Captain America: Civil War is the best Avengers movie yet! It deftly weaves both familiar faces and new ones into a fast-paced action adventure that seems to last at least 60 minutes shorter than its two and a half hour running time. It also shows how much fun superheroes fighting each other can be when they have a real reason for doing it. I don’t know how they continue to produce these movies to such success, but the energy of Civil War keeps the Marvel Cinematic Universe as fresh as it was the first time we visited it.
Actually, I do know how they do it. They re-hire directors Anthony and Joe Russo, who previously made my favorite MCU movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They take a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who have both been around for several MCU movies, and inject it with dynamic action sequences supported by true character development and humor. Joss Whedon is great, but The Avengers: Age of Ultron was a bloated mess. I’m thrilled to see that the Russo brothers are steering the ship for the upcoming Infinity Wars.
I’d almost call Civil War a reboot of the MCU, testing different combinations of team members for the day when the big guns may no longer be around. For example, Thor and the Hulk are missing in action. However, we get Black Panther and Ant-Man. Nobody is second tier; a wisecrack from Paul Rudd (Scott Lang, Ant-Man) is as powerful as a witty observation from Robert Downey, Jr. (Tony Stark, Iron Man). In fact, the most consistently funny character in the movie is Sam Wilson (Falcon), played by Anthony Mackie.
Civil War is also a sequel of sorts to The Winter Soldier. The event that splits the heroes into opposing sides is an act of terrorism assumed to be enacted by Steve Rogers’s (Captain America) old friend, Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier. Against the backdrop of an international treaty designed to provide oversight for The Avengers, Rogers (Chris Evans) defends Bucky (Sebastian Stan) and refuses to sign up. At the same time, Stark, guilty over the death and destruction “saving the world” has caused, acts as an enforcer who must bring in the criminal Captain.
Since you don’t just “bring in” a super soldier on a personal mission, both sides gather forces that will ultimately face off at an airfield. Iron Man recruits Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Vision (Paul Bettany) and a surprise guest (see below). Captain America recruits Winter Soldier, Falcon, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) and Ant-Man. The battle is spectacular and, more important than anything, just plain fun.
That’s only ¾ of the way through the movie! Just when you think they find common ground, there’s a surprise that keeps Rogers and Stark fighting. Their differences seem irreconcilable; in fact, the movie may not end up with hugs and kisses among all characters. The weak part of the story is the last act revelation of who and why the entire thing was orchestrated. It’s really not a significant character with a compelling reason. The funny thing is that I don’t care at all. Why it all happens is somehow not that important to the overall political struggle.
I guess it’s not a surprise now, but Civil War introduces the new Spider-man to the official MCU. Tom Holland is absolutely terrific as the web slinger. During battle, he demonstrates a youthful humor from the comics that makes him seem completely original. As Spidey’s alter ego, Peter Parker, though, I wasn’t too impressed. Granted, it’s the first time we’ve seen him and it will take some time getting used to a new actor taking over from Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, but the scene where Stark visits him in Queens brings the action to a screeching halt.
Seamlessly woven into the story are subplots about the public perception of potentially dangerous superheroes, particularly with Scarlet Witch. She’s young and Stark and Vision feel she should be protected. For much of the movie she and Vision are an odd couple isolated within Avengers Tower. The movie also has time to reintroduce ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Emily VanCamp into the action as Sharon Carter, who has a personal connection to Rogers. Their chemistry is palpable and is rewarded in a brief moment that is totally earned.
I haven’t been this excited about a superhero movie or the MCU since… well, The Winter Soldier (excluding Guardians of the Galaxy, which I don’t include at this point). Officially the beginning of Marvel’s “Phase Three,” it breathes new life into the franchise after winding down “Phase Two” with the disappointing Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. This may perfectly explain the magic of Civil War: I disliked Ant-Man, yet in Civil War, he’s one of the best characters. Everything old is new again. I’m definitely on Marvel’s side!