Director: Joe and Anthony Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Sebastian Stan, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Daniel Bruhl
An Avengers film in all but name, Captain America: Civil War whipped would-be audiences into a complete and utter frenzy from the very first trailer – a trailer which promised to see the entire MCU split down the middle and forced to take sides as members of either “Team Cap” or “Team Iron Man”.
Social media lit up with the excitement of seeing these iconic characters going head-to-head, with hashtags and playful rivalries forming across the internet (a stark contrast to the hate-filled, toxic rivalry between the MCU and the DCU – but that’s a different story entirely), and that’s even before they dropped that trailer featuring a certain friendly neighbourhood web-slinger.
The Russos continue their Bond-movie-without-Bond approach here, never more apparent than it is during the opening scene which sees Cap and his team taking down Brock Rumlow – now in full-fledged “Crossbones” mode – following a series of typically well-choreographed action sequences. With Thor and Banner off having their own intergalactic adventure (more on that later) and Vision sidelined for the bulk of the movie, this feels like a far more realistic, far more grounded MCU, and even the more ‘comic booky’ parts of the story – such as Wanda’s “Scarlet Witch” powers – are given a real world edge courtesy of her mistake that ends up costing several innocent lives, serving as the catalyst for a worldwide push for Avenger accountability.
Amidst all the carnage, twists and turns, the Russos also do a fantastic job of introducing two Marvel heavy-hitters in the form of Spider-Man and Black Panther, giving us enough of each character’s personality to set up their own solo movies effectively, but doing so without bogging down the overall narrative in the process. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that both new faces are perfectly cast, with Chadwick Boseman’s stoic, intense T’Challa providing a key driving force to the story, and Tom Holland’s Peter Parker giving us a younger, far more naive version of Spidey than we’ve seen on the big screen to this point.
The friction between Cap and Stark has clearly been simmering since their initial meeting way back in the first Avengers movie, and the Russos do a fantastic job of making each man’s position relatable and somewhat defensible. There are no right or wrong answers here, just a complex, morally challenging situation (even though Cap is clearly in the right, right?) which helps to give the movie one of the strongest narratives of the MCU so far.
While it does sag a little in the middle, the final hour is one of the absolute best in the history of the MCU, packed with fan service and fiercely emotional beats, and managing to deliver some genuinely high stakes without having to resort to dropping some giant CGI thing out of the sky (again). Indeed, from the moment we travel to Queens, the movie kicks into a totally different gear with an air-punchingly awesome airport skirmish followed by a smaller, deeply personal showdown in the Siberian Hydra base.
Which leads me to the villain himself. On paper, Helmut Zemo is yet another cookie-cutter bad guy out for revenge, but Daniel Bruhl’s typically stellar performance adds some much-needed depth to the character. It also doesn’t hurt that, unlike almost every villain to come before him, Zemo’s plan actually works, permanently altering the future trajectory of the MCU in the process. Yes, it’s incredibly convoluted, almost to the point of absurdity, but the payoff is delivered with surgical precision by the Russos, and, perhaps most importantly, by Downey Jr himself.
At the end of the day, while the first Avengers movie will always be the most excited I’ve been in a movie theatre since I first saw Jurassic Park in my early teens, and Winter Soldier remains nothing less than an absolute masterclass in making a thoroughly believable comic book movie, Civil War is right there in the mix when it comes to discussing the absolute best of the MCU so far. Tonally impeccable and managing to blend spectacle, humour and gravitas into an utterly gripping two and a half hours, this is a perfect example of just how great these ‘silly comic book movies’ can be – in the right hands, of course.