Now that they are 13 movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel president Kevin Feige and the rest of his brain trust can do almost whatever they want and have it be successful. The latest, Captain America: Civil War, is an Avengers movie without being called one by name, a subtle difference that allows it to advance the larger MCU narrative while still telling a stand-alone story.
Following the last Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier, and Avengers 2, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) finds himself at a crossroads personally and professionally. Fallout from Avengers missions around the globe have led to a call for greater oversight on the superhero group, an idea Rogers objects to but one which Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) thinks might be necessary.
When Rogers’ old friend/new nemesis Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is accused of a bombing he may or may not have committed, the disagreement reaches a boil, pitting not only Captain America against Iron Man but also forcing other Avengers like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to choose sides.
Coming so soon after another superhero face-off in Batman v Superman, it’d be easy to dismiss this movie as a tired, unimaginative way to insert conflict where none is needed. But directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely make the movie about way more than just the spectacle of the superheroes fighting each other.
For one, they keep the story relatively focused, allowing the details of the escalating argument to be laid out in precise and understandable terms. Side stories such as the introduction of T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) are integrated so well into the flow of the plot that they never become a distraction.
And they also introduce real, human emotions into the proceedings, a concept that is often foreign to superhero movies. The concern over the unintentional but tangible damage the Avengers’ exploits cause sets the stage for final act revelations that are relatable to anybody, superhero or not.
If you’re a fan of the patented lighthearted tone of the MCU, you won’t be disappointed despite the heaviness of much of the film. The big clash between the two sides is notable as much for its great action as it is for the quips that fly back and forth. The presence of new recruits Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) help this aspect immensely; they're there as much for comic relief as for their fighting prowess.
Most of the actors have perfected their takes on their respective roles, leaving any critiques of their performances null and void. Newcomers like Boseman and Holland fit in seamlessly, while Daniel Bruhl offers a nice respite as the low-key villain Zemo.
Captain America: Civil War shows that the overseers of the MCU have yet to rest on their laurels. If anything, given the coming onslaught of Star Wars movies and renewed interest in the DC Comics universe, this film indicates that they are redoubling their efforts to prove their dominance is well founded.