Joe & Anthony Russo
Chris Evans - Steve Rogers/ Captain America
Robert Downey, Jr. - Tony Stark/ Iron Man
Scarlett Johansson - Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow
Sebastian Stan - Bucky Barnes/ The Winter Soldier
Anthony Mackie - Sam Wilson/ Falcon
Don Cheadle - James Rhodes/ War Machine
Jeremy Renner - Clint Barton/ Hawkeye
Chadwick Boseman - T’Challa/ Black Panther
Paul Bettany - Vision
Elizabeth Olsen - Wanda Maximoff/ Scarlet Witch
Paul Rudd - Scott Lang/ Ant-Man
Emily VanCamp - Sharon Carter
Tom Holland - Peter Parker/ Spider-Man
Frank Grillo - Brock Rumlow/ Crossbones
William Hurt - Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross
Daniel Bruhl - Helmut Zemo
Genre - Action/Adventure/Drama/Fantasy/Science Fiction/Comic Books
Running Time - 147 Minutes
After Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) accidentally murders innocent people during a battle against Crossbones (Frank Grillo) and his crew in Lagos, the government steps in to keep the Avengers in line. Backed by 117 countries, the United Nations create the Sokovia Accords - a legal document that allows the government to supervise superheroes in order to make them more accountable for their actions. During a random run-in with a mother of an innocent victim who was murdered during the battle with Ultron, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is in favor of the legislation. James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Chadle), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and humanoid Vision (Paul Bettany) join Tony, while Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) are against it, not wanting to be slaves for the government.
During the disagreement of ideologies, the leader of Wakanda is murdered during an attack, presumingly by the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) - causing the king’s son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) to vow revenge for his father. Captain America and Falcon go against the government, wanting to find Winter Soldier and help him find his way back - making them fugitives and antagonists of Iron Man’s squad. However, Captain America gains the help of Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Scarlet Witch, and Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) - creating a war against Team Cap versus Team Iron Man. While the Avengers disassemble, Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) watches from the sidelines, happy with the results of his secret plan.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is the beginning of the MCU’s Third Phase - and boy, what a great start it is! Phase Two of the MCU was a mixed bag for the most part, only having CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY being the real two highlights during that run. But with a year where superheroes are battling each other due to differing philosophies instigated by an outside force [DC’s polarizing BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE had a similar premise - although I won’t be comparing that film to CIVIL WAR here], it’s nice to see movie studios allowing these fantastical figures being humanized to create entertaining stories. And while CIVIL WAR has small flaws here and there, it’s a movie that shouldn’t work on paper - yet it does amazingly well.
This is a spoiler-free review, so I won’t go into specifics of major sub-plots here. But I thought the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely was very strong. I liked that this film was about superheroes having struggles with morality and philosophies when it comes to doing their job, or how they relate with their fellow heroes - rather than your typical “hero might fight evil villain to save the world” narrative. The characters, unlike in AGE OF ULTRON, were given dimension and flaws that everyone could relate to. I can understand why Tony Stark would want to sign with the government to control the Avengers, as the guilt of the things he has done in the armored suit are eating away at him. I can understand why Steve Rogers refuses, as he’s been following orders from people and was trapped in ice for 70 years - the dude wants the freedom to do his job and live his life. Hell, I can even see Thunderbolt Ross’ stance the deal, as well as villain Helmut Zemo’s way of thinking where it concerns his plan to “take down an empire”. Each character has their own motivation for joining sides and making decisions, no matter how large or how small their screen time may be. There was a lot going on here, yet I never once felt overwhelmed by all the sub-plots. It was all building to that final act, and I appreciated how it all ended. Sure, the stakes could have been higher. Maybe there should have been more casualties than there were. But I liked that the film took a different approach with the comic book narrative, instead of one that we were expecting. Yes, we get great action sequences. Yes, we get that silly comic book logic [or lack thereof]. Yes, characters get introduced on a whim. But that’s what I’ve come to expect from these films. And considering how the twenty-plus characters are handled here, the screenwriters truly succeeded here where others have failed.
Since I won’t reveal character motivations that may spoil the film, I’ll just discuss some of the characters I liked. I thought the Captain America and Iron Man dynamic was great, since it has been built upon for a few films now, but it really came to a head here. Yeah, it didn’t follow the comics all that closely, but I enjoyed both leaders of the Avengers having differing opinions on how to lead their team and where their true loyalties lied. Things also get personal by the final act, making you question which team [Cap or Iron Man] was the right team to stand with by the end. I can see why some felt the film favored one character over the other throughout the film, but I felt both Cap and Iron Man had their justification to do what they felt was right. The Winter Soldier also had his own interesting arc that took many twists and turns - making you dislike him at one moment, and then feel sympathetic because he’s been brainwashed into doing evil things. He’s protected by his best friend Cap, yet a target of Iron Man and the government - both sides easy to understand and justify. Black Widow was portrayed as the perfect double agent spy, playing both sides as she was torn between two men she respects. I’m sure her actions will lead to the solo film that seems to be coming up next for the character. Vision and Scarlet Witch’s comic book romance begins here, with Vision becoming more human while Wanda becomes more of a monster due to her inability to control her powers. The introductions of Black Panther and Spider-Man was fantastic. Black Panther comes across as a total majestic bad ass who makes decision out of emotion, rather than waiting to see what the facts were. Many complained that he just appeared in costume out of the blue without an origin, but that’s what a solo film is for. And Spider-Man was perfect here for the first time onscreen. Funny, awkward, and just naive and innocent - I thought he added a ton to the scenes he was a part of. All the other characters were written well too and showed why they chose the side they did in a logical matter that grounded the film very much.
My only real nitpicks in terms of characters were the villains, although they didn’t ruin the film for me - I can see how they would bring down the film for others, however. Crossbones, who was built up in THE WINTER SOLDIER, does get a shaft during the first act of the film honestly. Like I said, it didn’t ruin the entertainment value or hurt the narrative in anyway. But I wish more was done with the character. And Helmut Zemo’s plan may seem weak in terms of world-conquering villains like Loki. But I liked the quiet approach he took to tear the Avengers from within, even if you question how Zemo would have known his plan would have worked as well as it did. The real villains of the film were the Avengers themselves, with Zemo playing puppet master. Not exactly the most exciting character to watch on screen, but I understood why the character was written that way and once it reached its conclusion, I liked where it ended and where it could lead. This film wasn’t really about the villains, and I felt Zemo got enough screen time to justify his actions. Crossbones? Well…
Joe and Anthony Russo pick up from THE WINTER SOLDIER to outdo Joss Whedon in terms of direction a multi-character superhero film. While I praised AGE OF ULTRON during first watch, it’s a film that really doesn’t hold up as well as it should, weighed down by its own ambition and struggle to insert new characters and a villain that should have been more interesting and menacing than he actually was. Instead, he came across as a goof for the most part. CIVIL WAR has comedic moments, most of which work, but takes itself pretty seriously in terms of the conflict and the personal reasons why both the heroes and villains do what they do. The pacing is excellent, as this 147 film feels much shorter. The CGI looks great, especially Spider-Man and Vision. And the action sequences, especially the one in the building and the airport big battle, are done really well. In a lot of ways, CIVIL WAR felt like a comic book done to life. When certain characters did certain things taken from the comics, the entire audience cheered and clapped. This should have been AVENGERS 2 rather than the one we got. Visually pleasing and tonally satisfying. Can’t wait for the Russo’s take on INFINITY WAR.
I won’t really highlight every actor in the film, as there are way too many here. But everyone did a great job portraying their characters. Standouts? Chris Evans is Captain America by this point, playing the flawed boy scout whose idealism conflicts with the realism of the scenario he’s thrown into. Robert Downey, Jr. is still the perfect Tony Stark/Iron Man - cocky, suave, yet vulnerable. Elisabeth Olsen stepped up her game as Scarlet Witch, playing an insecure superhero who realizes she’s a threat that needs to be controlled, yet doesn’t want to be controlled. Chadwick Boseman was awesome as T’Challa/Black Panther. He carried a lot of presence and crafted a great first impression before his solo film. Tom Holland is amazing [pun intended] as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He brought the humor and innocence of a teenage superhero. Paul Rudd was hysterical as Scott Lang/Ant-Man. And I liked Daniel Bruhl’s quiet intensity as Helmut Zemo. Just a really well acted comic book film that elevated the story.
THE FINAL HOWL
What could have been a convoluted mess, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is a well fleshed out comic book film that sets up an interesting Phase Three for the MCU. Well acted by everyone with a screenplay that allowed much needed character development for many of the superheroes, CIVIL WAR is a fun watch for its entire 147 minutes. I can’t wait for the Spider-Man and Black Panther films, as well as how the conclusion of CIVIL WAR will eventually lead to the massive 2-part INFINITY WAR. I may put THE WINTER SOLDIER and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY ahead of it at the moment, but I had a blast with this film and probably put it in my Top 3. The flaws didn’t hurt the film for me and just left me feeling like that teenage comic book nerd watching his favorite heroes battle each other over different philosophies and moralities. This film shouldn’t have worked, but it does - and I couldn’t be happier. My favorite film this year so far on an entertainment basis. Let the Summer Movie Season begin!