In the newest entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ‘Captain America: Civil War,’ relationships are tested, stakes are high, and unlike some other recent comic book slugfests, emotion is duly earned. The film boasts some of the best superhero action yet and balances levity and character-building heft equally well. Brother directors Anthony and Joe Russo are back with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the same team that produced the stellar ‘Captain America: Winter Soldier’, to usher in a very important chapter that grounds this ever expanding universe, flawlessly introduces some new characters, and juggles a sprawling cast deftly. They are able to do so through organically playing off past incidents, the established personalities of the core characters audiences have been following for years, and creatively working in the new ones, in what adds up to an exhaustingly fulfilling movie experience.
Coming off the heels of the destructive events of ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron,’ the heroes are not surprisingly viewed uncertainly by a wary public. While appreciative of the team’s efforts and results in saving the world on multiple occasions, there is a palpable fear around these unchecked ‘enhanced’ individuals’ power. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is feeling the strain the most, seeing as how he inadvertently created the engine of destruction in the malevolent AI, Ultron, while struggling with a responsibility he feels to protect the world populace. This is in direct odds with Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers, a soldier who understands there are casualties of war. An incident early on in this film involving the new Avengers team showed at the end of AoU (financed by Stark), is not only an excellently choreographed, involving action sequence, but a catalyst to create the Sokovia Accords, a global sanction on the powered heroes that requires they submit to Unired Nations oversight.
What’s perhaps most surprising about this film are the thought-provoking themes represented by the dilemmas presented on screen and the various characters’ reactions to these complex conundrums. Since the prior films, and this one, have established these characters so indelibly, their reactions are completely believable and understandable. That themes of unchecked power, registration of identity, consequences for even the most well-meaning of actions, and what it means to be free in America are handled so well in an early summer blockbuster may be the most surprising aspects of the movie. The actors portraying these figures do them no disservice, something fans respect and reward with support.
Just when things start to get heavy though, the film takes a welcome tonal shift that leads to the most incredibly entertaining superhero smack-down ever presented on screen. As Captain America escalates his defiance in defense of what he believes (particularly around his childhood friend Bucky/mind-controlled Winter Soldier), and a nefarious plot brews, teams are set up on either side of the conflict. The battle that ensues takes on the guise of a family disagreement, albeit one where the family can throw trucks at each other, but it effortlessly showcases every hero’s abilities. It’s a shame that the trailers spoiled the re-introduction of everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but fans of the comic book representation of the character will be extremely pleased with the young Tom Holland’s portrayal of the web-head, both in the tights and out. Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man also brings some much needed levity to the extended sequence, but all the actors and effects get a chance to shine here, which bodes very well for the Russos’ ability to handle multiple character interactions as they gear up to take on the next proper Avengers films.
With all the familiar and new faces (Chadwick Boseman’s steely Black Panther is another welcome addition), it would seem that this movie is more of an ‘Avengers’ movie than a ‘Captain America’ one, but as ushered by the screenwriters of both previous Cap films, that’s not the case. It still feels like a Captain America movie with guest stars, finally answering the question of why other heroes don’t show up as often to help the main one out in his/her own movie. As a man out of time, still grasping onto anything familiar, Chris Evans continues his pitch-perfect portrayal, a hero struggling with modern sensibilities in a world that needs some old-fashioned faith and hope . . .
Directed By: Anthony & Joe Russo
Written By: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Running Time: 146 min (stay for both stingers as each is a great lead-in for future films)
* * * * (out of 4 stars) -OR- A