It is an inevitability that you’re going to immediately compare Captain America: Civil War to Batman v Superman. Their core is simply heroes fighting heroes, but it is fascinating how differently they tell their stories. The obvious winner in the clash of these films is Civil War and the reason is apparent: An ideological distinction between sides is developed and debated so that when the fists fly there is an actual reason.
If you haven’t watched the previous films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) then it would make Civil War a fairly impenetrable film. Like the comic books that inspired these films, they are essentially soap operas in spandex. Despite the perilous possibility of falling into high camp, Civil War balances its over the top battles with well written and developed discussions on the nature of responsibility and consequences.
After a long run of 9/11 scale battles, the governments of the world wish to reign in the Avengers. A plan is presented that would tie the team to the United Nations. This means they would not act unless the UN passed a resolution allowing them to do so. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr) has been feeling guilt over his role in the Ultron debacle and wants to sign right away. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is hesitant to give his autonomy over so quickly. It makes sense, Steve is the product of a nation’s desire to create a human weapon. Everything goes south when Steve’s old partner turned Hydra killing machine, Bucky is implicated in a terrorist attack. The heroes choose sides, battles take place, and the film turns the superhero formula on its head by ending not in a battle through a city but in a brutal, and surprisingly emotional, battle between three heroes in Siberia.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that Spider-Man name drops Empire Strikes Back mid-way through the film. In the same way that Empire served to disrupt and reshape the status quo of the Star Wars universe, Civil War is out to accomplish the same goal. The purpose of the Avengers is in question. The relationships of heroes that joined together under tenuous circumstances are torn apart. The film sets up many questions but doesn’t provide answers. I suspect those answers will be the next two Avengers films the Russo Brothers are set to direct.
There are so many new and interesting elements introduced in this film. What I liked about them was that they didn’t come across as shoehorned by the studio to set up future films. Think of the Thor vision scene from Ultron and how it hamfistedly worked to get us thinking about his next film, rather than add to the film we were currently watching. Black Panther, played brilliantly by Chadwick Boseman, has a full character arc that affect the plot of the film in an important way. Helmut Zemo changes up the big bad supervillain formula the films have follows thus far. By the end of the film, it’s hard not to have conflicting feelings about his actions and their reason. Plot threads have valid conclusions while still hinting at future stories.
The one issue a film like Civil War can have is the feeling of character bloat. While new faces like Spider-Man feel like they get enough attention and development in relation to their purpose, I was a little let down by how little we learn about Scarlet Witch. Scarlet’s role in the story is fairly crucial, her actions are the inciting incident that lead to the conflict in the film. She’s fresh to the MCU, having only seen her in Age of Ultron previously. It would have been nice to see her character fleshed out more, but that would have been hard to do because of the previously mentioned overflowing cast list.
Civil War is a step in the right direction for the MCU. Critics and viewers has begun speculating as of late that the franchise’s luck was going to wear out soon, but I think there is a lot of story potential still left. The Russo Brothers are a great replacement for the Whedon-led Avengers. They directed the best Marvel film to date, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and I feel confident in their ability to give a different, more grounded take on these characters. Previously, the next two films were planned to be the two part Infinity War, a massive coming together of all the franchise elements. Recently the Russo Brothers announced the two films would not be directly connected and I think that was a smart choice. Keeping each film’s plot tight and singularly focused will keep them from falling into the trap of Batman v Superman, where previewing the next films became more important than telling a good story in the present.