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Review: ‘Captain America: Civil War’

Disney and Marvel’s comic book adventure is their most thoughtful and satisfying film to date.

We all knew this was coming because no good deed goes unpunished. Since 2008’s Iron Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has operated in full swing with two Avengers films, three Iron Man films, three Captain America films, two Thor films, lots of action and destruction but little to no regulation. Comradery and overcoming differences to defeat foe after foe is a valuable theme, but there are consequences to the unchecked and unregulated actions of superheroes. This is the thorough conceit that Captain America: Civil War postulates. Who would regulate superheroes? Who would join with the US Government and UN? Who would oppose? Strap yourselves in, true believers, because this is the film that achieves and excels past your expectations.

Captain America: Civil War differs from the comic epic in several key areas, one being that no one is being forced to give up their identity, the other that no town is blown up by a mutant. After the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron, the US and UN call for immediate regulation of the Avengers’ globetrotting exploits. Tony Stark inevitably takes the side of the UN, asking each member to sign a regulatory agreement, which Captain America resists in opposition. When The Winter Soldier – a super-assassin with ties to Captain America - is thrown into the mix, tensions rise between the three characters. Other Avengers such as Vision, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow and Falcon all get their screen time so that the audience is given a window into how the escalating conflict affects each superhero individually.

Civil War is the most succinct Marvel film to be released since…well…The Winter Soldier, the Russo Brothers’ Marvel directing debut. There is little dead air and each scene feels important and necessary for the film’s pace and direction. Even scenes that seem to have no significance and feel like moments of interaction filler end up being vital and spillover into the lives of other characters.

It would be more of a superhero soap opera without proper action scenes set in tandem and Civil War outdoes itself as it progresses. None of the action sequences are as large or bombastic as the attack on New York in The Avengers or the annihilation of Sokovia in Age of Ultron, but they’re all expertly choreographed and steeped in meaning. They’re not action for action’s sake.

After the reveal of Black Panther and Spider-Man’s introduction into the MCU, I am happy to report that both characters are given their time while not overshadowing the main conflict between Iron Man, The Winter Soldier and Captain America. Black Panther is brought in early and given appropriate motivation for donning the Black Panther visage - he’s never relegated to being “that black Marvel superhero.” He is introduced within scenes depicting his character’s African heritage, which is reflected in his behavior and mannerisms. Chadwick Boseman does an incredible job bringing this laser-focused jungle cat to life. Black Panther will have his own solo movie in 2018 - after Captain America: Civil War, it will be interesting to see how they further develop this character.

The biggest addition to the MCU is the inclusion of everyone’s favorite web-head, Spider-Man. After the monumental failure of 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sony relinquished the film rights back to Marvel and Spider-Man has never been in better hands. Tom Holland absolutely nails the dorky but savvy Peter Parker, cracking jokes left and right at every opportunity, both in and out of the Spider-Man suit. His scene riffing back and forth with Tony Stark is one of the film’s highlights. The suit design looks great, harkening back to the Alex Ross days of promotional/narrative art for Spider-Man comics. The way he swings and animates shows quickness and agility, just like Spider-Man should have always been portrayed. Everything about Spider-Man in Civil War works, though Aunt May could be aged a decade or two. I can say with confidence that this Spider-Man is the truest live-action adaptation of the character we’ve ever seen on the big screen and his upcoming solo film work is highly anticipated.    

One of the more disappointing, though traditional, aspects we find in nearly every Marvel film sans Loki, and is no different in Civil War, is that the central villain – Zemo, played by Daniel Brühl – has to compete for attention with all the different moving pieces at play. His motivation, while understandable and warranted, seems merely to push ahead with the inevitable. His actions are the spark that lights the film’s much larger and compelling flame, igniting conflict that has been brewing since the beginning of the MCU. But Zemo’s arc itself never gives the audience something to chew on. It actually becomes derivative when you realize that the true villain’s motivations are repeated by a different character at the beginning of the film.

Another bothersome aspect of Civil War is that we never feel the ramifications of the conclusion. There is a tremendous conflict pitting all our favorite Marvel characters and future Avengers team members against each other. These characters will be called upon in future films. Many take huge hits, which then are brushed aside. This would have negatively impacted the film even further had the overall ride not been as been as fulfilling as it was.

Captain America: Civil War’s tight script, great acting and amazing action sequences all add up to one of the most thought-provoking Marvel films ever. Other films in the genre should take note of how to humanize the destruction and devastation that these movie universes inflict on the normal people that have to co-exist in a world with web-swingers and tele-kinetics. Civil War delivers without being too overbearing and preachy, letting the audience decide who they choose to align with. Whether you’re #teamcap or #teamironman or even #teamspidey, Captain America: Civil War has something for you, and even the most casual Marvel fan, to enjoy.

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