Although I will do my best to keep this a spoiler free review, some important scenes will be discussed and will be marked with **.
The third installment of the Captain America franchise is, arguably, the most anticipated film of the year and has been heralded as the superhero film that will change the landscape of a cinematic world littered with men in spandex. But does the film live up to the intense hype surrounding it?
The answer to that question, I feel, may lie in its comic book counterpart. The Civil War arc in the Marvel comics is just as divisive to the fans as the ‘war’ itself, leaving many fans (myself included) involved in bitter online debates regarding the fates of their favorite heroes. In the comics, the ‘war’ is spurred by the Superhuman Registration Act, which Ironman supports and Cap vehemently opposes. In the film, it is the Sokovia Accords, brought on by the events in Avengers: Age of Ultron. While the Superhuman Registration Act’s function is implied by its name, the Sokovia Accords in the Civil War film are not so clear cut: Tony Stark tells the Avengers that they need to be put “in check” after he’s confronted by a mother who lost her son in Sokovia, and the Accords are meant to ensure that the Avengers (or any other super squad) are not above laws and regulations, so they will be governed by a panel of United Nation members.
However, the Sokovian Accords–while they are a strong reason for division amongst the Avengers–are not at the heart of the conflict. What, then, could drive such a wedge between the team? The Winter Soldier. **When the United Nations holds a summit in Vienna to discuss the Accords, the king of Wakanda is in attendance. A bomb is detonated, and the king is killed. Similar acts have started wars (World War I, for example), and it is for that the king’s son, T’Challa (Black Panther), is set on vengeance against the prime suspect: one Bucky Barnes. From there, Cap races to save his friend (whose tortured background with Hydra is glimpsed) from a son seeking vengeance and from his team, who are now sworn to follow the Sokovian Accords. In the midst of it all, Rogers seeks to expose the plot to frame his friend, and Tony seeks to prevent a bigger war from starting.
These opposing priorities are what really divide Stark and Rogers, and that divide is shown in contrast in the cinematography, the lighting, and even the costuming. Even the most intense fight scenes feel almost like art, as Stark’s flashy red armor is juxtapositioned with Rogers’ simpler, functional blue, and, combined with the sweeping action sequences, there’s no denying that the Russos know how to paint an attractive action film. As a superhero film, it delivers big fights, big heroes (literally), and lots of zingers in between punches. But is that enough? Civil War currently sits at 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, and I have no doubt that it will sit there with a high rating because of the entertainment that it delivers, but for all that the film gave its audience, I left the cinema wondering if something had been missing.
**The first half of Civil War promises to do something few superhero films have done before: hold these incredibly enhanced individuals accountable for their past actions. There is always collateral damage, and while a city falling from the sky works for impressive CGI, it does little to endear our favorite heroes to the other characters existing in the same cinematic universe. The film initially promised to be a character study, an arc of Cap realizing that even a hero can cause damage or is unwelcome by the very people he is trying to save–something Tony Stark learned in Ironman 3. This theme became interwoven with one of vengeance when T’Challa appeared, but as the final act came to a close, the original theme all but disappeared, leaving a confusing change in focus as Tony Stark waffles between helping Cap and trying to kill Bucky. Ironically, it is that ‘collateral damage’ from which the Sokovia Accords were born that causes the ending conflict (which also surrounds Bucky) and leaves Cap and Tony at odds, but still friends. The bigger lesson has been lost though, because of one man’s desire for vengeance, and the conclusion of the film feels too easy, too simple, and too light, even in spite of the injured team members and somewhat literal heartbreak.
While the cinematic universe is completely separate from the comics, I can’t help but think on the comic one-shot Civil War: The Confession and the complete emotional wasteland that was left in my soul as one character realized the enormity of the consequences to their actions. Captain America: Civil War is a solid action film, but it lacks the compelling heroic monomyth structure of Captain America: The First Avenger or the struggle of a soldier returning from war present in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
So, final thought: don’t overthink this one. Go, and enjoy it for what it is: a well-made superhero movie.