was indeed not Bucky who caused those events, and T’Challa having to doubt the reasoning behind his anger.
Spider-Man posed a bit of an issue for me. On the one hand, it’s great having the most iconic Marvel character join up with his long-lost Avengers buddies, and I don’t exaggerate when I state that the scenes with him and Tony Stark were absolute comedic gold. I would, however, be lying to you if I said that the introduction of Peter Parker into the MCU felt at all natural. The point when Tony says that he is going to “call someone” reeks of fan-service, a cheap and easy way to introduce a character just so he can fulfill a comic-book fan’s long-lost wet dream. At the end of the day, this may be perceived as nit-picky criticism (which I agree it is) but the natural flow of the film did seem to break just a tad during Spider-Man’s segments. Would I have cut him out? NO, because his introduction injected a sense of lightheartedness to a grimly dark tale. It ultimately allows the film to join its brothers and sisters in the MCU as being the lighthearted section of the comic-book universe.
One other major criticism that I had with the film concerned the early action set-pieces and the camera work that was incorporated with them. I felt as if I was watching Jason Bourne directed by shaky-cam expert Paul Greengrass, a film that I shouldn’t be seeing for another two months. It honestly was the hardest thing to follow along with who was getting hit at any single time, and just simply trying to follow the action itself. However, it redeems itself with the 2-on-1 battle we’ve seen in the trailers between Iron Man and the team of Cap and Bucky. With the battle occurring in a very confined space, they are able to allow the camera to work much more freely and able to utilize long -panning shots that we have come to see in the Netflix version of Daredevil. Interlaced with some of the best dialogue moments between the two heroes, the action set-piece to close out the film is MARVELous (get it?) and could be classified as one of the best moments of the MCU so far.
So where does this film rank? A lot of people are calling it their favorite film of the MCU so far and deservedly so. However, I would actually rank it on par with The Winter Soldier. The two films go head on to try and ground the superhero genre as much as possible. Winter Soldier was a political thriller that opened up the MCU to greater genre building and diversity. Civil War mixes that political thriller aspect with internal conflict, something that is wholeheartedly expected when you have such differing ideological beliefs from such powerful humans and synths. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo have shown they have a flair for setting new bars in this genre and have made two wonderful films that people can not only enjoy but also can get people talking about comic book films in general.
We, at The Film Lawyers, are proud to present Captain America: Civil War with a very deserved A- (8.6/10).