Why ‘Captain America: Civil War’ Is Worth Seeing Twice
A relatively spoiler-free review of the highly anticipated blockbuster
During its promotional cycle, the third Captain America movie often came across as an Avengers film in disguise. The film features no less than 12 superheroes and two bad guys, along with a considerable supporting cast in which both Sharon Carter and general Ross can be found. Surprisingly enough, Captain America: Civil War is still very much Cap’s story, though each of its many characters get their time to shine, fitting perfectly into the overarching plot. We’ll gladly tell you how they pull that off, but be warned, there are a few mild spoilers ahead.
After a brief scene depicting a mission by the Winter Soldier in 1991, the film shifts to current times in Lagos, Nigeria, for its first major set piece. Falcon, Cap, Scarlet Witch, and Black Widow are there chasing Crossbones, who’s after a biological weapon. The Russo brothers, who returned to direct their second installment in Cap’s movie franchise, take full advantage of the assumption all viewers are familiar with these characters by now, dropping us straight into the action. There is some fantastic fight choreography in streets overflowing with sunlight, especially where Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is concerned. Of course, Crossbones ultimately gets apprehended, but his arrest goes awry and several people near the incident do not live to tell the tale. Among them are 11 members of an international goodwill mission from Wakanda, home of the Black Panther.
Rather than this being the definitive event leading to the Sokovia Accord (the movie’s equivalent to the Superhuman Registration Act in the comics) it’s a final straw in a rising amount of controversy surrounding The Avengers. The legislation is drawn up by the UN, and forces The Avengers to cease existence as a private organization, and be answerable to, and only deployable by, the UN. This rubs Cap the wrong way, who doesn’t want to imagine a world in which he’ll have to sit back as the UN debates whether the deploy them or not, while a crisis evolves. Tony Stark however, believes they need to be accountable to someone, and sees the Sokovia Accord as the only feasible option moving forward. Along with the political pressure, he’s given several other, more personal reasons that lead to him supporting the Accord, resulting in a much more nuanced motivation than he had in the movie’s source material. Though their opposing viewpoints are fought out with words at first, a dramatic event at the Accord’s signing forces Cap into action, making him a vigilante and affirming as the movie’s protagonist. One that Iron Man is tasked with bringing in.
The relatively subtler lead-up to the conflict is not the only part in which the movie differs from its source material, with the advantage being firmly in the film’s corner. While the core title in the Civil War comics crossover mostly focussed on the action scenes and left the ideological debate to its many supporting titles, the movie is full of dialog depicting a myriad of viewpoints on the issue. These scenes of talking heads never become a bore, especially since the first act is full of great character moments. That’s not to say there’s not plenty of action; in one scene, Bucky punches a guy off a motorcycle, takes the careening bike by the other hand, and flips it underneath him in one fell swoop, riding away from his pursuers. But the movie’s quieter moments work just as well. The evolving relation between Vision and Wanda for instance, expands their characters while simultaneously moving the plot forward.
The whole film’s script is very tightly knit in that regard; nary a single scene, shot or line of dialog is wasted in advancing the story or building its characters. Take an early scene where Tony is showcasing a new virtual reality tool at MIT. In it, he revisits a memory of his parents, announces a grant he gives to the students there, and is saddened by Pepper Potts’ absence. These three seemingly disparate details all set up points that later turn out to be essential beats in the movie. Nothing is random, nothing is just there to fill space or simply look cool. In that regard, it couldn’t be more different from the randomly assorted and often nonsensical events in that other big movie about superheroes pitted against each other. It’s more than an impressive juggling act how the many threads in Captain America: Civil War are kept running smoothly throughout, especially considering that it also introduces two brand new characters to the MCU in Black Panther and Spider-Man.
Thankfully, that juggling act applies to its biggest action scene as well, where the heroes that sided with Cap and those that sided with Tony, clash at a Berlin airport. It’s the scene teased in the final act of the trailer, and the final product does not disappoint in the slightest. As the camera weaves across the Tarmac, clashing powers whirl around to great effect, with opponents shifting from one to the other, pitching in at neighbouring fights or getting hit from unexpected angles. It’s a constantly revolving brawl that somehow never becomes difficult to follow. And Spidey—a perfect iteration of the younger, 16-year-old Peter Parker—seems as engrossed in the spectacle he ended up in as its cinema audience indubitably is. “That thing does not obey the laws of physics at all!” he remarks in amazement as Cap throws his shield, adding in a nice bit of metatextual humor.
It’s hard to detail the proceedings of Captain America: Civil War much further without giving away too many plot points, but rest assured that the introduction of both T’Challa and Peter Parker is handled expertly, with the first being properly regal and simply badass, while the latter’s scenes are already more fun and true to character than Sony’s last two Spider-Man films combined.
The movie’s major bad guy, Zemo (no title of baron for him in the MCU), as portrayed by Daniel Brühl, isn’t as charismatic or engaging as Loki, the best MCU villain so far, by a landslide. He is calculatingly creepy, however, and has a genuinely human motivation, making him a huge step up from the bland ‘evil robot must kill all’ trope used in Avengers: Age of Ultron. He’s more a catalyst to the events though, albeit a very smart and menacing one. The movie centers on the rising tension between Steve and Tony, and the friendship between Bucky and Steve, which makes the chemistry between the actors portraying these characters as essential as any of its gratifying battles are.
Because Captain America: Civil War is a movie about friendships at heart. Friendships that falter, and those that endure. It’s a movie about making mistakes and admitting you were wrong, about old wounds and new grief, and about being there when friends need you most. It’s just told in a way that involves a fuck-ton of superpowered people beating the crap out of each other in the most spectacular way possible. Go see it twice.