Before reading this review, ask yourself: Have I seen all of the other Marvel films? Am I confident that I remember who Hank Pym is? Or Brock Rumlow? Or do I remember what happened in Avengers: Age of Ultron (i.e. Avengers 2, or the "The Avengers Film Which Shall Not Be Named or Remembered" - our review here)? Am I interested in sticking with the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the next several pictures featuring Black Panther, the Avengers, Ant-Man and The Wasp, or Sony's Spider-Man reboot? If the answers to any of those questions was "no," you are likely to struggle with Captain America: Civil War. There is a lot to like about the movie, but to casual viewers or newer fans this one may be a confusing, bloated mess.
Ok, so actually it will feel bloated to everyone. This movie is huge. And, to be fair, it is much closer to being Avengers Part Three than to Captain America Part Three. Captain America provides some of the drive for the story but the whole team, and then some, is on display in this nearly two and a half hour picture.
The story is straight-forward: the Avengers, after their exploits in the last several movies in which many innocent people have been killed, are asked to sign documents stating that they will no longer remain independent heroes. They will, instead, report to the United Nations and be sent to respond to situations as the council sees fit. Iron Man, overcome with guilt and after losing his girlfriend, thinks this is a sound idea. Captain America, who found out that his bosses at S.H.I.E.L.D. were actually Hydra terrorists in his last movie, smells a rat. The two divvy up the rest of their "enhanced" friends (remember, Fox owns the rights to the word "mutant" for the X-Men franchise) to take sides and end up walloping each other.
Let's focus on what went well. The action, especially fights featuring Chris Evans' Captain America or Sebastian Stan's Winter Soldier, is intense. The up-close, hand-to-hand fighting recalls some of the better Bourne films ramped up to eleven. Without lasers or a magical hammer to swat foes away like flies, these two super soldiers need to dish out knuckle sandwiches left and right and they make any object nearby a dangerous weapon. In the scenes where these two are fighting either each other or in close quarters with others, this movie kicks serious ass. Also, Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther and his portrayal of Prince-turned-King T'Challa are more than a glorified cameo or commercial for his 2018 solo film. He delivers a nuanced performance and his fighting style, again close up and personal, delivers action.
I will also credit the filmmakers for combining so many styles and characters. They took an extremely serious picture filled with major, life and death ideas and political stances, and somehow found room for Paul Rudd's Ant-Man who starred in Marvel's funniest and lightest movie. On the other hand, the inclusion of Spider-Man in order to establish him and to set up Sony's reboot, is a blatant tack-on/corporate synergy-directed move (even though Spider-Man is handled fairly well here).
The biggest problem on display with this picture is one that Marvel has faced for several years: The Villain Problem. Other than Tom Hiddleston's Loki (the villain in Thor and Marvel's The Avengers), they cannot seem to flesh out a compelling villain. This movie drives that point home by making the main villain such a wuss that his big plan is to get the Avengers to fight themselves. They do, by the way, several times and to great CGI effect. But when the good guys are fighting the good guys, the stakes are never very high. Marvel would never let Captain America kill Iron Man or have The Scarlet Witch decapitate Black Widow. As an audience member, you know that they'll kiss and make up in order to save the world in the next picture. In fact, the villain problem is so severe here that Rumlow/Crossbones (Frank Grillo, so tough in the Winter Soldier) commits suicide in the first ten minutes and the main villain ALSO attempts suicide before the film is done. Even they don't think they're doing a very good job as villains.
Characters in this film make wild leaps in logic, show up where they couldn't possibly know to show up (and do so in record time), they issue "shoot to kill" orders based upon a single grainy photograph, and vow murderous/vigilante revenge while at the summit designed to get the Avengers to allow themselves to be overseen by the U.N. (Does no one grasp that a character on the anti-Avengers-vigilante side IS HIMSELF a vigilante? Actually, there's never a scene of the U.N. asking team Iron Man to do anything at all so they're actually all vigilantes the whole time. Ugh.)
Chris Evans' Steve Rogers grounds the argument and his confliction over splitting the team. And his chemistry with Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, and Scarlett Johansson is impressive. The relationships between those characters feel fleshed out and natural allowing for both genuine humor and real warmth. Most other characters, specifically Paul Bettany's Vision, are a different story. Why does Vision care? And why does anyone care that Vision has signed the document allowing the Avengers to have government oversight. Vision, as you will no doubt recall from Avengers: Age of Ultron, is a super-powered, computerized artificial intelligence which has been grafted into a vibranium body by a mystical and magical "infinity stone" which is embedded in his head (got all that?). It's like your phone's Siri come to life by magic and we are supposed to care that he has signed a legal document. He also dresses like a husband from Desperate Housewives Season One. Also, the events in Sokovia (forever pronounced and thought of as "SUCK-ovia") from Avengers: Age of Ultron drive too much of this story. That film was a dud and the whole Sokovia plotline so bad that it actively detracts from this picture to have to reference it so much.
- The action.
- Chris Evans and the chemistry between him and his co-stars.
- The fight scenes between the heroes, while ultimately harmless, are done well and provide a cathartic thrill.
- The humor is light and there's just enough of it to prevent the film from becoming bogged down into Batman Vs Superman territory.
- The villain problem.
- The reliance on "SUCK-ovia"
- General bloating and swelling
Brass Tacks: It's a definite improvement over Avengers: Age of Ultron but not as strong as Captain America: Winter Soldier. Cap deserved better - and so do we. B+