“Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say ‘No, YOU move’.”
That is one of the most famous Captain America lines from the recent run of comics featuring the character. The line is one that Steve Rogers delivers in the comic book Civil War when attempting to express his viewpoint in the war with Iron Man. In the most recent Marvel Studios movie, it is a line said that is said to Steve Rogers by the perfect person in a moment of great importance to the character.
Or maybe it’s the worst possible thing that could have been said to Steve.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR doesn’t tell you which side is right or which side is wrong. It definitely asks the question, but wisely never answers it. It is far too busy being the defining action epic of the decade to put a fancy bow on a subject matter that is too subjective to be cleanly resolved.
The movie follows up on the events of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON by having the United Nations decide that, in the wake of mass destruction that maybe could have been avoided, The Avengers should not be operating without some level of oversight. The Avengers can either step in line or go away. The leader of The Avengers, Captain America, isn’t a fan of this and decides to retire rather than sacrifice his moral code. That is when his childhood friend (and one-time brainwashed Hydra assassin), Bucky, returns to the fray making that retirement an all too temporary status. Tony Stark, whose conscious weighs heavily in the wake of the carnage he wrought, is fully on board with having the U.N. oversight and is tasked with bringing Captain America in.
That’s all I’m going to say about the story before we head into spoilers.
If IRON MAN was the jumping off point of the MCU and THE AVENGERS was the promise of what it could be, then CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is Marvel finally making good on that promise. It is the culmination of all that has come before and makes every bit of storytelling that preceded it more meaningful by simply existing. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON was a flawed entry in the MCU canon and minor disappointment after the soaring highs of the original AVENGERS and the one-two punch of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. However, CIVIL WAR enhances every aspect of that film by paying off story lines that we didn’t even realize they were setting up. Maybe they didn’t realize they were setting them up either, but that just makes the script for CIVIL WAR that much more brilliant. It plays like AGE OF ULTRON: Part Two, CAPTAIN AMERICA 3, IRON MAN 4, and an entirely new AVENGERS film all at once.
And it does so perfectly.
The whole movie plays as a beautiful and horrific piece of pop art with a sense of inevitable emotional doom hanging over every moment from the prologue in Siberia to the big reveal in the third act. No matter how much fun you are having with Spider-Man, Ant-Man, and Hawkeye… You know that this is going to end in tears.
That doesn’t mean that Spider-Man, Ant-Man, and Hawkeye aren’t fun. They are! The movie is extremely entertaining. They wisely bring in characters who aren’t tethered to the emotional core of the story and that way you can have Bucky and Falcon facing off against Spider-Man with all the catchy one-liners a scene like that promises. In fact, this movie is far funnier than most comedies that have been out in the last couple of years. Everything that comes out of Paul Rudd’s mouth is hilarious, as is everything that Tom Holland says when he is suited up as Spider-Man.
Speaking of Spider-Man, this was the third iteration of the character that we have received in ten years. Everyone rolled their eyes when it was announced that they would be rebooting that franchise yet again, regardless of how exciting it was that he could operate within the greater MCU. The second that Tom Holland shows up in the film, however, it was suddenly as if we’d never seen Spider-Man on screen before. His Parker is smart, thoughtful, and nervous. His Spider-Man is eager and won’t shut the hell up. Even in this compact role (he shows up in one scene prior as Peter Parker and then gets to play in the huge, lengthy battle royale at a German airport), Tom Holland walks away as the definitive Spider-Man/Peter Parker and nearly steals the whole damn film with his infectious energy.
It’s hard to say that anyone steals the film, because the film lets every single character have a piece of it. It’s Steve Roger’s vehicle, but every major character gets not only “a hero moment” but several of them and they are all tied to small, but extremely well established, character arcs. Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Falcon, War Machine, and Vision all get great things to do in this movie. Most of all, you just want to call them Wanda, Clint, Natasha, Sam, Rhodey, and… Vision. You love these characters and love spending time with them. When Clint shows up halfway through the movie, you get excited to spend more time with this character that you’ve enjoyed in the other films. It doesn’t hurt that the Russo Brothers and their writers have a superior understanding of each of these characters and provide them all with franchise-best material. I can’t think of a modern action blockbuster that would have delightful moments like Wanda and Vision making dinner or Bucky and Sam in the Volkswagen.
We also get to meet Black Panther. I was expecting his role to be along the lines of how they handled Spider-Man, but he ended up being an integral part of the entire story. Chadwick Boseman’s performance as T’Challa is one of quiet strength and gravitas. The moment that the film ended I was hungry to watch his solo flick directed by CREED’s Ryan Coogler. I have to imagine that those two have something wonderful in store for us. I can’t think of a Marvel movie I’m excited for more than that one. Black Panther is perfectly woven into the narrative of this film and never feels like the movie is biting off more than it can chew in setting up future spin-offs.
That brings up the elephant in the room.
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE.
These two movies have so much in common that is almost makes reviewing one without bringing up the other impossible. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR operates on a level that Zack Snyder could not possibly begin to understand. Mainly because CIVIL WAR loves it’s characters and DAWN OF JUSTICE is constantly either apologizing or bastardizing them. Both of these films are setting up numerous future installments, but one does so by showing mini-trailers on a computer and the other does so by introducing engaging, well-rounded characters that you immediately like. I understand the notion of DC not trying to copy what Marvel is doing. I get that and it makes sense. However, when your distinguished competition’s “thing” is simply making great, entertaining movies… You should consider drinking a little of that Kool Aid.
The big reason this movie works so well are the two main characters. Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. do franchise-best work in this movie. Downey, in particular, is raw and wounded in a way that we have never seen from his Tony Stark and reminds you how exciting it is to have an actor of his caliber in this role. Evans gets to bring Steve’s arc to an incredible close in this film. It’s not a showy role, but Evans is honestly the MVP of the MCU. Captain America could have been a boring, square character that you don’t relate to. Yet Evans imbues him with a warmth and moral code that makes him the character you feel the most connected to. Even when he is making the wrong decision, you understand it and root for him to make it out on the other side unscathed.
Here’s where we are going to get into spoilers. Judging by the opening weekend haul, most of you have probably already seen the film. If you haven’t… I strongly recommend bookmarking this article, checking out the movie, and then returning.
****SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT****
I wanted Steve Rogers to die.
Well, I didn’t want him to die, but I thought it would be an incredible emotional moment for the character and the franchise as a whole if Cap perished at the end of his third movie. He died in the comics and he could die here. It would finally render the whole “No one dies in Marvel movies” complaint moot and you could still find a way to give him a powerful encore in the INFINITY WAR movies by using one of the magic gems.
But they didn’t kill him. The directors and writers are far too smart for that. In this series of CAPTAIN AMERICA films, death is not the end of Steve’s arc. They have him go from soldier to company man to leader to rebel. Having the movie end with Steve busting his friends out of The Raft and seemingly going rogue with his own team is the best way to end a Captain America trilogy. It mirrors one of the first moments of true heroism in the first Captain America movie when he went AWOL to rescue Bucky and the rest of his battalion who were captured by Hydra. The storytelling team decided to transcend instead of destroy and that is always the correct decision.
The villain is also a franchise best. Zemo is not a god, an evil robot, or the leader of a Sci-Fi Nazi offshoot. He’s a man who suffered great loss and is exhibiting extreme patience in his retaliatory actions. His plan isn’t to have helicarriers with guns aimed at innocent bystanders or open a big, blue wormhole to have aliens come through and take over Earth. No, he just wants to hurt The Avengers by facilitating their breakup. And thanks to Black Widow’s action at the end of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, he has the perfect tools to do so. It leads to the best climax of the MCU. It’s not another battle royale. It’s much more brutal and personal than that. It’s two friends: one who has succumbed to revenge and the other trying to stop him from killing his last tie to the past. It’s a heartbreaking sequence and one that won’t soon be forgotten by the characters in the film and the audience watching them.
The Russo Brothers have done incredible work here. This is easily the best Marvel movie and I would go as far as to say it is the best superhero movie ever made as well. I could not be more excited to see how they follow this with their dual INFINITY WAR movies. The future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has never felt more safe and exciting.