Well, Marvel, now you’re just showing off.
Nipping at the heels of DC’s disappointing Batman vs. Superman tickle-fight (yes, disappointing) is Marvel’s most jam-packed ensemble piece yet – and we haven’t even reached the Infinity Wars. Captain America: Civil War tears apart an Avengers team that faces governmental restraint, but in doing so it also allows the Russo brothers to continue growing a Marvel universe ripe with moral strife, comedic tomfoolery and more spandex than a Halloween costume store. But unlike most overcrowded parties, everyone in Civil War serves a purpose, and we actually spend ample time with all the heroes we love. Batman V Superman? Stark V Rogers is the heavyweight comic book fight you’ve been waiting for.
In Civil War, the Avengers begin to feud when they’re all slapped with government sanctions that require their signatures. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) leads the chorus of voices demanding that superheroes be held accountable for their actions (which result in some serious collateral damage early in the picture), while Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) argues that legislative interference will only impede the team’s duties. Making matters worse, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is blamed for the deaths of UN summit attendees – including the King of Wakanda – in a devastating bombing, a situation which Captain America hopes to debunk and defuse. As the Avengers take sides, affiliating themselves with either Stark or Rogers, common allies find themselves fighting against an unfamiliar enemy – one another.
With so many heroes joining the fight, it’s amazing how Joe and Anthony Russo never let Captain America: Civil War crumble under its own gargantuan weight. Not only do we gain closure on Bucky’s Winter Soldier programming, but we meet two brand-new mainstays (Black Panther/Spider-Man), reacquaint ourselves with old friends (Ant-Man/Hawkeye/etc.), and witness the world’s turning attitude on devastating abilities that go unchecked. Seemingly every Marvel character and their mother (or more appropriately, their “hot” Aunt) pop up in some capacity during this tumultuous period in Marvel universe history, yet no one character feels glossed over or forgotten. Against all odds, the Russo brothers dutifully make the most of Marvel’s all-inclusive cast list, while STILL making this a Captain America sequel (his name is in the title, and all).
Even with proper homage paid to each savior, there are still standouts (but no losers). Take Chadwick Boseman’s performance as Black Panther, for example. We’re still some two years away from Boseman’s Wakandian origin story, yet Civil War establishes the native warrior so well that viewers will find themselves both engrossed and invested in the character.
Boseman grasps onto the film’s most emotionally fulfilling arc and establishes conviction in his portrayal of the Vibranium-clad hero, all while sharing the screen with Marvel’s heaviest hitters. Same goes for the young Tom Holland, whose Peter Parker tags into battle when Tony Stark shows up in Queens and aggressively hits on Aunt May (we get it, Marisa Tomei represents a hotter take than most). Black Panther and Spider-Man play second-fiddle to the battle being waged between Avengers, yet both establish themselves as prominent Marvel figures with bare-bones, interwoven exposure. Ah, the wonders of focused, meaty execution.
On an equally impressive note, little guys like Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) jump into the fray when needed most, complementing bigger players like Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) with comedic wit. The dynamic between Falcon and Cap is as bro-tacular as ever, while Black Widow – and Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter, for that matter – fight alongside their masculine counterparts with equal, and sometimes even more impressive ferocity. in fact, Black Widow pulls off some of the most stunning and well-choreographed fight sequences during an early-on pursuit of villain Crossbones (Frank Grillo). Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely find importance in each character’s inclusion (Ant-Man’s infatuation with Captain America, or Hawkeye’s steely glare), and none of them give off a cheap, fan-servicing vibe.
Captain America: Civil War is not without fault, though. Once again, Marvel struggles to generate a main villain worthy of the Avengers’ time, even if most the film stays centered on their own quarrel. Daniel Brühl’s Zemo subs in as the film’s nefarious mastermind, except his plan seems like an afterthought to Tony and Cap’s ongoing back-and-forth. Zemo’s hard work appears unnecessary once his final monologue reveals certain motivations, and while his planning does further Tony’s guilt-ridden complex, Zemo himself simply peters out like so many generic Marvel villains before him.
This leads to my biggest gripe, which is that Captain America: Civil War was primed to send shockwaves throughout the MCU yet never strikes a dagger that could have redefined Mavel’s more “accessible” tone. Don’t get me wrong – the Russo brothers’ film is an all-star blockbuster blast, delivering high-octane action from start to finish (The Winter Soldier all over again). And this paragraph doesn’t denounce everything I’ve raved about so far. But, with that said, Marvel only furthers their neat-and-tidy superhero formula through yet another exciting, effortlessly predictable, city-crushing story. I’m not begging for darkness – Civil War addresses innocence lost and ushers in a more mature look at superheroes without going full DC – but an opportunity is missed here, and Marvel’s choice to ease off the pedal subtly slights Civil War‘s contextual dilemma.
That doesn’t stop Captain America: Civil War from being a jam-packed action spectacle loaded with cinematic riches, though. The Russo brothers have another tremendous hit on their hands, ripe with explosive ass-kicking and a push towards a more socially relevant Marvel universe. Hell, restraint, and balance alone make Civil War a logistical marvel, as characters accentuate their scenes no matter how expansive their inclusion may be.
Evans and Downey Jr. lead an ensemble packed with hilarious, charismatic daredevils, cementing their legacy as Marvel’s Mt. Rushmore figureheads while giving “lesser” heroes equal opportunity to shine. The punches hit harder, action gets grittier (especially with Bourne-esque camera work), and even the laughs are louder. Civil War, when the dust has settled, supplies everything needed to usher in a new, exciting chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Captain America: Civil War balances an over-loaded cast with ease, as this action-heavy new Marvel chapter will have viewers salivating over what comes next.