There’s a rather explicit reference to Empire Strikes Back in Captain America: Civil War. In context, it’s an unconventional yet effective battle tactic during a rather impressive fight sequence. Yet, it’s also a knowing nod from Marvel to the rather dark entry in the Star Wars saga, a nod that instantly puts one in the mindset of a dark sequel that raises the stakes. It’s a bold comparison to make, especially when so many sequels that make such a comparison often fail miserably in living up to such a high standard. Captain America: Civil War is one of the few films to put itself on that pedestal and earn its place wholeheartedly, turning the events of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on their head with a story that truly shakes everything up, leaving total irrevocable changes in its wake. Oh, and unlike another recent superhero confrontation, the reasons make sense and they don’t sacrifice some rousing fun along the way.
Yes, one couldn’t really talk about this venture without bringing up the elephant in the room that is Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I won’t spend most of this comparing the two, but the big thing to note is that this isn’t merely a one-upmanship in terms of action. Sure, this series has a large roster of heroes available to kick ass over DC’s limited cinematic ones they’ve brought to the plate for the sake of mere visual eye candy and that action is full of incredibly inventive moments to gawk at in wonder. There’s an amazing foot chase amongst traffic with superpowered beings. There’s an opening confrontation that utilizes the combined powers with catastrophe results. The airport fight sequence alone is one of the most energetic and fun action sequences in any of these Marvel films or amongst recent blockbusters in general. Directors Anthony & Joe Russo know just how to turn these characters for and against each other during a sweeping action sequence, which this film consistently ups the ante on ever step of the way. But all that is superficial in comparison to the most superior aspect of Captain America: Civil War: the actual ideological conflicts at play.
Captain America and Tony Stark over the course of the 8 years span of the modern timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have had some deep changes. Since coming out of the ice, Steve Rogers has wanted to uphold the American ideals he strove for as a kid raised in early 20th century Brooklyn, ideals which he feels have been compromised by modern opportunism. He wants some sort of compromise, but doesn’t want to answer to people who could bend The Avengers to their whim. On the other side, you have Tony Stark. The billionaire inventor/Iron Man protector has been shaken from his playboy persona to a man racketed with moral guilt. After years of reckless activity both in and out the suit, Stark has realized that major repercussions have taken place thanks to the actions of The Avengers and wants to prevent any further damage through government supervision. It’s a very rough conflict to see take place, but one that makes total sense for the characters we’ve seen evolve over this elaborate cinematic saga. These men who have had issues yet fought alongside each other have now reached an turning point in their friendship, one that ropes in the rest of these people to take sides, both sides with honest good points and no easy option to resolve. You know Captain America: Civil War is a great face off when there’s no easy side to root for, as each conversation that plays out with each character making reasonable arguments that fuel the action based fights rather than hinder them.
It’s a testament to the cast Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has assembled. Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr lead with just the right mixture of human error and believable heroic ambition that makes this struggle so nerve wracking. After seeing them evolve, it’s hard to take a side. They’re both such endearing likable heroes that their darker moments here are earned by years of build up. This tension rolls over into all of the familiar faces of the universe that show up, from older favorites like Scarlett Johannson‘s conflicted Black Widow & Don Cheadle‘s loyal War Machine to fresher faces like Elizabeth Olsen‘s guilt ridden Scarlett Witch and Sebastian Stan‘s manipulated Bucky “Winter Soldier” Barnes. Yet, Captain America: Civil War still manages to introduce new characters to the MCU with the perfect amount of screen time even with such an ensemble cast. Chadwick Boseman‘s Black Panther is an refreshingly serious non-quippy character who shows the direct result of the international relations of the universe breaking down. In contrast, Tom Holland‘s endearingly earnest & geeky Spider-Man provides a wonderful heart for even the limited amount of time he’s onscreen. Hell, even Daniel Bruhl‘s villain character has a rather limited onscreen role and a plan that’s rather elaborate, but manages to morph into one of Marvel’s most compelling, sympathetic and successful villains… which is to say he’s one of the very few worth remembering outside of Loki.
Captain America: Civil War is spectacle with equal parts brains and dazzle. It balances out the heartfelt character interactions with intimidating implications of a universe crumbling under its feet. Much of that weight does hinge on the building of a larger story that has been going on for eight years, but the major conflict of the hero registration act is fully developed on its own terms. Each blow is wonderfully executed in these visceral action sequences, but there’s plenty of story and character to back it up. We want to see the glorious spectacle unfold, yet we don’t want to see these team mates fall at each others’ hand. It’s a rare modern summer blockbuster that has actual consequences and weight to it. There are no easy answers in Captain America: Civil War, except for this one: it is the best MCU film to date and is definitely a crowning achievement in the genre overall.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Vision Sweaters