Captain America: Civil War lives up to the hype and improves upon its source material

“Captain America: Civil War” may be a Cap centered film, but it somehow succeeds in both keeping his character arc at the center while simultaneously serving as a better “Avengers” film than “Age of Ultron” was. Those going into the movie hoping for further development from its titular character won’t leave disappointed, but the movie is packed to the seams with other characters from the endlessly connected Marvel Universe.

Most notable among those returning characters is Robert Downey, Jr.’s “Iron Man,” who is set against Captain America by their opposing viewpoints on “the Sokovia Accords,” the film’s version of the comic book’s “Superhero Registration Act.” All of the Avengers films have shown the team saving the day, but Civil War makes it clear from the opening act that those interventions have not come without consequences, something the United Nations have decided they can no longer abide.

A film of this scope would fail without a strong emotional center, and Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans are more than up to the task. Unlike in the comics where it was nearly impossible to side with Stark the way the story was written, the film’s writers and Downey, Jr.’s charismatic, but believably wearied, performance as Stark does a better job selling that both sides of the issue have points worth considering

If there is a criticism of Civil War, it’s the slightly overly winding plot that doesn’t always make the most sense and occasionally seems like it’s just a vehicle to introduce new characters who will later get their own movies. This sin can be forgiven, however, by how well Marvel nails these new characters.

Black Panther’s tragic introduction to the MCU kicks off a nearly flawless debut for the character. The movie does a suitable job explaining why the likely future Avengers member hasn’t made his presence known before these events, and without getting into spoilers it’s safe to say he is given more than enough reason to believably hate the Winter Soldier, a hatred that newcomer Chadwick Boseman sells with a calm tone belied by the fury in his eyes.

This conflict serves as the crux of the first two-thirds of the film, setting up the superhero battle royale that Civil War’s title promises. Nearly all of the fight scenes showcase the Russo brothers’ skill for choreographing a brawl, but this might be the best Marvel set piece yet, with the highlights being previously unused powers by a certain hero and the debut of another.

Yes, Spider-Man is in Civil War, and it’s the best on-screen portrayal of the character yet. Tom Holland’s web-head is not just amusing in the role, but legitimately hilarious, stealing every scene he’s in. This might be the first Marvel film featuring Iron Man where Stark’s quips didn’t draw the majority of the audience’s laughter. Tobey Maguire was great in the role and Andrew Garfield did his best to overcome poor writing, but one thing their films never got right was just how funny (and annoying to his enemies) Spider-Man is. Given their penchant for humor, it shouldn’t be surprising that Marvel nails this aspect of the character, giving audiences the most comic-book accurate portrayal of the wall-crawler yet during his limited screen time in the all-out superhero melee.

This physical Civil War, while awesome, did feel weird tonally at times. The heroes’ friendly banter while attacking each other feels strange when some of them are firing off attacks that they couldn’t possibly know wouldn’t be lethal. This feels especially unusual during the attacks on Spider-Man, who is quite clearly just a kid, and one who is new enough that the other heroes couldn’t know the extent of his powers or how much punishment he could take. This wanton violence tearing apart an airport would be a less noticeable flaw in tone if one of the movie’s central themes was not the heroes’ guilt over collateral damage.

That we’re 635 words in without mentioning the film’s ostensible “villain” is the other issue Civil War faces. Daniel Brühl’s Baron Zemo is mostly forgettable, and with his true motivation not revealed until the climax of the movie, he seems like a random throw in until the end when his whole motivation ties together. Brühl does what he can to sell the role, but he suffers from the same lack of screen time and backstory construction that every Marvel villain outside of Loki has been plagued by.

Despite this, Civil War still ranks as one of Marvel’s best efforts yet, plausibly selling the reason’s for a conflict between the heroes while managing to avoid the source material’s downfall of making one side into clear villains in the exchange.

This is the second straight Captain America film with an ending that leaves the Marvel Universe significantly changed. With this group not set to get together again before Infinity War Part One in two years, viewers will walk out of Captain America and Iron Man’s heartbreaking final exchange with an understanding why nothing short of a threat on the scale of Thanos could believably convince these heroes to reunite again.

You can follow this author on Twitter @hmfaigen.

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