On April 14th, I saw a smart, well crafted, action packed movie that delved into the practical and moral complications of increased government oversight. Also crucial to the film was the storyline of a war hero attempting to protect his best friend from those who want to punished him for acts committed while he was a tortured and brainwashed prisoner of war.
Oh yeah, and there were superpowers.
Captain America: Civil War is a great film. I’m not sure how big a grain of salt you should take that with considering I am a completely unabashed Captain America fan. But judging by the reactions of the audience in my theater, Marvel has a huge hit on their hangs. It’s a movie with a plot rooted so firmly in basic human emotion that it could work without all the enhanced beings. But because it is these superheroes we have grown to care about since Robert Downey Jr. made his debut as Iron Man in 2008, the emotional punches the movie throws have even more of an impact. The movie counts on you caring about Captain America not because he’s an icon, but because he’s a human being you can relate to and have been relating to for years.
Steve Rogers could very easily be a boring character in the wrong hands. He comes alive in the care of Chris Evans and the Russo brothers. There’s been a trend to make heroes interesting by questioning their morality. Some think the only way to make these classic heroes intriguing is to make them and their storylines dark. But with Captain America, Marvel has kept Steve Rogers as the honorable person he is. He has to deal with maintaining his moral code in a modern society that wants nothing more than to beat him down. We saw in The Winter Soldier how he will burn an organization as big as SHIELD to the ground rather that compromise who he is. Civil War takes this to a whole new level.
The way Chris Evans is able to portray Cap was a earnestly good man without putting the soldier on a pedestal where the viewer cannot empathize with him is what has made the Captain America franchise so successful. The Russos also seem to have a true grasp of the character’s motivations that can be harder to see in the Avengers films. He’s motivated to do what is right and will defy authority to do so. And he will sacrifice everything for those he cares about.
Whatever your opinion on the Stucky fandom, it is this friendship that is at the center of the film. Evans and Sebastian Stan’s chemistry is effortless on screen. Even when Bucky is struggling with his memory, Stan is able to bring a humanity to the suffering assassin that allows the audience to see the friendship these men value so deeply. There are certainly moments between the two that will have the more emotional fans reaching for the tissues.
Beyond this, Civil War could very easily have become bogged down by the size of its cast. One thing the Russos are adept in is providing characters with equal importance regardless of their screen time. All characters are given a moment to shine. Their motivations are also always clear. We have some wonderful introductions for Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. Both are standouts that leave you pining for their upcoming standalone features. Additionally, the interactions between Bucky and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon are comedic cold and Paul Rudd’s Ant Man is a scene stealer.
My only criticisms here, and of the film in general, were in Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo and Emily Van Camp’s Sharon Carter. Both actors give good performances, but their presence in the plot at times feels forced. The significant plot development provided by Zemo could likely have been done in another way without him. Without spoiling too much, Sharon Carter provided the one moment in the movie that caused booing in my theater and seems to be in the film largely for that scene. Perhaps when studio heads are less insecure about how their male leads are perceived, characters like Sharon Carter will be treated better.
The aspect of the film people will be talking about most leaving the theater are the action sequences. The airport scene in particular is one of the best I’ve even seen on screen. Period. It walks the line of gritty action and laugh out loud humor while remarkably staying true to the characters and never holding the plot back. This sequence is worth the price of admission alone. Another standout is the first action sequence with Bucky involving an incredible stairwell battle and a race through moving traffic.
The final fight that sees Iron Man battling Captain America and the Winter Soldier is emotionally jarring in its brutality. All three actors have dialogue that’ll make your heart clench. The raw savagery you see from all of them is jarring yet completely understandable. This is because, at this point, they are not being driven by political ideology. They are being driven purely by love.
Perhaps this is why the movie never feels long despite its 147 minute run time. Marvel has put in the time and effort to create people we have all grown to love over years. It then takes these people and puts them into a genuinely great character driven action packed drama. It is spectacular in its simplicity. And audiences will simply be thrilled after viewing.