The great divide
I wish I could tell you that Captain America: Civil War is so good that it will make you forget the horror that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Bursting Diseased Cinematic Pustules. Alas, nothing is good enough to clear that cloud out of one’s brain anytime soon.
Captain America: Civil War is very good, though—a nice blast of superhero fun that finds a diplomatic way to include many Marvel favorites, even introducing a few characters to the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe, without feeling crowded or rushed. This is one well-oiled Marvel machine.
Front and center, there’s Steve Rogers (former Human Torch Chris Evans), a.k.a. Captain America, still having bro issues when it comes to the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Cap wants to back up his former best friend, but the guy committed some pretty shady acts while brainwashed, some of them very hard to defend. Captain America has to make some hard choices.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) thought Age of Ultron sucked for more than the obvious reasons. On top of being kind of boring, it left death and destruction in its wake, as did the far more exciting original The Avengers. World leaders want to put the Avengers in check, using them as a sort of alternative to nuclear weapons. Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., still owning it) suffering a crisis of conscience, agrees to the proposed accord. Rogers thinks it’s bullshit and won’t sign.
This works as a fine setup for an eventual battle between Iron Man and Captain America, where both sides have compelling reasons to fight. It’s actually hard to pick a side in this movie, making the confrontation all the more fun.
The Avengers get split up between Iron Man and Captain America. Stark has Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (an excellent Paul Bettany), and new recruits Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and, yep, Spider-Man (Tom Holland, looking like he could be the best Spidey yet) in his ranks. Rogers goes into battle with the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Bucky, and new recruit Ant-Man (a funny Paul Rudd) bringing up the ranks.
It’s no easy task, but directors Anthony and Joe Russo, along with their screenwriters, juggle a lot of characters and spin a lot of plates entertainingly. No single character hogs the screen for too long, everybody gets a nice stake in the movie, and the newbies are introduced in wholly satisfying ways. Spider-Man manages to get his setup in a solid scene with Stark and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei … hooray!). It’s a relatively quick scene but, hey, it’s Spider-Man. He doesn’t need a long setup. Just introduce him and let him start shooting webs and wisecracks.
The film has good performances throughout, but Downey is the true standout. He’s the anchor of the MCU, and he brings real gravitas where other actors would just make things corny. Holland gets a lot of points for making the most of his screen time and slipping comfortably into a costume recently worn by Andrew Garfield. He’s perfect for Spidey
Conspicuously missing are Hulk and Thor. Something had to be left for the next Thor movie, so those two get to take a break. While Age of Ultron felt like nothing but a bunch of scenes setting up the next chapter, Civil War works as a standalone action movie.
There are no clear plans for Captain America and Bucky in The Avengers saga going forward. They’re great characters, but it’s safe to say that there are plenty of great characters in the MCU. Captain America: Civil War gets things back on track after the weak Age of Ultron, and gets us excited for next year’s Spider-Man Homecoming.
Oh, and until I’m not that guy sitting by myself through the credits, I’ll just keep saying it: Stay through the damn credits until that blue ratings thing shows at the end. It’s a Marvel movie! There are two further scenes to see.