The Marvel films cover some pretty basic templates. They are particularly familiar to those who read the comics. From the origin story to the massive crossover Marvel Studios have covered some pretty standard tropes closely. So it’s only natural for them to do the hero vs hero fight next. And there is no better story to use as a template than 2007’s Civil War. After years of mediocre “major” events (the less said about Heroes Reborn the better) Marvel hit the jackpot with this particular crossover. With the current run of success at the movies can they keep it going or will this be their first real misfire?
It’s a year after Ultron’s defeat and the Avengers are tracking down terrorist Crossbones. Things go south when Scarlet Witch’s (Elizabeth Olson) attempt to secure a bomb goes badly and it kills multiple civilians. With this latest set of casualties the UN elects to set up a system of accountability that divides the Avengers. On one side is Captain America (Chris Evans) who is against it and believes superheroes should work without government interference. On the other is Iron Man who believes government oversight (formally called the Sokovia Accords) would help eliminate causalities. With each set in their beliefs their fellow Avengers must choose a side.
Captain America: Civil War has a very tough line to walk to work as a story. Captain America and Iron Man are two of Marvel’s most popular characters and making one of them too villainous could ruin that. Luckily writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely were able to walk the line better than even the comic creators could on 2006. With nearly a decade of films to look at the examples for and against hero registration are quite good with both sides having compelling arguments. A major part of this are the performances of Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. Evans continues his pitch perfect portrayal of the First Avenger showing the more human, less political side of the conflict. Trying to help his best friend Bucky/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Shaw) you can sympathize with him and his reasons for wanting to do this without the UN’s interference.
Even more impressive, at least to me, was Robert Downey Jr’s performance as Tony Stark. It would be easy to make Stark a straight up villain in such an overpowering authoritative role. In fact the comic book version did this constantly to the character’s detriment. Instead they wisely focus more on the victim part of pro-registration. It honestly feels like the conclusion of the arc that started in the first Iron Man film when he held himself responsible for the weapons Stark Industries produced with this being the ultimate progression of that. Downey plays it beautifully showing a very human side to Tony without ever dropping his charismatic cockiness. By the time he finally has to face off with Captain America you feel for him more than ever.
Speaking of which the fights in the film are outstanding. A perfect blend of computer and practical effects they look great. More importantly despite the massive cast everyone gets their moment to shine. When Iron Man fights against Captain America there is a surprising brutality to it as the two have their last stand. Scarlet Witch (who has a pretty nebulous set of powers) is able to show them off in a way that translates to the screen. . Even Hawkeye is more than just “the bow and arrow guy” by assisting Scarlet Witch and Ant-Man in taking on Iron Man. The airport fight teased in the trailer lives up to all expectations and is definitely a contender for action scene of the year.
The other major thing to come out of Civil War are the debuts of Spider-Man and Black Panther. After years of rights issues it is great to see Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While it was little more just an extended cameo to me he was integrated perfectly. Instead of giving him a full introduction or retelling his origin story it was mostly focusing on how Tony Stark contacted him and brought him into the battle. This is the perfect way to bring in a character who’s origin we have seen more than enough. With all due respect to Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield actor Tom Holland may be the best Peter Parker yet. Not only does he actually look like a teenager but he does the fighting one liner bit without over doing it or coming off as too cocky. It’s more a youthful exuberence that only a real teen like Holland brings brings to the role. Then there are the glimpses we get of Spidey in battle. Spider-Man had a fluidity to his motion that are perfect for the character. He goes toe-to-toe with Captain America and at no point is it unbelievable. More importantly at no point did it look too much like a video game. It definitely left me with high hopes for whatever Marvel Studios are cooking up for their resident web slinger.
Even better utilized is the debuting Black Panther. When his father is killed in a bombing at a UN building T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) takes up the mantle of Black Panther to take down who did it. Now I’ll admit going into Civil War I wasn’t too interested in the character. I like the comic version enough but I wouldn’t say he is a favorite of mine. Coming out of the movie I might be most excited to see what he does next. A lot of this being due to the performance of Chadwick Boseman. He brought the character an intensity and regality that no other superhero has right now. I also dug the way he was portrayed in the action scenes. Mostly hand-to-hand combat he had an almost martial arts style to his fights. At this point we already know that there are plans for a Black Panther movie written and directed by Ryan Coogler (Creed) in 2018. After seeing this movie 2018 can’t come soon enough.
And as much as I loved Civil War it isn’t perfect. I swear it’s some kind of curse or something but they still haven’t figured out how to pull off a truly compelling villain. For this movie it is in the form of Helmut Zemo. While he is the mastermind behind the rift within the Avengers he’s actually given very little screen time. Certainly not enough to be too excited to see him in the future. When they do come across something cool, in the case of Crossbones, he is disposed of fairly early on. This movie is lucky that the main conflict between Captain America and Iron Man can sustain the full movie.
That isn’t too say all of the heroes are fully utilized either. Now I understand not everyone can be the focus of the movie. I’m totally fine with that. But it is a bit disappointing to see some people have some interesting development that isn’t delved into more. For example after the botched mission in the beginning Scarlet Witch has difficulty dealing with what happened. Vision is able to help her some but I think you could do more with that. It was also a bummer to see how little Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) would actually do. While they steal the show during the airport battle (especially Ant-Man) the two feel more like cameos than anything else. You could have easily had Hawkeye be more of a paternal figure to Scarlet Witch (which we see briefly) or have an admittedly funny Ant-Man do more than crack jokes. Then again at 2 hours and 30 minutes this may just be too much to include. This may just be me being nitpicky more than anything else.
Since it was announced Captain America: Civil War felt like Marvel’s second take at an Avengers movie. While I will go to bat for Age of Ultron (one incredibly awkward, sexist line aside it holds up) by taking on themes and concluding arcs built up since the first Iron Man it’s hard to deny this feels like a proper end to Marvel’s Phase 2. Given it isn’t perfect thanks to some forgettable villains and a sometimes underutilized supporting cast. But with some fun action and great writing/directing this can easily be forgiven. As the former cornerstones of the Marvel Universe take a back seat (at least for now) and some exciting, new heroes debut things couldn’t look brighter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.