The challenge in critiquing a movie two weeks after the first reviews became public is to not simply ape all the reviews that came before, but to also resist the urge to purposely challenge the consensus that has emerged.
So to combat that, we’re going to skip reviewing a premise and a plot that Newsarama readers already well know, but also hopefully dive deeper than most, more mainstream reviews might. Yes, Captain America: Civil War is a really good film and worthy of the time of any Marvel, superhero and/or just effective action-adventure film fans. Feel free to jump off now if that’s all you’re looking to know.
Still with us?
Okay then, Civil War is also not the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe installments – which is praising it with faint damnation if there ever was such a thing.
The third act of Marvel’s The Avengers remains the individual high note of franchise. Civil War’s now famous-even-if-you-haven’t-seen-it-yet airport superhero showdown tries to top the playfulness and organic joy of the first full-on Avengers gathering (of which Thor and Hulk – the absent here – played such a big role), but maybe indulges in a a little excess fanboyism. Its signature moment (which we won’t spoil here) could probably have worked better over a few limited minutes, instead of the extended period it plays out over.
Overall, Civil War’s predecessor The Winter Soldier by of course the same directors and writers – Joe and Anthony Russo, and Steve McFeely and Chris Markus, respectively – remains the series high note by a length. What works slightly against Civil War in comparison is the constant globetrotting that also worked somewhat against last year’s Age of Ultron.
Winter Soldier’s intimate, near claustrophobic Washington D.C. setting (with brief sojourns to the Indian Ocean and New Jersey) helped heighten and focus the conspiracy-heavy paranoia of its plot. Civil War is similarly driven by the secret machinations of a behind-the-scenes manipulator, but that sense of events closing in around the Avengers is compromised somewhat by the larger scale and constant jumping from exotic location to exotic location. Civil War is the friend you really genuinely like but just won't sit still for a second.
If the Quinjet has a frequent flier program, maybe the fourth film in the series should be “Captain America: The Free Bermuda Vacation.”
Civil War also suffers just a little bit from a third act that knowledgeable MCU fans will likely figure out based on the events of previous films in the series (and in fact, we did, but don’t click if you don’t want to be spoiled). While more casual moviegoers might not see the plot point the climactic scene relies on coming (I recall a fellow attendee of a Winter Soldier screening gasping in surprise at the Bucky reveal), it’ll be harder to keep hardcore fans from putting the pieces together earlier in the film.
What does work is the Russos and their screenwriters not only managed to recapture the effective juxtaposition of colorful comic book superheroes and earnest thriller storytelling without taking itself too seriously, they’ve actually improved upon the unique tone they established in Winter Solider.
Cap, Iron Man and their fellow Avengers talk and think more than ever before, further establishing a world that isn’t that far removed from the grounded Bond or Bourne franchises. And that’s a good thing. The action set pieces compliment the storyline, and not the other way around, although the airport scene can’t hide its fabricated necessity.
As far as the new players go, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man gets trapped in comic relief mode more than necessary, making his role feel ... well ... small. He might not have a single line that isn’t a punchline and even his big contribution to the showcase fight scene is played a tad too much for laughs.
Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is off to a promising start. As Newsarama has detailed before, Marvel seems to be taking its cue from its own animated Spider-Man and positioning his role in the MCU to be more about quippy, hyperactive joy and less about hard-luck angst. Spider-Man is Iron Man without the ego or baggage. It was both an astute and necessary reaction to what in retrospect was Sony’s ill-conceived decision to tell the story of Gwen Stacy’s death in their last Amazing Spider-Man outing.
But it is Chadwick Boseman’s debut as Black Panther that is maybe the very best thing Civil War has going for it. Every time he exits the frame you cannot wait for him to come back. Despite just a supporting role, T’Challa may have instantly debuted as the MCU’s most fully realized character and is maybe already on the receiving end of the MCU’s most fully realized story arc.
Boseman is at one time magnetic, noble, sympathetic, dangerous and new, and the nearly two years wait until his 2018 solo film brimming with potential will be a challenge for fans. Chalk Black Panther up on top of our most-anticipated MCU film list.
Even if Civil War doesn’t quite match the joy of discovery that was the last 30 minutes of The Avengers or Winter Soldier’s tonal shift, its utility in moving the MCU forward works at a demonstratively better level than the slighly awkward Age of Ultron and acts as a promise of a very intriguing future. How the Winter Soldier/Civil War creative team is going to marry the more grounded flavor of their films with the more cosmic/comic book event-ish necessities of the Infinity War movies will be, if nothing else, a grand and fascinating Marvel Studios experiment.