Summary: The Avengers are split in a political debate, stemming from the events in Age of Ultron.
I did my Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War prep by revisiting Captain America: Civil War. Generally one of the more dependable, consistent on-screen characters Marvel has to offer, it was an extremely wise decision to use Captain America to launch Phase II of the Avengers series. Civil War not only evolves the characters we already know, but highlights some of the newer ones and presents us with two big players for the future. We’ve seen a lot of ensemble pieces in the past few years that fail spectacularly at this, and it’s quite easy to over bloat those especially with this trend of franchise consolidation. Civil War is a rare gem at the opposite end of the spectrum, not only pulling off a satisfying outing for its title character but getting us excited for the next set. Though following movies might not have lived up to the hype (I have slight franchise fatigue and I’m thinking specifically of Doctor Strange, even though he didn’t show up in this one), it doesn’t diminish from what Civil War has to offer us as its own outing.
Taking place after Age of Ultron, Civil War starts off with a smaller mission involving a few of the Avengers- Wakandan civilians are killed in the process and the team is forced to take a look at their actions and wonder if they are doing more harm than good. This divides the team- led by Ironman, half of them vote for UN regulation while Cap (Chris Evans, ever so charming and soulful here) takes the other half, not trusting what a government might request them to do. At a conference stemming from the deaths of the mission, King T’Chaka of Wakanda is killed in a terrorist attack by Bucky (Sebastian Stan)- or so it seems. Cap, feeling compassion for his old pal, goes against orders to bring him in and as a result, sets himself up against T’Challa, Black Panther and heir to the throne of Wakanda (Chadwick Boseman), as well as the majority of his old teammates.
That sounds like a lot right? But it’s not. Where other movies tend to rush their plot along with incomprehensible dialogue so they can get to the action, Civil War lets the story slowly unravel, present their characters with personal challenges, and allows them to take sides. The characters, their morals, and their alliances are the center of the movie and as these game pieces move, so does the plot. Their relationships are real and the conflict is human, bringing a grounded sense of humanity to it all. The rising action is naturally, carefully constructed and explodes right when it needs to.
Admirably, while Civil War has a lot of characters, it never stops being Captain America’s movie- ultimately, it is his loyalty to Bucky and his own values that is the cause of all the movement. It’s his heart that keeps it all together. I loved that the villain wasn’t a guy with superhuman powers and the team wasn’t threatened with nukes or the end of the world- it’s personal, simple human traits that are at the heart of all this, things we can all relate to. And by the end, the idea of a hero- what it is, what it could be, what it should be- has changed.
One of the most impressive parts of the movie for me is how the Russo Brothers were able to compress all these different characters into this movie without anyone feeling out of place or overstaying their presence. There’s no moment here that feels forced or unnecessary moments. They even snuck in Jim Rash, the dean from Community, as the dean at MIT, making dean jokes (whattup Community fans)! Typically, I’m not a fan of shoehorned romance, but I accept Cap’s kiss with Sharon because that following shot of Falcon and Bucky nodding is priceless- that was a moment needed between those three characters. There can be some complaint that there is a slight Magnificent Seven Effect where some of the characters feel like they signed up a little too quickly, but I’m willing to overlook most of this for the pacing. They do get a line or two in there hinting about how they chose their alliances- Ant-man in particular kind of just shows up, but he’s loyal to Hank Pimm, so it kind of makes sense he would oppose a Stark..? Sure! Peter Parker idolizes Tony Stark, so he naturally is swayed upon recruitment. I’ve always found Black Widow kind of meh, so she mehs it up fine here. And while we don’t get too deep into familiar faces like Vision and Hawkeye, it’s not too far of a stretch to understand why they pick certain sides. All the characters are highlighted really well and there’s great creative use of their abilities, specifically with Cap’s shield and Black Panther’s…
… well, Black Panther’s everything. Literally, everything. Everything about Black Panther is phenomenal from his variety of kicks to his little cat ears to his retractable claws. He oozes confidence, leadership, and empathy. I give up with trying to find fault in this guy. I cannot wait to see Boseman’s first solo movie as well as his part in Infinity War.
For the most part, the action is really good even if the first two action sequences are clunky. These are more fist-centric, frantic, and get shakey-cam treatment, which is a shame because there is really good choreography but the “Oh, COOL” gets taken away a little bit. The stairwell sequence and subsequent car chase would have top honors from me if not for this- someone gets knocked out with a battering ram, Black Panther appears in an excellent shot of the side view mirror, Bucky mounts a motorcycle midair. We get to see a cool dynamic between Cap and Bucky, with each being resourceful of their surroundings and working together while not verbally communicating. Then there’s the fantastic airport scene, which serves as a playground for all our heroes. The first action scene sets the bar pretty high and it all just gets better and better. The last two are more smoothly shot which I wish had been used for the previous but even so- what we might call Civil War‘s worst action sequence is still better than the best ones in other movies. Wisely, a lot of the focus is on hand-to-hand combat and explosions are used for emphasis. Exclamation points are team-focused, using at least two people to get the job done. It’s a really well thought-out sequence, exciting and easy to watch. Everyone gets a little something, a line or a moment, and no one overstays their welcome.
Civil War is a movie that can only be pulled off once in a while. I honestly feel like I would have been satisfied with this as the climax of the entire MCU and the turning point for older players of the franchise… but we’re getting Infinity War. I know that means bigger and louder- I’m hoping Infinity War doesn’t get too carried away with the action of things with all those armies in the trailer. I’m also hoping that individual movies go back to being about their titular characters, but Marvel’s already gotten carried away with their crossovers and self-indulgent nods and all that. We’ll see how it goes, but I think Infinity War will be the piece that determines which MCU movies I want to see in theaters and which one I’ll wait to stream… which characters can carry their own movies and which ones can’t. Or better, which characters have heart and which ones don’t. (Get with it, Cumberbatch!)
Either way, Chadwick, you have my money. Just… take it.