Its title notwithstanding, Captain America: Civil War definitely feels like an Avengers movie. The core of the film belongs to Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), sure, but the impressive number of superheroes who appear makes it clear that this is really an ensemble picture.
Following several events of large-scale destruction during which innocents were harmed or even killed, the governments of the world—or at least 117 of them—demand that the Avengers agree to oversight and accountability by means of the Sokovia Accords. That causes tension in the team and eventually splits it into two groups. Captain America leads the superheroes who want to remain free of government interference: Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., still perfect in the role he was born to play) becomes the leader of the proponents of the Sokovia Accords: Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, once again great in the part), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Bettany), and newcomers T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, charismatically enigmatic) and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland, instantly likable). The situation escalates, and former allies become enemies of sorts. The mysterious Zemo (Daniel Brühl, excellent) schemes in the background, but with one half of the Avengers fighting against the other half, the villain proper is of secondary importance for much of the movie.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo combined action and drama very well in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. With Captain America: Civil War, they prove it wasn’t a fluke, navigating with seemingly little effort between intense action set pieces at one end of the spectrum and poignant character moments at the other. Meanwhile, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s multilayered screenplay adds more nuance to the characters and provides reasonable motivations for the superheroes on each of the two opposing sides. However, neither Trent Opaloch’s cinematography nor Henry Jackman’s music score is particularly memorable.
Black Panther and Spider-Man are introduced into the story in a way that doesn’t feel forced and that spices up the proceedings. Thankfully, the film only hints at their respective origin, which effectively whets one’s appetite for the coming standalone movies that will feature these two superheroes. I’m genuinely excited by the prospect of seeing more of both Black Panther and Spider-Man on the big screen (yes, I am well aware that the latter has appeared in two versions in a total of five feature films, but the difference now is Marvel’s direct involvement), largely thanks to the magnetic, scene-stealing performances from Boseman and Holland.
Zemo’s plan is not as generic as one might think. Late in the movie comes an intriguing twist with regard to the villain’s actions. At that point, Brühl’s understated turn evokes in the viewer something that approaches sympathy for Zemo.
The action sequences are appropriately spectacular and guaranteed to make one’s inner comic-book fan cheer with delight. That goes especially for the awesome showdown between the superheroes, one of the highlights of Captain America: Civil War, set at an airport in Berlin, Germany; it might be the most comic-booky fight yet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Just when one thinks one has seen everything, that happens (no spoilers, but anyone who has seen the film knows what I’m referring to). The memory of the sequence in question as such and the feeling it gave me won’t be fading away anytime soon.
Being the culmination of the conflict that fuels the narrative, the final superhero confrontation delivers a powerful emotional punch. The viewer knows and cares about the characters involved, which makes it mentally painful to watch them fight against one another.
There’s a lot going on here, obviously. With a running time of almost two and a half hours, this is a long but certainly never dull movie. It loses momentum during a few stretches but picks up again before long, helped by Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt’s efficient editing.
“Consequences” is the operative word in Captain America: Civil War, as the film brings to the forefront and embraces its political and ethical themes. For all its entertaining superhero antics, the movie has the lasting impact that it does by tackling serious issues in an intellectually engaging way.