What’s remarkable about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), now in its 13th incarnation with Captain America: Civil War, is how the scale of the projects and sheer number of characters never seems too big. Sure, this is its longest movie yet at 147 minutes, but Civil War doesn’t slight anyone, is good for a few laughs and great action scenes, and it progresses the MCU’s overarching story forward in smart, logical ways. I’m not sure anything more could be expected of the $200-million-plus production.
As you’ve probably seen from the onslaught of Civil War publicity, the movie pits Captain America (Chris Evans) against Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). The reason they’re fighting is a good one: Citing the mass destruction of New York City, Washington D.C., Sokovia (the fictional city ruined at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron), and at the start of this film, Lagos, Nigeria, Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) tells the Avengers the governments of the world want supervision over the superheroes. Captain America doesn’t want to answer to anyone, and gets Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and, later, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), to agree with him. Iron Man thinks someone keeping them in check is a good idea, and has Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Bettany), newcomer Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and, later, Spider-Man (Tom Holland), in his corner.
So the teams are chosen, the battle lines are drawn. And when the two sides duke it out on an airport tarmac, it’s one of the best, most enjoyable and surprising action sequences Marvel Studios has ever put on film. It’s moments like these that remind us why we go to these movies, and when they’re done this well, there’s a special sense of exhilaration far more profound than normal.
Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo directed, and just as they did with Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), they provide a thought-provoking dilemma. Whereas Winter Soldier dealt with how far government surveillance should go, Civil War debates whether the Avengers should operate freely or only with permission. Given how corrupt government organizations can be, it’s understandable that Captain America would refuse to trust anything other than his own virtuous instincts. But as Iron Man points out, far too much damage has been suffered and things have gone wrong too easily for the Avengers to continue as they are. Both sides have valid points, and more important, the debate engages the viewer intellectually, which is something movies of this ilk rarely do successfully.
Complicating matters is Cap’s relationship with Winter Soldier, framed for a bombing by former Sokovian intelligence agent Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl). Helmut’s motivations run deeper than just the Winter Soldier, and as they manifest, the plot juicily thickens.
Spider-Man and Black Panther make their debuts in the MCU here, and Ant-Man appears for the first time in an ensemble piece. Panther has the larger role, but Spidey and Ant-Man, thanks to Holland and Rudd, nearly steal the movie with their humor and creative fighting talents. It’s such a smart move to bring all three characters in: We know how the other Avengers fight, so fresh faces providing twists and turns works wonderfully to keep the action dynamic and exciting.
With new characters (Doctor Strange) and sequels Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok) on the horizon, it appears the next time we see the Avengers in full could be two years from now in Avengers: Infinity War — Part One. That’s OK — it’s time to let others do some heavy lifting, and Captain America: Civil War is good enough to keep us satisfied for a long time.