Captain America: Civil War (2016) Review
With Captain America: Civil War hitting store shelves finally, I've had a chance to sit down and watch the film Marvel fans raved about all those months ago. This is essentially an outsiders review. A select few people both on Cultjer and off know that I swing more toward the DC side of things (if I had to pick a side), and while tonally the Marvel films don't always agree with me, the Captain America movies have been impressive so far.
Civil War is no different. In part an Avengers film and in part a conclusion to the Captain America trilogy, this film could have felt like an appalling mess. It boasts a huge roster of characters, some of which have never appeared in a Captain America film before. It manages to both continue the themes and plot of the previous two Cap films while also feeling like a bridging film for the MCU as a whole, and it gave fans a showdown to debate over before and well after the film had screened.
The fact is, the Russo brothers didn't just make a solid Marvel movie with this one. They made an impressive blockbuster movie, paced to near perfection and built on a foundation of sincere human reaction. While I have trouble accepting Captain America's appearance (I've always disagreed with the helmet, personally), the third act is near perfect. It adds in a twist that I was unprepared for despite trailers indicating that something was going to happen before the credits rolled, and the final battle was low-key in stakes, but emotionally brutal, and all enough to resonate.
While the action from the early part of the film didn't reel me in, such as the car sequence (which I've grown seriously tired of in action films), there are two obvious set pieces that completely managed to blow me away, and each for different reasons. The airport Avengers showdown was a masterfully shot scene, managing to weave between all of the individual one-on-ones with a grace that made it easy to focus in on exactly what the filmmakers wanted us to focus in on. It was clean, clear, and engrossing stuff. What's more, the character development of past films, notably the Black Widow/Captain America relationship, really felt like it had its payoff, bringing that particular element full circle following The Winter Soldier.
And there's the aforementioned battle between Iron Man, Cap, and Bucky, which was wonderfully set up at the start of the film, and proved to be emotionally gripping. That the Russo brothers took the added time to give the main antagonist a motive itself is impressive. A lazier blockbuster would have let him be evil for the sake of it. On Iron Man's part, Robert Downey Jr. perhaps steals the film from the title hero, becoming for mine the most sympathetic of the characters, and the one most deserving of our support.
On character, there is a minor portion of the film that didn't work for me. Ant-Man, who was the subject of my very first review for Cultjer, remains entirely unfunny despite all the effort in the world, and just feels like a forced element designed to check the box that demands Avengers-level humour in any MCU film. Tom Holland's introduction similarly felt a little heavy-handed, though the character did grow on me by the time the big airport battle rolled around. His Star Wars reference remains my favourite line in the entire film, and his youth and the awareness the other characters had toward that was a nice, human touch. Following this, Downey Jr. is a required element in the upcoming solo Spider-Man film.
The idea that superheroes remain unchecked and for that they are dangerous is a solid and relevant one. Iron Man's argument makes complete sense, and one of the highlights of the film for me was the team debating Tony Stark's course of action early in the film. It addressed that theme without the need to punch their way through it. That's a paraphrase of a line delivered by Black Widow later in the film, which felt as though the Russo's were addressing the requirements of the genre in something of a self-aware parody, and the at times tiresome necessity for the heroes to do exactly that. Perhaps the reason the final act is the one that stays in my mind well after the film had finished is that it stems from the drama that was designed earlier on. It had meaning.
But the idea itself doesn't get addressed beyond the basic need for each character to pick a side. And that's okay. There is a lot going on this film that it's commendable it felt so neat and tidy in the end. Still, a deeper exploration of this theme would have been nice, and here's hoping that the Russo's continue these ideas rather than pressing the retcon button for Avengers: Infinity War.
Captain America: Civil War is everything it needed to be. It's fast-paced, action-packed, new-viewer friendly, and simultaneously a solid new chapter in the ongoing Avengers story. But it's also more. It uses sincere character drama to drive its conflict, and while the first act is the weakest, its subsequent two are compelling enough that it declares the events of act one essential. If you're on the fence for any mundane reason like a singular devotion to the DCEU, or if you despise the course of Marvel films to this date, I'd recommend amending that declaration, even if it's just for this film. You certainly won't regret it.