By Vincent Abbatecola
This is a spoiler-free review.
Last July, “Ant-Man” brought Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a close, and we are now at the beginning of Phase Three. Despite being 13 movies into the MCU, there are still more stories to tell, more characters to introduce, and new conflicts to face. The MCU has been going on for eight years now, and the world that was established in 2008 with the first “Iron Man” film has now reached a pivotal moment in its ongoing expansion.
After directing the thrilling “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” Anthony and Joe Russo return to helm “Captain America: Civil War.” And not only is it one of the very best films the MCU has put out, but it also concludes the “Captain America” story as that rare trilogy where each film is better than the last.
While on a mission in Nigeria to stop the theft of a biological weapon, the damage done during the fight between Captain America’s team and their targets leaves several civilians dead. Back at home, the Avengers meet with Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), who tells them the amount of destruction caused by the fights with their adversaries has prompted world leaders to create a set of accords that will cause the Avengers to operate under government regulation. While Steve Rogers / Captain America (Chris Evans) is opposed to the idea of answering to anyone else, Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) stands firm with the accords’ intentions. What follows next will pit the Avengers against each other and set off a chain of events that may create some irreversible changes within the group.
Although the cast is loaded with memorable performances, the bookends are Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. Given the heightened stakes of the narrative, the performances from Evans and Downey Jr. have evolved to accomplish in bringing the emotion required for these more dramatic events that threaten what the Avengers stand for. Yes, the two heroes still get to throw humorous quips at each other from time to time, but the wit doesn’t do anything to dilute the tension brewing between them.
It’s fun to see many of the Avengers return for the film, but it’s the offering of two great additions that will really get you talking: Peter Parker / Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and T’Challa / Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). Although we still have to wait a while until to see more of their characters in their solo films (to be released in July 2017 and February 2018, respectively), the film offers enough footage of them to quench our curiosity and get an idea of what to expect from their contributions to the MCU. Boseman, with his well-polished accent and depiction of his character’s heavy heart, shows he has the ability to become a major player for the Avengers. Star status in the famed superhero group is also set for Holland, and based on the footage of him you see in “Civil War,” he could shape up to be a dynamite Spider-Man. Because Holland is younger than Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield when they portrayed the well-known web-slinger, he shows he will provide the character with a refreshingly quirky and fun-loving high-school persona.
In terms of a villain, we have Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), whose character’s motives for his actions are rather basic and are sort of akin to what Loki wanted to accomplish in the first “Avengers” film in terms of getting the Avengers to turn on each other. However, Brühl’s talent is enough to make his character a little more interesting than it could have been, and we’re actually given enough time to follow his character, even in the middle of the fighting amongst the heroes.
Based on Mark Millar’s seven-issue comic series, “Civil War,” the screenplay comes from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who penned the first two“Captain America” films. They have created a story that’s paced in a way that makes the film’s two-and-a-half-hour running time fly by, using a steady pattern of action- and dialogue-driven scenes. What’s also great about the story is that even though the film has an abundance of characters, everyone has enough screen time to make an impression, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Markus and McFeely are tapped to write the screenplay for the two-part“Avengers: Infinity War” (part one – May 2018, part two – May 2019), which will feature even more characters than we have at the moment. “Civil War” shows that if this writing duo can balance a detailed story and abundance of characters over the course of one movie, they can surely do it for a two-movie narrative.
Given how well the Russos are able to handle a cast as big as this and all of the stunning action, I have full confidence in their abilities to deliver a spectacular conclusion for “Infinity War.” What’s admirable about the film is how they are able to create more of a balance between the humor and the drama, with the humor feeling appropriate in the spots where it appears, unlike in a handful of other MCU films. One significant way in which the Russos balance the humor and the drama is in the two main action set-pieces: a battle sequence at an airport, and the final fight between Captain America and Iron Man. In the former, we have all of the heroes together, which is a perfect time for them to engage in wonderful action and exchange quips as their powers and personalities clash. In contrast, the fight between Captain America and Iron Man is more emotional because it comes after one of the film’s several big reveals, and we see the leader from each side of the debate fighting each other after spending time fighting together, and it may be one of the MCU’s most emotionally charged sequences. In the end, both fight scenes are everything for which you could have hoped.
Phase Three is off to a thunderous beginning and will be the biggest one yet, as we still have nine more movies to anticipate. The next chapter is “Doctor Strange,” which is set to be released this November, and it may be one of the MCU’s most interesting solo movies do date. Until then, “Captain America: Civil War” will thrill you with its impressive world-building as we move one step closer to the epic finale.