Captain America: Civil War
One of the pitfalls that could have arisen from adapting Mark Millar’s famous Civil War story arc into a Marvel Cinematic Universe in between “Avengers” films is that, given the number of characters involved, it very easily could have been “Avengers 2.5” rather than a Captain America story to put a cap on Steve Rogers’s individual trilogy. Thankfully, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are back at the writer’s table, and Joe & Anthony Russo are in the director’s chair after they blew Marvel, and audiences, away with their deft work on 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and they put the focus right where it needs to be. And boy, Steve Rogers has come far in three films.
When we last saw him, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) had to put his search for his friend James “Bucky” Barnes (aka The Winter Soldier, played by Sebastian Stan) on hold to stop Tony Stark’s creation, Ultron, from destroying the Earth. Now, with new additions to the team in Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), Captain Rogers, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) are a team trying to stop threats as best they can around the world, and their latest target is Crossbones, best known as former S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra operative Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo). They are on a recon mission against Rumlow in Nigeria that involves biological weapons when tragedy strikes, and their actions result in civilian deaths. The world is outraged, and while many still see them as a force for good, others want the breaks put on. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) comes to Avengers headquarters with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and informs them of a new global initiative called the Sokovia Accords, named after the European country destroy by the events in “Age of Ultron,” which would put the Avengers under the watchful eye of the United Nations. Stark is on board with the Accords, as the weight of the consequences of their actions looms large on his conscious, while Rogers and others of the Avengers feel as though they would be hamstrung by the move, and require the freedom to act when they see danger. Thus, the philosophical dilemma of “Civil War” is made, and battle lines begin to be drawn as more are thrown into the fray when Bucky, who is no longer the assassin he was previously, is framed for an explosion at the UN meeting where the Accords were to be signed. This includes Prince T’Challa of Wakanda (Chadwick Boseman), whose father King T’Chaka (John Kani) is killed in the blast. Rogers wants to bring Bucky in himself, but the Accords would turn that into a criminal act. How the mighty have fallen…or have they?
Just considering the presence Tony Stark and Robert Downey Jr. presents alone for any of the Marvel films, the infusion of so many characters, including new ones, to the film really runs the risk of the film straying from being a Captain America film, but the Russos, Markus and McFeely show remarkable discipline when it comes to making this more about Steve Rogers and how he has evolved as a character, and how he has remained the same. When we first saw him in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” Rogers, post Super Soldier experimentation, was a symbol for freedom in a considerably more black-and-white time for war. We knew who the good guys were, we knew who the bad guys were, and at the heart of it was a kid from Brooklyn who wanted to just do his part for the war effort, and was given the chance to do so when he was recruited for this experiment by Dr. Abraham Erskine, who felt that strength pre-experiment was less important than heart and determination, which Steve had in spades. He was the face of hope in the middle of destruction the war effort needed. When he is brought out of the ice almost 70 years later, though, the world has changed, and he has to try and change with it. In “The Avengers” and the Battle of New York, his leadership helps focus the team into working together against an unlikely enemy. In “The Winter Soldier,” he has become a soldier for S.H.I.E.L.D., which by it’s nature is a spy organization, and while his emotional compass is thrown off by the realization that Bucky is still alive, it’s the revelation that Hydra had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., and is working towards it’s own endgame, that rattles him the most. Was everything he, Howard Stark and Peggy Carter work for 70 years before for nothing? He is able to answer that question by the end, and have Hydra on the run once and for all. Given the trajectory of his life as “The First Avenger,” we’ve seen what has shaped Steve’s worldview, and understand why he feels like the Accords are a mistake. As he tells Tony, “If I see a threat, I’m going after it.” It isn’t that he wants to cause chaos; he sees The Avengers the same way he saw the war effort he wanted so much to join before the Super Soldier program gave him his chance. He feels like they are still the world’s best line of defense against evil, and the Accords would hamstring their efforts. This is probably Evans’s finest hour as the character, as we read the evolution of the character on his face, and he is faced with remarkable choices and powerful moments throughout the film. Where the film leaves him at the end is one of the strongest story decisions Marvel has made yet, and how it all plays out as the Avengers hurtle towards their showdown with Thanos will be riveting to watch.
Now consider Tony Stark. If Steve Rogers has transformed as a character in these films, Stark has reinvented himself several times over. Like the actor who plays him, Stark’s like was turned upside down when he donned the Iron Man suit for the first time. His big revelation was seeing the danger his life’s work posed in the wrong hands, and that moment changed his worldview. It didn’t change him, as he’s remained as arrogant and charismatic as ever, but it changed how he saw the world, though not as much as the alien invasion they fended off in New York, though. Since then, Tony has been trying to get out of the Iron Man suit. He had his army of suits in “Iron Man 3,” and created the Iron Legion seen in “Age of Ultron,” because not only did he feel like more was needed, but because he doesn’t have the stomach to be on the front lines after seeing what is out there. He never had that soldier’s spirit Steve did, and his near-death experience in the Battle of New York resulted in some sleepless nights, akin to PTSD. With the Accords, maybe he can finally get off the front lines. Even Ultron was created for this purpose, but more so than in all of “Age of Ultron,” the consequences of that choice have seen to take a toll with Tony, not just in his role as a Avenger, but personally. (It may be a while before we see Pepper Potts in another Marvel movie.) Downey Jr. has been the linchpin in the MCU since ushering it in with 2008’s “Iron Man,” and he has taken Tony on quite a journey the past eight years. In “Civil War,” he takes him into unexpected territory as he must reckon with the truth of a formative moment in his life that brings the tension between he and Steve to a personal level. A Sokovian general named Zemo (Daniel Brühl) might hold the key to unlocking that truth, and seems to have his own reasons for doing so. I’m trying to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but if you had eagle eyes during a big reveal in “Winter Soldier,” you’ll know what it is.
It may seem like the Captain America and Iron Man show, but everyone in this massive cast is given the chance to contribute. As the person at the center of the conflict, Sebastian Stan brings Bucky closer to becoming an ally while also projecting the danger that the Accords is intended to reign in. Though initially torn between her loyalties, we see that Black Widow acts as the voice of reason for both Tony and Steve, someone who can see the big picture and put both characters in their place for failing to see it themselves, and it’s a great addition to the role Johansson has played for five movies now. As Prince T’Challa, Boseman projects a regal nature befitting the future ruler of a country, but seeing him in action as Black Panther as he tries to bring Bucky to justice makes my anticipation for the film he and director Ryan Coogler will be making for 2018 spike to 11. Scarlet Witch finds herself in the same situation Bucky does as the person blamed for unnecessary civilian deaths after their encounter in Nigeria with Crossbones, and Olsen navigates that emotional toll beautifully while also showing how the character has honed her powers since “Age of Ultron.” (And her relationship with Vision in this film is one of the great, bizarre asides we’ve seen yet in the MCU.) Let’s be honest, though- the show-stealer beyond Rogers and Stark is a certain friend neighborhood Spider-Man. When it was announced that Sony and Marvel had worked out a deal to bring Spider-Man into the fold with “Civil War,” the internet collectively lost it’s shit, and seeing Tom Holland (from “The Impossible”) take on the role of Peter Parker from Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire is one of the great pleasures in the movie. Finally, we have an age-appropriate look at high school Peter Parker, and yes, Marisa Tomei feels really young to be Aunt May, but given that it’s Tony Stark who brings Spider-Man into the fray, we can already see him trying to cozy up to May in a way that would have been unthinkable with either Rosemary Harris or Sally Field in the role. We get two scenes with Peter/Spider-Man in the movie, and both make up for the narrative disasters that the “Amazing Spider-Man” films were. I can’t wait to see where he goes when he gets his own MCU adventure next year. Trust me- Spidey is in good hands.
Amazingly, the Russos raise their game even further from where it was in “Winter Soldier.” The big words signifying a new location in the beginning may be distracting, but if that’s the biggest quibble I have with what they’ve delivered in this film, it’s worth the mild annoyance. The action is nimble and emotionally invested, the story is compelling on several levels, and the large cast is handled with sure-footed ease that allows for great moments all around. (I won’t even spoil the hilarity that is Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang here.) The surprising thing we realize here is that even though his first film was the fifth in the MCU, and his second was the 3rd of Phase Two, it’s been Captain America’s story that has led to some of the most world-shaking moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He was the First Avenger. He discovered the truth of Hydra infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. in “Winter Soldier.” Now, a Civil War within the Avengers has led to a division that will need to be mended if they are to stop Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet. Shit’s gotten real on Steve’s watch. Now, he and Tony will have to put their differences aside if they are to stop the ultimate challenge to come. I can’t wait to see the Russos bring this home.