‘Captain America: Civil War’ Review | Why We Fight
At the center of Captain America: Civil War is a fight scene so thrilling that it must be seen to be believed. We like to think that we have already perfected the superhero genre, or at least that we’ve got it down to a theoretical science, but we sometimes forget that there a lot of things that comic books can do that movies can’t. Or at least that they couldn’t do until very recently.
With so many superheroes finally introduced, established, dramatized and accepted, the time has finally come for Marvel Studios to be able to play with them without the limitations of old-fashioned storytelling conventions. It is now possible to call in characters from other franchises in the middle of a completely different movie, just because it would be entertaining to do so, and to have all of those pieces in the toy chest duke it out at once without anyone being confused. What’s more, it’s possible to introduce wholly new concepts for those characters in the middle of a fight scene in somebody else’s film. It is possible to show off what every superhero can really do in the biggest, most elaborate brawl in the history of the genre.
And most importantly it is possible to feel something in the process. Captain America: Civil War may exist to make all of Marvel’s superheroes fight each other, and that might even have been fun enough in a vacuum, but after watching a dozen films featuring these characters, their every punch now carries a meaningful weight. They’re fighting over philosophies, over the plot, or over nothing at all. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that these are people we know and love, fictional though they may be, and they are trying to hurt each other and we want them to stop. But only after a few minutes because when they fight it’s really cool.
Captain America: Civil War has a storyline, and it’s a rather complicated one. That’s actually the film’s biggest flaw, the fact that it’s a little too big for its britches and relies overmuch on concepts that fall apart under close scrutiny. There is a scheme underway that makes very little sense once we find out what it actually is, but it’s only revealed right at the very end and by that point you’re too invested to focus on any of those little details. You might scratch your head about it when you get home, and write an annoyed social media post, but you won’t actually care while you’re watching the film and that is the mark of good entertainment.
After the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron, the world is understandably rather concerned about the fact that our mightiest heroes can’t seem to save any lives without destroying other lives in the process. Tony Stark, who was nursing a new batch of bad baggage already, decides to put the Avengers under the jurisdiction of the United Nations, but Captain America – who kind of got screwed over by a corrupt bureaucracy already – now balks at the idea of being somebody else’s weapon.
When a tragedy occurs, and someone close to Captain America is put in the crosshairs, the schism between the Avengers widens and Captain America and Iron Man are forced to assemble their own separate teams. Both sides think that they’re doing the right thing, and it’s to Captain America: Civil War’s credit that they’re each right about 50% of the time. The irony that this film basically just exists to get costumed do-gooders to hit each other and is also playing at moral and ethical complexity gets a little lost here. But unlike the comparable superhero fight film Batman v Superman, this movie focuses more on the characters and less on their function in a nonsensical plot.
This movie isn’t about killing someone you don’t know, it’s about coming to blows with someone you do know, and that’s simply more involving. And even though the stories of both films are similar, Captain America: Civil War spends less time talking about its lofty concepts and more time on action, escalation and introducing new elements that please us, as opposed to just tease us.
Captain America: Civil War also introduces two new characters to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman, and Spider-Man, played by Tom Holland. One of these characters is important to the plot and the other is essentially an extended cameo that adds little to the story but injects a lot of good-natured charm. Black Panther contributes the sympathetic element. He is a hero on the verge of a difficult moral choice. But Spider-Man adds a sense of wonder that would be dangerous to leave out of these movie, especially now that so many of the other Marvel characters have been around long enough to grow tired of costumed crime-fighting for its own sake. Both actors are, to their credit, just about perfect in their individual roles, and the prospect of their own individual franchises continuing beyond this is exciting indeed.
The Russo Brothers, Joe and Anthony, have a knack for balancing all of the uneven elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Captain America: Civil War may be a bit unwieldy, and sometimes even outright clunky, but this film doesn’t pause long enough to for us to take stock any flaws. It’s too busy humming along, giving you every cool thing you ever wanted to see and then dashing off to the next cool thing, and so on. It is entertaining without being fluffy. It has consequence without being dire. It is the floor of a child’s bedroom, covered in action figures who are perpetually in mid-conflict, whose limitations have yet to be discovered. And it bears the unmistakable promise of an thrilling future filled with even more imaginative joy.
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.