Let me go just say it upfront — Captain America: Civil War is the best Marvel movie to date. It works so well not just as a continuation but as a culmination of the whole eight years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This feels like what everything was building towards to and that is exactly what lends the emotional depth that elevates the movie as a whole. Think of Captain America: Civil War as a show’s season finale, it ties everything in a neat little explosive yet moving bow and leaves us teased with what’s to come. Note: I’m not trying to detract viewers who haven’t seen any past Marvel movies — you’ll still have a great time and I’m pretty sure the first arc of the film pretty much summarizes everything you need to know about what happened in the previous films — but in order to really feel the weight of the film you should have at least seen Captain America: Winter Soldier and maybe Avengers: Age of Ultron (meh).
Directed once again by the Russo Brothers with a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the film follows the repercussions of a botched Avengers mission in Nigeria that led to collateral damage, including civilian casualties. This being the latest tragedy in a series of costly and deadly events (previously depicted in past Marvel movies) push world leaders to demand that The Avengers be put under United Nations oversight via regulations called “The Sokovia Accords.” This causes a divide within the team: one side agreeing with Captain America (Chris Evans) that being controlled by bodies other than themselves make them susceptible to rigidity and hidden agendas, while others siding with Iron Man (Robert Downey Junior) that control and accountability are needed because these are matters that commonly deal with civilian lives. Both having valid arguments, neither side fully right or wrong. Tensions are soon intensified after the long MIA Bucky “The Winter Soldier” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is identified as the primary suspect in a terrorist bombing. Cap goes rogue to protect his old partner while Iron Man follows the edict to capture Bucky dead or alive. Each gather teams of heroes both old and new, personal agendas and emotions run high, a villain with a grudge operates in the shadows, and the civil war amongst heroes erupts.
Plot-wise, Captain America: Civil War has a lot going on. Its narrative is not as tight as its predecessor, The Winter Soldier, but that’s not in any way a drawback. This is the next step, raising the bar. Truth be told, the film actually accomplishes what many superhero films have tried and spectacularly failed to do in recent years — balancing multiple characters with their own mini-arcs alongside a larger narrative. (Civil War might actually be the first superhero movie to accomplish this, look at Batman v Superman, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Amazing Spider-man 2, and of course, Spiderman 3.) Remember, the keyword here is balance.
Civil War works because it is able to perfect the way it blends all its beats together. It doesn’t strive to give each character equal screen time, this again is a Captain America movie with Cap front and center and Iron Man and Bucky as second billing. What Civil War manages to do though is give every hero a moment in the spotlight, each has a memorable scene/s that substantiates their character — whether it might be highlighting their motivations, showcasing their scene-stealing charms, or proving just how bad-ass they are. You get to know how different every character is and this just makes you want to know more about them in future installments. It would be too arduous to list every scene down, but my favorites would have to be the introduction of the new heroes: regal, emotional, and fierce Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman); and possibly the best cinematic interpretation of Spider-man (Tom Holland) (it’s still too early to tell if he’ll indeed be the best Spidey but this taste of a quippy, nerdy, hyperactive version is already a strong contender this early on). And also, without spoiling much, Elizabeth Olsen‘s Scarlett Witch also deserves special citation as she too lends some emotional weight to the film, as well as Paul Rudd‘s Ant-Man who’s basically us, the fans, in the movie.
Aside from balancing its already filled-to-the-brim plot, Civil War is also able to blend tones evenly. There is never too much humor as jokes just come perfectly as things become too heavy, and action and exposition are at an equilibrium as they are injected in alternating doses. Civil War’s action also serves as a step up from the rest of Marvel’s flock as it diversifies the kind of set pieces it delivers. Previously, The Winter Soldier was seen as the best in depicting kinetic, well-choreographed sequences compared to the almost generic (bordering on Michael Bay-hem) action the rest had. Civil War proves that Marvel is capable of ditching formula as this film’s action is surprisingly constrained – explosions don’t feel indulgent and catastrophe is contained. From Jason Bourne-esque chases and fisticuffs, to an emotional grudge match that feels dirty and removed of all glamour, to arguably the one of the best action sequences in film history — a 17-minute superhero battle royale that pits hero against hero, “special moves” one after the other. Trust me when I say that this one scene justifies the whole existence of the recent wave of superhero movies, both good and bad.
An issue I have with the film though would be some contrivances in its main plot. Daniel Brühl of Inglorious Basterds fame plays Helmut Zemo, the mysterious villain pulling the strings behind the scenes, stoking the flames of mistrust among the movie’s two main heroes. As relatable and well-acted his character is, the details of his plot feel too reliant on coincidences. In a way, if you think about it, his machinations are no different from that of Skyfall’s Silva and The Dark Knight‘s Joker. It’s just that in those movies, the villains were able to chew up the scenery with their presence that we tended to forget the absurdities of their plot. Here in Civil War, Zemo plays second fiddle to the growing differences between Captain America and Iron Man. He functions as a mere plot device that widens the schism between the two. I still wouldn’t consider Zemo a misstep though like the rest of the MCU’s weakly characterized villains. I would actually even consider him the best villain so far (Loki was never villainous, he was just charismatic). Brühl brings to the role the subtlety that comes with the kind of pain that has seeped through and devoured every part of one’s life and personality, intertwined itself to the point that it can not be separated — like dye when dropped into water. Each line, each delivery; his whole motivation, you feel it. It might be a divisive role, but if this is the path Marvel will be trekking when it comes to its future villains, I’m all for it.
Another thing I noticed is that even as Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. have grown into their roles, embodying their stances — Cap being steadfast and uncompromising, the heart and soul of the franchise; and Iron Man being uncharacteristically somber and guilt-ridden, a man jaded, just looking for a way out — their battle of ideologies never really step up, evolve thematically. The questions they pose remain in its same form beginning till end. But this is just me nitpicking here, me expecting more. Amidst all this, the plot still feels like a natural progression. The widening of both sides’ differences don’t feel mechanical; It’s not a result of just complete manipulation (here’s looking at you BvS). It feels real.
Overall, I’m quite surprised how personal and emotional Captain America: Civil War is. It’s not just a political thriller, It’s a well-crafted, well-directed tale of loss, friendship, and the blurred lines pain, anger, and vengeance. The movie shifts Marvel’s status quo in a way I could best describe as The Empire Strikes Back of not just Marvel, but of superhero movies — it is emotional and barer compared to its predecessors, and there is fallout that will surely change their universe’s landscape. The movie is not perfect, it’s not ground-breaking per se but it does set the bar very high for its kind. In my opinion, The Dark Knight may still reign king in the foreseeable future but Captain America: Civil War may just become the quintessential most “comic book” movie of this generation.
Captain America: Civil War premieres April 27 in all major theaters in the Philippines.