When The Avengers came out in 2012, it seemed like the ultimate climax of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of course, it was simply the climax to the first act of what would ultimately be three (or four) phases, each with their own Avengers capper.
The worry that came with that, particularly after the behemoth scale of The Avengers, was… How could Marvel hope to top (or even just equal) a supergroup movie with more standalone pictures hinged on individual superheroes, without just creating the impression of the franchise just spinning its wheels?
Marvel being the Pixar it currently is, they pulled it off. Not only that, but despite the fact The Avengers: Age of Ultron proved to be even better than The Avengers, it was outdone by Captain America: The Winter Soldier — the best movie Marvel had yet made, despite it being a sequel to the worst they’d made.
And that was before a superhero war broke out.
All the Marvel movies may have been building toward a final showdown with the galactic villain Thanos, but they’ve also been examining the cost of heroism, the price of freedom, and the balance of lives lost in the pursuit of saving lives. It all comes to a head in Captain America: Civil War.
Building not just on the two Captain America movies but on both Avengers movies as well, Civil War begins with a catastrophe that kills innocent civilians, caused by two Avengers. After all the lives lost from superhero-related battles around the globe, it’s the last straw in forcing the world to turn against the superheroes and insist on making them accountable to the U.N.
After being responsible for more deaths and damage than anyone, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is all for making them an accountable arm of global defence, even if that means going on missions the U.N. orders them to. Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), who has witnessed first-hand over the last century all the government abuses of power and the horrors done in the interest of “protection,” is vehemently opposed.
When all the Avengers are ordered to sign the Sokovia Accords (which will govern their behaviour and make unapproved superheroics a criminal act), they schismatize into two camps. Stark leads those who believe that without checks and balances, they’re no worse than the villains they fight. Rogers leads those who believe that all organizations can be corrupted and that their own powers are too dangerous to leave in the hands of governments.
While this is a Captain America movie inasmuch as it continues the story of Rogers’ relationship with his childhood friend James “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), it almost feels like an Avengers movie, but with the fight coming from inside the group rather than out. And as controversial as it was to say last year The Avengers: Age of Ultron was superior to The Avengers, let me know boldly state that Civil War is better than both.
All apologies to Joss Whedon, but director brothers Joe and Anthony Russo (who also helmed The Winter Soldier) do it better in every way here. (Good thing, too, since they’re going to be directing the final two Avengers movies.) The visuals are just as impressive without being as ostentatious, the fight scenes are more intelligibly choreographed, and the conversations mean more.
In fact, the dialogue in this movie is of a much higher calibre than Marvel has ever delivered before. As enthralling as the action sequences are — and they truly are, particularly a riveting showdown at an airport — they’re equalled by insightful, eloquent deconstructions of what it means to be a superhero. The action feels like Spider-Man 2, but the conversation feels like My Dinner with Andre.
Speaking of Spidey, there are a number of new additions to the fold, most famously the webslinger Marvel sold off to Sony years before launching the MCU and finally secured to rights to again just last year. Played now by Tom Holland, Spider-Man fits well into the mix, while feeling refreshingly different (in the same way Chris Pratt and Paul Rudd did in Marvel movies before him).
The standout newbie, though, is Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, Prince of Wakanda. The less said about his character and the role he plays in the film itself the better, but it’s a combination of character and actor that works wonderfully. Boseman already proved himself an wonderful actor in 42 and Get on Up, and T’Challa argues an airtight case for his future stardom.
Pitting superhero against superhero may seem a hot trend, so few weeks after the release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but the two films couldn’t be more different, either in motivation or execution. While Dawn of Justice had about as much logic behind its dumb story as “they should fight because it’d be cool,” Civil War uses the rift between Iron Man and Captain America to examine complex moral issues. Even then, it doesn’t give you any easy answers. If you’re going into Civil War firmly encamped as either “Team Cap” or “Team Iron Man,” don’t expect a simple, happy ending.
It’s hard to see where the franchise goes from here, with the scale Civil War builds to on the shoulders of the pictures before it. Then again, we said the same after The Avengers came out, and here we are seven movies later, three of which have transcended it.
Is this the greatest Marvel movie yet? No. That honour still belongs to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, by a narrow margin. (Civil War could use a slightly more focussed plot.) At this point, though, despite the awful first impression of The First Avenger, the Captain America series currently stands as the greatest arm of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — Avengers included.