'Captain America: Civil War' review: Fun, dramatic battle between allies
Make no mistake - "Captain America: Civil War" (opening in theaters nationwide May 6) is not merely some sort of half-baked "Avengers 2.5." Although Marvel's latest flick features a roster packed with more Avengers than any previous film -- including two exciting new heroes -- "Civil War" is first and foremost a dramatic and action-packed Captain America story.
In short: Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) find themselves on opposites sides of an effort to impose international oversight over the Avengers. Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie and Chadwick Boseman also star. (Watch the trailer)
Yes "Civil War" has a ton of moving parts. Its cast features pretty much every Marvel superhero (except Thor and Hulk), adds two new major characters (Black Panther and Spider-Man) and arguably has a trio of villains: a Secretary of State bent on controlling the Avengers, a shadowy operative (Daniel Brühl) and even Iron Man himself. As the United Nations tightens its grip over the Avengers, Cap is still compelled to assist his childhood friend "Bucky" Barnes, who has become the target of an international manhunt. And Marvel is not above making unfocused movies merely meant to set up bigger sequels (ie, "Iron Man 2" or "Avengers: Age of Ultron"). "Civil War" could have imploded under the its own sheer volume and ambition - but it works because "Civil War" is firmly rooted in its titular hero.
Rogers was unyielding and heroic even before he became Captain America - and "Civil War" tests every aspect of his character and resolve. He cannot help but want to help Bucky and his gut tells him international oversight of the Avengers is not a good idea. Every film since the first "Captain America" has shown Cap dealing with the modern, morally grey world. His fundamental and unwavering heroism is at odds with virtually every other Avenger, heroes who range from pragmatic to self serving. While "Civil War" tests and pushes Cap's loyalties to their very limits, the film remains absolutely loyal to Captain America's values and beliefs.
If Cap is elementally a good man who simply cannot resist doing the "right thing," it only makes sense that his best adversary so far is Tony Stark/Iron Man. Stark was the first hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and he's now also become one of its greatest antagonists. "Civil War" doesn't try to recast Stark as a misguided antagonist -- he is a man whose pragmatism is every bit as strong as Cap's resolve. Stark is not some silly villain - he is Cap's ideological opposite. And it's easy to see his point of view - that international oversight of the Avengers is necessary to save innocent lives. He is still very much a hero at heart - but one who believes Cap's vigilante-like behavior does threaten lives unnecessarily.
While Cap and Iron Man's relationship is the dramatic core of "Civil War," the rest of the Avengers make this a truly fun and entertaining ride. Every established Avenger gets their own moment to shine - especially in the massive and inevitable battle between the Avengers who have taken Cap's side and the superheroes who have sided with Iron Man. Just take the brief skirmish between Falcon and Ant-Man in "Ant-Man" -- and multiple that battle by one thousand. "Civil War" somehow balances the drama of former allies battling each other with the pure joy one of the most fun action sequences in the MCU franchise so far.
And this brings us to the true scene stealers of "Civil War": Black Panther (Boseman) and Spider-Man. Panther has his own dramatic revenge arch as he hunts down Bucky -- and "Civil War" quickly establishes him as a hero worthy of taking on Bucky and even Captain America. While Black Panther does get a consider amount of screentime in "Civil War," Spider-Man has what amounts to an extended cameo. That said, "Civil War" gets more right about Peter Parker and Spider-Man in just a few scenes than what Sony got right in two entire "Amazing Spider-Man" films. Tom Holland absolutely nails this high school aged iteration of Parker - a kid who wants to do the right thing, but is still very much a rookie hero with a lot of power, not a lot of experience and a ton of charisma. It's an absolute joy to see Spider-Man become a fanboy and gush enthusiastically as he trades blows with his idols. Downey Jr and Holland instantly click in their few scenes together -- which only ignites more excitement to see more of this dynamic in "Spider-Man: Homecoming" (which will also feature Downey Jr).
The "Captain America" trilogy is the strongest series in the MCU so far and each entry shakes up the Marvel universe. Although "Civil War" leaves the MCU and the Avengers in a very different place, this sequel isn't as strong as "The Winter Soldier." This film might not be the best of the "Captain America" series, "Civil War" is absolutely one of the very best MCU films yet.
Despite a daunting running time of two and a half hours, "Civil War" hums along and never feels bloated or unnecessarily long. There's virtually no fat to trim - this is a sharply focused story that doesn't get bogged down in setting up sequels. If anything, at times "Civil War" plays a little too fast and loose with its storytelling - it relies on some story cheats and odd story turns to keep the film moving forward. And perhaps the two most visible victims of some convenient plot turns are its two other antagonists, played by William Hurt and Daniel Brühl. Both play thinly developed characters who exist to just push the film's plots forward. Neither are bad or worthless - but both characters don't have much depth. Brühl's character doesn't pay off in an entirely meaningful way -- and one could probably make the argument that his character borders on irrelevant.
Final verdict: "Civil War" is an exciting, entertaining and dramatic battle of ideologies that works because of the dynamic between Iron Man and Cap -- but is so much more fun because of Black Panther and Spider-Man. Stay seated for two extra scenes after the credits start to roll - one happens mid-way though the credits and the second begins when the credits are finished.
"Captain America: Civil War" opens in theaters nationwide May 6. This latest addition to the MCU is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem.