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Captain America: Civil War Review

By  · Published on May 4th, 2016

Captain America: Civil War Is Exactly What You Want in a Superhero v Superhero Movie

Big action, intimate drama, and laughs. Lots and lots of laughs.

There were reasons to be concerned.

Not only was a third Captain America film faced with the daunting task of being the follow-up to what is, arguably, the best entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – The Winter Soldier – but it’s also absolutely stuffed to the edge of the screen with heroes, villains, and passersby. Overpopulation is an issue that’s hurt Marvel films as far back as Iron Man 2 and as recently as Avengers: Age of Ultron, and with the dissatisfying taste of the latter still fresh in our memory the prospect of another double-digit hero roster was worrisome.

Turns out there’s no reason to be concerned after all, so go ahead and box up that worry and mail it to 4000 Warner Blvd, Burbank, CA 91522. Not only is Captain America: Civil War a top-tier Marvel film, but it’s also a terrific example of blockbuster entertainment that succeeds as well in its quiet moments as it does in its more bombastic. Familiar characters shine alongside star-making turns from newcomers, and action beats land with alternating laughs and dramatic weight. Best of all, and as they did with the previous Captain America film, directors Anthony Russo & Joe Russo deliver an epic adventure that finds its greatest power by scaling back the superhero antics to reveal the human combatants at their core.

Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) leads an Avengers-lite team into Nigeria in pursuit of Crossbones (Frank Grillo), but the ensuing scuffle results in collateral damage including several dead locals. Called to task by world governments tired of seeing their civilians pay the ultimate price, the Avengers are “asked” to sign an international accord putting them under the control of a committee who would determine which missions they can or cannot undertake.

Rogers refuses with the certainty that handing control over to the political whims of others is not the answer, but Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) argues the opposite saying their collective powers should not be left unchecked in light of the damage they’ve already caused. The accord moves forward, but when a devastating attack leaves carnage in its wake with evidence pointing to the Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) as the culprit the Avengers’ differing ideologies turns to all out war. The two men, already used to butting heads as competing leaders of the Avengers, build teams of like-minded heroes around them and get to punching.

Mark Millar’s popular Civil War comic from 2007 serves as more of an inspiration here than a template as writers Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely readjust that epic conflict with a more intimate focus on themes of guilt, grief, and revenge. We still get a beautifully-constructed face-off between a dozen heroes, but the character work afforded Captain America and Iron Man across seven earlier movies comes to an explosive head that imbues the action with more than simple entertainment. The former’s inflexible integrity, the latter’s unquenchable ego, and their begrudging relationship are doused with the guilt of fallen friends and strangers alike and set ablaze by the fiery insistence of their convictions.

You’ll come for the big, colorful clash that feels like fun, but you’ll stay for the personal, bloody brawl that threatens to result in far more than mere bruises.

But hot damn is the multi-hero clash and a thing of pure joy. Coming after a long stretch of dramatic chatter and smaller action beats, the eventual face-off between the opposing sides is a ridiculously fun sequence with the Russo brothers crafting the action so that each participant gets their time in the limelight. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), and Vision (Paul Bettany) fight with Stark while Rogers is joined by Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The face-offs are creatively staged and exciting in the moment, and they’re often made even more engaging and amusing through knowledge of traits and relationships built across earlier films.

Two newcomers make their MCU debuts here, and both leave you immediately craving more. Rather than offering slight teases via mid-credits scenes (typical Marvel) or grainy video footage (shame on you DC), both Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and Black Panther/T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) arrive here fully formed and present across multiple scenes. Spider-Man in particular pops with the same electric energy and wit of Quicksilver’s debut in X-Men Days of Future Past, and Holland nails the teen hero’s youthful goofiness and charm. The cynics among you will see their presence merely as advertising for impending solo films, but the rest of us can accept that while simultaneously enjoying the hell out of their time here.

One potential issue inherent in the idea of heroes fighting heroes is the common sense knowledge that nothing we’re seeing is permanent. They’re fighting because the script demands it, but while bad guys can be vanquished and possibly killed we know everyone here is going to be fine. That awareness makes it difficult to present these squabbles in an overly serious manner, and to that end the film injects the centerpiece battle with numerous gags and funny bits of dialogue making it an even more entertaining set-piece.

An abundance of characters often means a shortage of character, and while this is unavoidably as much an Avengers film as it is a Captain America film our patriotic hero remains on center stage. The Rogers/Evans combination remains one of the MCU’s most perfect pairings (with the other being Stark/Downey Jr.), and once again we’re given a character and performance that feels far weightier and more effortlessly charming than typical comic book fare delivers.

Also, as is again typical for the Captain’s adventures, much of the action has a more grounded, less CG-animated feel to it. Big set-pieces and certain characters are exceptions of course, but there’s quite a bit of gun play and fisticuffs on display here brought to life with real (stunt) people and only enhanced digitally. Oddly, early fights appear to be edited by someone told to replicate the films of Paul Greengrass even though their only exposure to his work is through the bitchy tweets of his detractors. They’re cut too quickly and cropped too tightly. The issue is quickly resolved for the remainder of the film resulting in far more enjoyable fight sequences, although – and I say this as someone who loves fight sequences – at nearly two and a half hours the film’s endless pummeling (punch! kick! fall down! stand up! repeat!) threatens a feeling of repetitiveness more than once. It never actually crosses that line, but it comes uncomfortably close.

Civil War is tremendously enjoyable blockbuster entertainment, and while it probably won’t bring new converts to the MCU it shows what’s possible in big summer movies when all the pieces fall perfectly in place. Bring on the Russo brothers’ Avengers: Infinity War!

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.