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.