Steve Rogers: We may not be perfect but the safest hands are still our own.
Beware: Spoilers may follow
In 2016 two very different studios released similar movies. They both involved two iconic superheroes whose ideologies go into conflict with one another. They end up going to war with these ideologies all the while undergoing manipulation by a powerful criminal mastermind. The one difference between them is that one turned out successful and the other one did not. And today we’re going to look at the successful one with Captain America: Civil War. This movie had a great deal in its favor including a legitimate and complex dilemma, two sides where neither is fully in the wrong nor in the right, and some amazing action sequences.
During a mission in Lagos led by Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) to stop the evil Brock Rumlow/Crossbones (Frank Grillo) from stealing a powerful weapon. Rumlow causes an explosion and despite Wanda’s attempts to divert the explosion, it results in the death of several Wakandan workers. This event is only one of many grievances civilians have with the Avengers as they are angry over the several past battles they had that resulted in them leaving death and destruction in their wake. Thus Secretary of State Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) presents the Avengers with a document signed by 117 countries called the Sokovia Accords. According to the document the Avengers will be brought under the control of a United Nations panel. They will only be called upon to fight if and when the panel sees fit. If they refuse to comply with the Accords they go into retirement. While Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) supports government control over their actions, Steve does not.
Things only worsen when a bombing occurs during a United Nations meeting in Vienna regarding the Accords’ ratification and Steve’s longtime friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is blamed for it. Steve in attempt to keep his friends safe and independent goes rogue and Ross tasks Tony with bringing him and his friends in. Thus the Avengers are split apart and the Captain America and Iron Man go to war with one another recruiting allies both old and new to their respective causes along the way. Backing up team Captain America are Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Falcon, Bucky Barnes, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Scarlet Witch. Backing up team Iron Man are James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Natasha, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Vision (Paul Bettany).
The story has a lot going on in it including the battle over the matter of the Accords, the tragic death of Tony’s parents, introducing both Spider-Man and Black Panther, balancing out every single superhero involved in the battle, and the mastermind Helmut Zemo’s (Daniel Bruhl) villainous plan. On paper putting all of this into one movie would make it seem like a mess. But the movie knows how to balance these elements and tie them into the main story not to the point that the movie becomes unfocused. It always comes back to the story at hand while, in the case of introducing the new heroes, leaving opportunity to explore in the future.
Despite being called Captain America: Civil War the story involves much more beyond just the titular hero making it feel far more like an Avengers movie than a legitimate Captain America sequel. In fact Zemo’s plan, which ties more into Captain America and Bucky more than anything, mostly feels story driven in a movie that is largely character driven.
The core of this movie is Steve and Tony’s conflict over the accords and that is where the movie shines the brightest. The scene where Tony convinces Steve to sign is a powerful scene in that these two often have clashed with one other in the past due to numerous differences but they understand each other in this scene not only as heroes of the same team but also humans. This scene is no exception to that in that you understand the both their viewpoints. Unlike in something like Age of Ultron where we see Tony’s creation is him making a huge mistake you understand his reasoning here in that he wants to make up for not only his own mistakes but also keep his friends safe. Robert Downey Jr.’s performance does well in portraying the joking nature of the character but also the weight of his actions weighing down upon him with endangering Pepper (who he had broken up with at this point) and creating Ultron endangering not only the Avengers but also several innocent lives. You understand that his own judgment, which often caused all this, isn’t really working and that he sees the Accords as a way of guidance to create the right change. When it comes to Steve, we likewise understand his viewpoint as he is slowly losing his links to the past with the death of Peggy Carter and the fact that he’s had his moral compass ethics be tested by several governments and organization and sees that the Accords are potentially doing the same. And in some ways they did.
In regards to the rest of the side characters like Natasha, Rhodey, Sam, Wanda, etc. they all do rather well and we see how they are ultimately forced to pick sides which results in them and their leads losing a lot as a result with friends becoming foes and trusts being betrayed. Given that almost these characters had been well established prior to this we feel the heart, emotional struggle, and consequences right along with them. This whole conflict challenges the heroes morally and physically in ways that pushed the envelope.
Finally there’s the action itself. The writing does well in building the action scenes giving them a big scale with the bonds our heroes share embodied within the battles themselves. But the Russo brothers did well in staging the action each time. The airport battle is easily my favorite action scene in the movie and one of my favorite Marvel scenes. We see several superheroes showcasing their various gimmicks and it’s furthered through the enjoyable interactions among the heroes both old and new.
The other action scene that stands out is the final battle between Tony, Steve, and Bucky. This once again goes back to Downey’s performance. In the scene where he finds out Bucky killed his parents, you see the rage and heartbreak in his eyes to the point that you’re there right along with him. And you feel that rage in the brute strength in Tony and Steve’s desire to defend his friend in every blow they lay on one another and we truly feel the devastation among the both of them.
If there is one real nitpick about this thing is that Zemo’s plan to take down the Avengers, while it is interesting on paper, it really requires everything going off in the movie without a hitch and as I said before feels much more story than character in sharp contrast to the rest of the movie.
Captain America: Civil War took just a simple matter of the government interfering with out heroes and not only challenged the heroes in a multitude of ways but also audiences. It didn’t have to be dark and brooding to be meaningful. It just had to utilize adult themes and deep character moments but still keeping to the colorful and vibrant parts of what we have grown to love about the MCU. Though the characters lost a great deal from this battle and the perspectives among our leads continue to divide audiences, we as the audience still win another great movie.