9 Pubescent Spiderman’s out of 10
“Captain America: Civil War” is an excellent translation of one of the most high profile comics of the last decade. It’s yet another great addition to the Marvel universe, doing everything it needed to do right. It knocks its action scenes out of the park and the relationships between different characters are all grounded and well developed. But what really makes the film shine is the fact that it’s the culmination of character developments that began all the way back in 2008 with the original Iron Man film. In another series the conflict of so many characters might feel forced, cough “Superman vs. Batman” cough, but the clashing ideologies of Civil War have had half a dozen films in which to develop. Ultimately, “Captain America: Civil War” is a big, character driven action flick that’s really a perfect example of why Marvel films have worked so well for so long.
Civil War opens with the Avengers hunting down hydra operatives and inadvertently causing an explosion that kills dozens. As a consequence, numerous nations throughout the world begin to demand that the Avengers receive governmental regulation. This leads to the Avengers fragmenting into two groups of opposing ideologies, with Captain America (Chris Evans) opposing the regulations, worrying that they’ll go too far, and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) pushing for them because of his own past mistakes.
Perhaps more so than any previous Marvel film, Civil War takes advantage of its ensemble cast. Marvel’s huge stable of characters developed in previous films frees Civil War from having to introduce them to the audience, allowing them to focus on having them interacting in fun and believable ways. The jealous rivalry of Bucky and The Falcon as Captain America’s new friend and old friend, the hero worship of Spiderman towards Tony Stark, the budding romance between Vision and the scarlet witch, all of these things are part of why Civil War is so much fun to watch and none of them could have fit in the movie if they had to introduce characters as they went along. The universe they’ve created is something I really haven’t seen done before in another film series and its allowed the Avengers films to preserve everything that made their comics great. It’s this brand of storytelling, that Marvel has so far maintained a monopoly on, that makes the movie work and brings gravity to the action that litters the film.
Much of the action scenes in Civil War feel more grounded and gritty than the usual Avengers affair, which is really a consequence of having the Russo brothers directing the film. They directed 2014’s “Captain America: Winter Soldier” that on account of being more spy thriller than action flick, had to be more serious and small scale with its action sequences. This does however work really well in the favor of Civil War since it has to cope with the sidelining of many of the more powerful Avengers. It leads to, with one exception, much more focused action that does a great job of investing viewers in what’s happening onscreen.
That one exception, which I’ll now be referring to as the airport scene, is absolutely amazing. It’s the biggest, best superhero rumble I’ve ever seen onscreen, with more than a dozen well developed heroes battling against each other. Watching their personalities (and abilities) interact in the airport scene is really the highpoint of the film and I genuinely believe the 15-minute-long scene on its own would justify the price of admission. The final climactic fight scene really surprised me with its boldness, setting up a big fight to bring the Avengers back together, but then tearing it away and replacing it with a smaller more emotionally intense scene. It was really a genius move that I doubt would have happened without the Russo brothers at the helm of the film.
Really, my biggest critique of Civil War is also probably its greatest strength. I cannot stress enough how heavily the film relies on its viewers having watched previous Marvel films. Without that background knowledge, none of the friendships that are being torn apart really mean anything, and the gravity of the conflicts in the film is just absent. It is, however, this reliance on earlier world-building that makes Civil War work as well as it does. But if you haven’t really been paying attention to Marvel films, this just isn’t a good jumping on point.