Editor’s note: This review may contain potential spoilers for Captain America: Civil War, so read on at your own discretion.
Since the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve been delighted by the exploits of Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, but I’ve been really invested in the story of Captain America. Both The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier were my favorite films in their respective phases, and Steve Rogers, as played by Chris Evans, has been the standout centerpiece of the whole heroic venture. Following Avengers: Age of Ultron, the MCU felt like it was getting overfilled with characters and over-complicated in plot, so I went into Captain America: Civil War with a bit of a “show me what you got” attitude. Not only is it another stellar Cap movie, it’s maybe my favorite Tony Stark movie, and it also proves how you put a million heroes in the same movie effectively. Damn.
Twelve movies into the MCU, you’d think there’d be some level of coasting going on in Civil War. But at every turn, the movie feels the need to pull out the stops. The action is incredibly impressive, the cinematography is frenetic and visceral, and each of the heroes gets to shine in his or her own way—even the ones who aren’t in it that much. But the biggest achievement of directors Joe and Anthony Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is that they made sure the the story is contingent on characters almost exclusively. The plot itself is deceptively simple, but it’s the way each of the very different characters reacts to it that causes the titular war of Iron aggression.
The story begins with Cap, Falcon ( Anthony Mackie), Black Widow ( Scarlett Johansson), and Scarlet Witch ( Elizabeth Olsen) on a mission to track down a villain from a previous movie. Things don’t end up going well—while many innocents are saved, not everyone is. Elsewhere, Tony Stark ( Robert Downey Jr.) is finding it especially hard to live with his mistakes. He and Secretary of State Ross ( William Hurt) come up with an accord that will make the Avengers accountable to the United Nations and not an independent organization any longer. Some of the Avengers sign off—Tony, Widow, Rhodey ( Don Cheadle), and Vision ( Paul Bettany)—but the others don’t, believing they need to stand alone, not beholden to any committee.
Meanwhile, someone is very successfully trying to frame Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier ( Sebastian Stan), for a bomb that killed the King of Wakanda. The King’s son T’Challa ( Chadwick Boseman) wants revenge, while Cap just wants to bring his friend in alive. Cap believes there’s something fishy going on, but does not want to play by the new rules to figure it out. This inevitably leads to the big centerpiece of the film, in which heroes battle heroes, and we get to meet Spider-Man ( Tom Holland), get acquainted with Ant-Man ( Paul Rudd), and say hello again to Hawkeye ( Jeremy Renner). This scene is easily the best in the movie; it manages to feel dangerous and fun at the same time, a feat in and of itself.
Captain America: Civil War feels very refreshing because there isn’t some massive alien entity or evil industrialist or Hydra-guided conspiracy to contend with. It’s the machinations of a small group that culminates in a big, enormous battle with friends fighting friends because of a difference of belief, a shifting of ideals. If Age of Ultron began the fissure between Cap and Tony, this movie changes it into a deep chasm, the likes of which maybe neither of them can handle. Everybody has the right idea about something, but there’s no agreement, no harmony. It’s painful to watch these friends literally come to blows, but it’s to the movie’s credit that you don’t inherently take one’s side over the other.
While I still think The Winter Soldier is the best Captain America movie, and by extension my favorite Marvel movie, Civil War is the kind of character drama you don’t normally see in a massive budget superhero movie. It’s got heart, it’s got humor, it’s got genuine emotions, and it allows everybody to have some fantastic scenes with each other. Welcome to the show, Black Panther and young kid Spider-Man. Can’t wait to spend more time with you.
4.5 OUT OF 5 FAN-SATISFYING BURRITOS
Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He likes movies and cookies. Follow him on Twitter!