Sometimes making the right choice means turning your back on the people you consider closest to you. This is a valuable lesson that Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) learns in Captain America: Civil War, but it’s one that comes with a considerable price. After years spent fighting to make the world a better place, Rogers and his friends in the Avengers must finally face the world and take responsibility for their mistakes, as well as the lives lost in their efforts to keep the world safe. Rogers believes that the number of people killed by his team’s actions are far lower than what the body count would be if they had never intervened at all, but as audiences soon learn not everyone agrees with Cap’s position.
Building on the political paranoia they established with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, directors Anthony and Joe Russo deliver an equally thrilling and far more fun chapter in Marvel’s universe-wide story arc with Civil War while still giving Cap enough time to shine in what is technically his third solo adventure. Of course, at this point in the Marvel movie rollout there are so many characters in play and only so many titles left before everything from the first three phases culminates with Infinity War (which the Russos will also direct) that almost every other character in the MCU is along for the ride. The only ones absent are Thor and Banner, but in their absence audiences are treated to the introduction of both a very young Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and a very bold Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).
The story of Civil War is burdened by the need to tidy up the messes left in the wake of The Winter Soldier and Age Of Ultron. Steve is still trying to find Bucky (Sebastian Stan), who is currently struggling to shake the demons of his past actions, while Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) heads a plan to put the Avengers in check by convincing them to sign a document called the Sokovia Accords that will essentially make them a team of heroes for hire under the control of the United Nations. Several Avengers believe in Stark and the need for something like the Sokovia Accords to exist, including Rogers, but Steve believes relinquishing his ability to choose where his powers can be of service makes him a puppet for someone or some group with motives that may differ from his own. If the previous 12 films in the Marvel cinematic universe have taught us anything it’s that everyone has an agenda, and Steve does not want to become a pawn in someone’s fight for control or power. Tony believes this is an unlikely result of the Accords, and this difference of opinion draws a line between the two friends that ultimately divides the Avengers as a whole.
As the battle over the right way to proceed rages on, the tension between the two sides of the Avengers grows increasingly palpable at a steady pace made possible thanks to an incredibly taut script from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. When things finally reach a boiling point, fans are able to witness what could quite easily be the best battle in comic book movie history, with every single hero in action at once. You see Spider-Man swapping blows with Captain America, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) using her mind to toss Warmachine (Don Cheadle) around as if he were a rag doll, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) taking advantage of his ability to change sizes at a moment’s notice and much more. It’s an incredibly impressive moment that speaks not only to the power of comic book storytelling, but also the incredible filmmaking skills of the Russo brothers. Their ability to create a coherent yet chaotic battle sequence is beyond anything we have previously seen in cinema, and Civil War is their best work to date. I would even consider going as far as to say it may be their best work ever, but since they’ve already been given the reins to Infinity War it’s a little early to make a call like that. What is clear, however, is that they should be the go-to team to tackle big event films from now on.
Performance-wise, everyone brings their A-game to Civil War. Aside from Boseman and Holland, who each have solo films coming in the years ahead, everyone onscreen has tackled their particular role one (Paul Rudd) or several times (everyone else) in the past. The benefit of having a cast that already understands their characters’ motivations is that the film feels more authentic and grounded as a result. These aren’t Hollywood celebrities impersonating fictional heroes, but fully committed actors bringing fiction to life in a way that is nearly indiscernible from reality. If it wasn’t for characters like Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlet Witch you might believe all the tech and enhanced capabilities possessed by the Avengers team came straight out of our world. This is a credit not only to the talent bringing the characters to life, but to everyone involved in the film. From makeup to CGI, the attention to detail is exquisite, and it makes Civil War a far more believable entry in the Marvel canon than many of the previous films.
It feels like we now receive at least one Marvel movie a year that redefines our expectations for superhero films across the board, and 2016 is no exception. From beginning to end, Captain America: Civil War is a thoroughly entertaining and engrossing spectacle that moves the entire MCU forward while still giving its central character an arc all his own. Comparisons to Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice are sure to arise, especially consider the similar sociopolitical themes the titles share, and I feel sorry for anyone trying to claim Zack Snyder made a better film. Even if you like BvS, the action in this film trumps the short-lived battle in that feature tenfold. The Russo Brothers prove with Civil War that they are just as good, if not better, than Joss Whedon and Jon Favreau at delivering big-budget epics, and I cannot wait to see what they do when given even more characters to play with for Infinity War in 2018.