The Superhero movie genre is all about hero versus hero this summer. Batman and Superman went toe to toe in Dawn of Justice to mixed reviews and this week, Captain America and Iron Man take the Marvel universe into a Civil War of its own. While DC’s Superman V Batman was a box office blowout while only garnering tepid critical reviews, Marvel’s foray into the battlefield has a much greater impact, as it is clearly the best entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. It has all of the elements that made Dawn of Justice such a disappointment, but makes it work in spectacular fashion.
Marvel launched their movie franchise with Iron Man back in 2008 and has built upon it with two direct sequels and several other titles such as Hulk, Thor, Captain America and their sequels, not to mention Guardians of the Galaxy—the best film until Civil War—and Ant Man. Marvel also released the biggest ensemble movie franchise with the Avengers and its sequel Age of Ultron. Fans have clamored to the theater to watch each and every title Marvel has released and Civil War is no exception.
Civil War builds upon plot threads left dangling at the end of its predecessor The Winter Soldier, where Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) destroyed Shield and Hydra and left the rest of the Avengers to pick up the pieces while he and Falcon went looking for Steve’s childhood friend Bucky Barnes—who happened to be the Winter Soldier. At the onset of Civil War, Steve has returned to the Avengers and is leading them on a mission in a foreign land to stop terrorists from getting a biological weapon. In the battle, Cap slips up and almost gets killed by a suicide vested bad guy, only to be saved by the Scarlet Witch (Elisabeth Olsen). Only when she saved Cap, she hoisted the bad guy into the air and his explosion destroyed a building killing several civilians.
The political fallout from this mission prompts the United Nations to draft a policy that will establish operation oversite over the actions of the Avengers. Tony Stark (Robert Downey JR.)—himself feeling guilt over the death caused by his creation Ultron—agrees with the UN and backs the plan, while Steve vehemently disagrees and insists that the Avengers should be autonomous. The debate rages as representatives of the UN gather to sign the accords, when a bomb blast kills many of the delegates, including the King of Wakanda. Evidence points to Bucky Barnes as the bomber. Now Steve must choose between his duty to his country, the accords and his friendship with both Barnes and Tony Stark.
Civil War brings Iron Man, War Machine, the Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, Vision, Hawkeye, Ant Man, and the Falcon into a situation where sides need to be chosen. The story also introduces new characters to the MCU in The Black Panther—the son of and new King of Wakanda—and Spider-Man in his first appearance in the MCU (this appearance sets up Spider-Man for his own film to be released next year. This younger Spider-Man is the film’s surprise breakout character).
Many comic films try to cram as much as they can to make the film visually interesting and hold the viewers’ attention with nonstop action. In most cases this fails, most notably Spider-Man 3, the Amazing Spider-man 2 and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Those films relied almost exclusively on the roller-coaster ride of nonstop action at the cost of plot and character development. Civil War runs at more than 2 and a half hours long, and offers its share of excitement, but it does so while touching on heavy social issues and gut-wrenching character drama. The pain on Steve Rodgers face as he is standing between his two friends Tony and Bucky speaks volumes of story development. The relationships between other members of the Avengers are also explored, though not quite a deeply. This is Captain America’s movie after all.
The effects are, of course, top-notch and spot on. Some young people who have never actually sat through a plot driven movie may complain that the film drags a little here and there, but I disagree. A moment not punctuated by an explosion is an opportunity to tell a deeper story and emote with the character more. The film also has its lighter moments, such as when Steve, Falcon and the Winter Soldier commute in a Volkswagen Beetle. Hilarious scene.
When I left the movie, I felt uplifted, as though I had actually been told a real story, rather than just having my senses bombarded by explosions and chase scenes. This is why it is the best entry into the MCU thus far.