Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Written by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downy Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackey, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elisabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Daniel Brühl, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Martin Freeman, and Marissa Tomei
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU for short) has come a long way from its reasonably modest beginnings in 2008 with the release of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. Producer Kevin Feige envisioned then executed an elaborate, interwoven universe filled with solo hero films then bringing them together for a couple of Avengers movies and now they are showing up in each other’s solo films, like Falcon (Anthony Mackey) appearing in Ant-Man with Paul Rudd, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow co-starring in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and now with the third Captain America film is also a mini Avengers 3. It is an interesting and unique thing the MCU is attempting (and largely achieving) in that as the canvas grows and the inter-connected stories are building to an enormous conclusion in Avengers: Infinity War due out in two and three years, they keep the individual films rooted in the characters and the focus narrow, always with an eye to the larger picture.
Now after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron and an incident involving the new Avengers, led by Captain America (Chris Evans) and now comprised of Black Widow, Falcon, Vision (Paul Bettany), and Scarlet Witch (Elisabeth Olsen), which involved the accidental death of many civilians, an international law is proposed that would place the control of all costumed heroes under the regulations of their national governments. Tony Stark (Robert Downy Jr.) spearheads the move to have the Avengers sign the document in support because of his guilt over the death of an American during the events of Age of Ultron. Cap disagrees, stating that it would politicize their actions and prevent them from doing the most good and being where they are needed most in favor of more politically motivated dispatches. The philosophical debate becomes physical when the UN is bombed by someone appearing to be The Winter Soldier, aka Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Cap’s old friend turned Hydra assassin turned very confused man who can hide really well. Cap goes to save Barnes from a task force sent to kill him when they encounter The Black Panther aka T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the now king of Wakanda (a hidden African country which is the most technologically advanced country in the world and the source of the vibrainium that Cap’s shield and Vision is made of, as well as Ultron’s weapon) after his father was killed in the bombing. Black Panther wants vengeance for the death of his father and joins Stark in hunting down Barnes, Cap, and Falcon after they go to ground to prove Barnes didn’t execute the bombing. They recruit Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) to their cause and work to prove Barnes’ innocence while openly engaging in combat with Iron Man, Vision, War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow, Black Panther and Spider-Man (Tom Holland, making his MCU debut in spectacular fashion).
Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, co-writers of both previous Captain America films as well as Thor: The Dark World and the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War films, have continued to craft Captain America into a paragon of virtue while also acknowledging his faults. They make this fissure between the Avengers more complicated than right or wrong, shading it in grey and making both sides right in their own way. The main thing they stress is that the heroes fighting are friends and remain so despite their different ideals in this struggle. Both sides acknowledge that the other is doing what they think is right and neither side is villainized, which is a difficult task. They keep the audience focused on the true villain while understanding and galvanizing the differences between the heroes and how they feel about the accords. They manage the large number of primary characters well and never let their focus stray, though it would be easy considering how compelling and entertaining this new incarnation of Spider-Man turns out to be (and they do spend a decent amount of time on him). They also manage the weight and seriousness of the plot with quite a lot of humor, which has become the standard for MCU films.
Returning to the director’s chair(s) are the Russo brothers, Anthony and Joe, after their great success with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. That previous film is indeed one of the best in the MCU, alongside Iron Man and The Avengers and now Captain America: Civil War. They do great work in keeping the focus laid out in the screenplay on Cap and his inner struggle with his decision. They also do something that has been unheard of in comic book films (and action films in general), which is they start the action on a large scale and have what would have been the climactic battle of heroes just after the mid-point and leave the final battle small and contained to three people. This not only personalizes the action, but physically manifests the ideological differences between Iron Man and Cap. They keep everything on track and never get lost in the Altman-esque size of the principle cast, giving screen time to everyone when they need it and never going too far off-track, which is encouraging considering they will also be directing both parts of Avengers: Infinity War, which is set to include every hero that has been thus far introduced and all the ones yet to be introduced.
With Captain America: Civil War, the MCU has kicked off Phase 3 of their initial plan and set into motion the events that have been set up throughout the previous twelve films, as each film functions independently and not only incorporates the previous films but sets up future ones. The film not only broadens the characters of Captain America and Iron Man, but sets them at odds (despite them ultimately remaining allies) while introducing two new major characters to the fold in Black Panther and Spider-Man. Captain America: Civil War is fun, exciting, emotional and while complex in its story and plot, never loses its focus or the attention of the audience. It is a grand achievement within a grand experiment and is so good it shakes off the fatigue of the comic book movie saturation the film market is currently experiencing and more than sufficiently whets the appetite for what lay ahead.