Captain America: Civil War can't even wait for its own credits to roll and, instead, begins its story as soon as possible by reintroducing us to the titular Winter Soldier of the previous Captain America film. What follows is a film that is easily the equal to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which I considered not only the best superhero movie ever released but also one of the best action films ever made. Returning to the world of Marvel superheroes, the Russo brothers have once again crafted a movie that is primarily driven not by the needs of a story but, rather, by solid characterizations.
Opening up with early action scenes, the movie makes it very clear that, though like Winter Soldier, this movie is going to be big on morality and issues of power, it will be just as focused on excitement and fun. In fact, it is a constant sense of fun that propels Civil War despite its heavy narrative, giving it the sort of energy that was completely lacking in the other recent hero vs. hero movie to be released: DC's Batman v. Superman which I berated for its lack of character, emotion and fun.
Thankfully, Civil War does not fall into the same trap that Batman v. Superman does. Instead of being morose, somber and faux-serious about its subjects, Civil War tackles them with gusto. Very early on the movie wraps up a loose end from Winter Soldier while simultaneously opening the can of worms that propels the rest of the movies events into action. When a mission goes awry, the responsibility the Avengers have to shoulder for carrying out their superheroics is called into question. After all, when one wields power there are always consequences both good and bad despite the best of intentions.
Does that mean, however, that that power itself needs to be policed by another power?
Do the Avengers need someone to keep them in check? To hold the reins?
That is the crux of the conflict in the movie as Captain America (played to the hilt by Chris Evans) and Iron Man (the ever-enjoyable Robert Downey Jr.) are confronted with fall-out from their actions and, because of the motivations we've seen drive them in their past films, they come to very different opinions regarding a newly proposed United Nations act that would curtail unrestrained Avenger activity.
Continuing with the movies excellent pace, this divide soon has a wedge driven into it when Steve Rogers, the spangled Captain America, has to decide between helping his friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan in a role he continues to just kill), a victim of a program that turned him into the terrifyingly effective terrorist known as The Winter Soldier, or obeying the law. For those that know Captain America, the choice is as obvious to us as it seems to him. Steve Rogers leaves no man behind. Amidst this action, we're introduced to King T'Chaka and his son T'Challa from the country Wakanda, a nation that has also lost much thanks to superhuman activity. Determined to bring Bucky to justice, T'Challa (played with considerable presence by Chadwick Bosman) dons the mantle of Black Panther and proceeds to straight-up steal every moment of the film he's in. Especially when he's in costume. Make no mistake, though the Winter Soldier was the ultimate bad-ass of the previous film, the Black Panther absolutely owns this movie alongside one other hero (re)premiere that we'll get to latter.
As Bucky is brought in and the division in the Avengers widens the movie slows a bit to continue unraveling not only the psyches of the superheroes we've been following for a decade but also a more insidious plot at work being orchestrated by Helmut Zemo as portrayed by Daniel Bruhl for reasons unknown. It was at this point in my viewing of the movie that everything started to click. And I don't mean 'everything' as in 'everything in the movie' because that was firing on all cylinders from the first frame. No, I mean 'everything' as in 'everything we've seen from the Marvel Cinematic Universe since RJD first donned the armor in Iron Man'.
Captain America: Civil War is both a capstone to EVERYTHING that has happened since that first Marvel movie while also acting as a foundation for the next phase of films being released. Character development, story hints, plot threads and relationships that have been across the many Marvel movies are all pulled together in this movie and the tapestry is makes is amazing. It's really something to behold it all coming together, like all the instruments of an orchestra finally joining together to belt out the most amazing symphony you've ever heard. Except the symphony is clad in brightly colored spandex and the musicians are punching each other in the face.
And then comes the reveal that almost, nearly, sorta-kinda overshadows THE ENTIRE FILM. Yes, think about what I've said and the excitement I've carried for this movie throughout this review and realize that there's a single element that comes damn close to overshadowing all of that. And that reveal is Tom Holland's Spider-Man. Salvaged from the awful drubbing the character received at Sony Studio's hands and recast with a fresh-faced, energetic young man, Spider-Man has literally never been better. In every single way that Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark, Tom Holland seems just as natural as an awkward, hopeful, fearful and heroic teenage Spider-Man. Without having to utter the "with great power comes great responsibility" line that has been drilled into our heads regarding the character, the message still comes across loud and clear in a way that feels not only natural but genuine as well. This movie sells you on Spider-Man going forward and washes away every bit of bad taste anyone might have in their mouth regarding the character after his last few films.
Gathering players together from across the Marvel cinematic universe, we're soon treated to the full on extravaganza of a superhero slugfest we've seen glimpses of in trailers and MY GOD is it glorious! Fast, bright, exciting, astounding, more adjectives! Even if the movie was total garbage otherwise, this scene would be worth the price of admission as Iron Man & War Machine dog-fight with Falcon, Captain America spars with Spider-Man and Hawkeye & Black Widow try to remain besties whilst tousling. And, best of all, it all feels entirely earned.
You understand and relate to both sides of the fight and both are still heroic. Unlike Batman v. Superman where Batman is a psychopath and Superman is an idiot, we instead have an entire group of heroes whose motivations and reasons we can empathize or sympathize with. There are no bad guys here. There's just good people trying to do their best in a very, very bad situation. And though, yes, some of this is being manipulated by a villain, Zemo is everything that BvS's Lex Luthor wishes he was. Beyond that, those manipulations are just that. Instead of being puppeteering with demands and blackmail, Zemo's actions are mere catalysts that draw characters into a conflict that makes sense for them to find themselves in based on their personalities and histories.
Finally, the movie wraps up with what almost feels like a second entire climax as we're treated to two rapid fire twists that were pleasantly surprising both in their simplicity and their impact. Having reached a point where I knew more conflict was coming but wasn't sure how it could be achieved, I found myself grinning as the movie pulled some of its own lingering plot threads together (including the major one I didn't see coming AT ALL) to give us the last blow-out of the film. And then, sadly, the movie had to end. Not with reconciliation really...but with an understanding. Personally, I found the ending highly satisfying in that it truly felt like we were moving into a new stage. For those that have complained about "consequences" lacking in Marvel movies, this movie should roundly silence that as Civil War moves us entirely into a new era about as thoroughly as the dawning of the first Avengers did years ago.
Succinctly put, after seeing this movie and having recently watched Batman v. Superman, I really feel like there is no catching up for DC with how well Marvel is doing movies. The leagues feel entirely different. Captain America: Civil War is not only beyond my expectations, it truly embodies everything I could have EVER hoped for with superheroes on film. It makes me love being a lifelong comic book fan and a fan of these characters. My recommendation: see it immediately and see it often. Then get ready for Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Spider-Man and whatever else Marvel studios has planned. I'm fully on board with their decision making at this point. I love this cinematic universe.