Film Review: Captain America: Civil War

by Chad Liffmann on May 6, 2016

You want the most action-packed, entertaining, thought-provoking Marvel movie to date? Aye aye, Captain!!

See Cap Run. Run, Cap, Run.

See Cap Run. Run, Cap, Run.

Remember Batman v. Superman? If you don’t, then congrats. If you do, rest assured that Captain America: Civil War will wash the bad taste from your mouth. The new movie has a remarkably similar plot to BvS but every bit is a million times superior. In fact, it’s so much better that you won’t even recognize the similarities upon first viewing. The benefits of watching Captain America: Civil War don’t end there — the third Captain America film is probably the best Marvel movie yet! A bold statement, you may think. Well, there is nary a moment in CA:CW that isn’t entertaining or driving the story forward. It explores thought-provoking themes of social class, abuse of power, government regulations, and sacrifice, all while delivering high levels of fun. What’s most impressive about Captain America: Civil War is its ability to utilize what we already know about each character to fuel the story we’re seeing, meanwhile teasing us with stories to come. It’s like the Empire Strikes Back of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that’s just about the highest compliment I can give it.

After an important flashback prelude, Captain America: Civil War begins amidst an Avengers mission (sans Hulk and Thor) in Lagos, Nigeria. A botched yet ultimately successful prevention effort at a bio lab leads to collateral damage, which in turn spawns a cascade of political pressure to curb the Avengers’ “rogue” global efforts. The pressure from the US government, communicated to the team by Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) morally splits the superheroes, creating “Team Cap” consisting of Captain America (Chris Evans), Bucky/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Ant Man (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and “Team Iron Man” consisting of Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), The Vision (Paul Bettany), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Now, just because they’re on separate teams doesn’t mean they became immediately pitted against each other. The film does a fine job of collecting the viewpoints from all characters via meeting room discussions, side chats, and by showing how external forces or crucial moments motivate characters to side one way or the other. It’s not boring, either. These conversations and chain reactions are engaging and to the point, with gags or one-liners thrown in for perfectly timed levity.

Team Cap v. Team Iron Man

Team Cap v. Team Iron Man

An intriguing aspect of the team’s division is that the audience and characters can see the logic of either side. This provides an opportunity for the actors to actually act, not just take part in CGI-filled action and fill in roles that cardboard cutouts could perform (ahem, BvS). It’s a gigantic cast and each player has his or her moment to take part in a meaningful character arc. At the quasi-center of it all, of course, is Steve Rogers aka Captain America. Chris Evans’ charismatic performance as the first Avenger has been the backbone of a near-perfect superhero trilogy— The First Avenger, Winter Soldier, and now Civil War. He and Robert Downey Jr. have the most emotional bouts this time through, with their respective inner conflicts captured through their expressions, language, actions, and armor. Their suits become symbolic of their sides — the guarded, tech-driven (thus too robotic?) strategy of Iron Man versus the iconic, human (thus naturally flawed?), patriotic-to-the-core suit and shield of Captain America. There are many reasons why these two characters are the emotional leaders of their respective groups, and CA:CW does a fantastic job of highlighting and criticizing their attributes.

And speaking of group members, let’s give credit where credit is due for the seamless inclusion and introduction of Black Panther, as well as Spider-Man…and sure, bringing Ant Man into the mix as well. Chadwick Boseman has been hit or miss for me, but his performance as Black Panther has me excited for his solo film and more pleased that his origin story wasn’t a throwaway plot turn, but rather a fully integrated part of the overall story. Tom Holland, in his relatively brief stint as Spider-Man in CA:CW is already a more entertaining Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield combined. It’s another spinoff film I can’t wait to see! What’s also lovely about the introduction of these players in the confines of a crowded Marvel movie like this is that their solo films will inevitably include a couple familiar players (Iron Man, for example) and the thought of that is very exciting. Again, remember how BvS completely eff’d this up in their DC universe? CA:CW gets it right.

Kitty can SCRATCH!

Kitty can SCRATCH!

Let’s also not forget that Marvel movies are meant to be entertaining and fun, and Captain America: Civil War is the pinnacle of Marvel entertainment so far. The action set pieces are remarkably inventive and energetic, and the back-and-forth dialogue is super witty. There are laugh-out loud moments and hold your breath moments. The musical score by Henry Jackman is well balanced and complements the story movement and mood changes, and the direction by Anthony and Joe Russo (the Russo Brothers) is tight and focused, even with a 146 minute running time. The Russo Brothers also directed Captain America: Winter Soldier and will be helming the two part upcoming Marvel epic, Avengers: Infinity War. After seeing them handle such a complex story with, seemingly, relative ease, I can’t wait to see what they do when Hulk and Thor and others come back into the picture. My guess — a box office SMAAAASHHHH!

Captain America: Civil War comes out in Bay Area theaters today, May 6th.

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