It was freaking awesome!
That, in a nutshell, is my main thought when it comes to Captain America: Civil War. It’s a movie that we spent a year anticipating. It’s a movie that we were continually assured would be great. And it’s a movie that, unlike Batman v Superman, actually lived up to all the hype. It’s also a movie that has already been reviewed here on the Shattered Lens. Check out Arleigh’s review by clicking here and be sure to check out Gary’s review as well.
So, what’s really left for me to say about Captain America: Civil War? Beyond, of course, that it was freaking awesome.
Of course, it’s hard to talk about Captain America: Civil War without also talking about Batman v Superman. Both films start with the same basic idea: the heroic activities of super heroes has led to cities being destroyed and innocent people dying. In Batman v. Superman, Batman takes it open himself to avenge the destruction of Metropolis and expose Superman as being the biggest false God since Baal. In Civil War, the United Nations announces that, from now on, all super hero activity has to be cleared with them. In Batman v. Superman, Batman and Superman are manipulated into fighting each other. In Captain America: Civil War, Captain America and Iron Man are manipulated into fighting each other. In Batman v Superman, Jesse Eisenberg plays a neurotic villain. In Captain America: Civil War, Daniel Bruhl plays a neurotic villain. Batman v Superman features more heroes than just Batman and Superman. Civil War features more heroes than just Captain America and Iron Man. Batman v Superman ends with a promise of more films to come. So does Civil War. Both films are huge and expensive star-filled spectacles and both of them are a part of a larger cinematic mythology. They both even have roughly the same running time. Of course, Batman v Superman seems even longer while Civil War is over far too quickly.
And yet, Civil War is a thousand times better than Batman v Superman. For all of its sound and fury, Batman v Superman is ultimately an empty shell. I left the film feeling not at all emotionally moved but definitely deafened by all the explosions and the yelling and the ranting and the pounding score. As I left the theater, the world sounded like it was underwater. Batman v Superman opens with the world exploding and the explosion continues for another two and a half hours. Civil War, on the other hand, takes its time. After the initial battle scene (which features a nice cameo from the great Frank Grillo), Civil War slows down. It explores its characters and their relationships and their motivations. The first hour of Civil War may be dominated by people debating but its compelling to watch because, after 8 years, the MCU and the characters within feel as alive as the world outside the theater.
In Batman v Superman, Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck appeared to be acting in separate films. That’s not a problem in Civil War. When you watch Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr., you believe that they are friends and, when they fight, you don’t just thrill at the action. You mourn the end of a friendship. If Batman v Superman‘s battle ultimately felt hollow, the final battle in Civil War leaves you wincing in pain.
Which is not to say that Civil War is not a fun movie. It’s the most genuinely fun film that I’ve seen so far this year. There’s a joy to the best films of the MCU, a joy that — with the exception of Gal Gadot’s cameo — was totally lacking from the somber and self-important mess that Batman v Superman. I have never heard an audience applaud more than they did while watching Civil War. The film may have been dominated by Evans and Downey but every citi of thzene MCU got a chance to shine. Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, and Elizabeth Olsen all proved their worth to this new cinematic mythology. After years of using Halloween to pay homage to Scarlett Johansson, I may have to go as Wanda Maximoff this year. After seeing Hollywood waste her off-center and damaged talent in films like Godzilla, it was good to see Elizabeth Olsen playing Wanda as if she could have been a cousin to her character from Martha Marcy Mae Marlene.
The audience saved their loudest and most enthusiastic cheers for Tom Holland, who claimed the role of Spiderman as his own and thankfully freed Andrew Garfield to go back to being the intriguing actor that we all remember from The Social Network and Never Let Me Go. Holland doesn’t have a large role in Civil War but he’s still well-served by the film and the script makes great use of the character and Holland’s energetic performance. As opposed to the super hero cameos in Batman v Superman, Spiderman’s appearance didn’t just feel like merely a teaser for a future film. He belonged in the story.
Of course, Civil War is dominated by the battle between Iron Man and Captain America and it says something about how successful the MCU has been that the battle feels less like a marketing gimmick and more like the natural result of what happens when two differing worldviews come into conflict. When Tony Stark sides with the UN, it makes sense. Ever since the very first Iron Man, Tony has been motivated by both guilt over making weapons and a fear that he doesn’t deserve his success. Of course Tony would side with the UN. Doing so not only allows him to alleviate his guilt but it also frees him of responsibility for any future actions that the Avengers may take. It makes just as much sense that Captain America would feel the exact opposite. His name is Captain America, not Captain United Nations. When the UN was founded, he was still frozen in a block of ice.
(Also interesting to note: Civil War was the first MCU film that I could follow without once having to ask my boyfriend for any background info on who all the characters were. The MCU has become such a part of our culture that we all know the characters, regardless of whether we have ever read a Marvel comic or not.)
There is a nominal villain. Daniel Bruhl plays Zemo and his role is actually pretty small. That said, Zemo is definitely more interesting than the typical MCU villain (he’s certainly more memorable than Corey Stoll was in Ant-Man) and Bruhl does a good job playing him. (Watching Civil War, it was hard not to think about how much better SPECTRE would have been if Bruhl, as opposed to Christoph Waltz, had played Blofeld.) But, for me, the real villain of the film was the U.S. Secretary of State (played by William Hurt). The character represented everything that all good people hate about the power structure. William Hurt turned him into the epitome of unthinking and unreasonable authority.
After Civil War was released, Salon’s Amanda Marcotte (who, let’s just be honest, ceased to be interesting the minute that she sold out and briefly worked for John Edwards in 2007) complained that Captain America had become “a douchey Libertarian.” I would argue that 1) Captain America is definitely not douchey and 2) it’s his “libertarian” stance that makes him a hero. Captain America does not represent any institution or ideology and he doesn’t take orders from faceless bureaucrats. Captain America doesn’t need permission to do the right thing. As played by Chris Evans, there’s something undeniably poignant about Captain America attempting to cling onto his idealism and his belief in personal freedom in an increasingly complicated and totalitarian world. When told that he has a duty to become an anonymous, order-taking drone, Captain America says, “NO!”
(As a sidenote: If you want to see what the world expects Captain America to become, check out William Klein‘s Mr. Freedom.)
I know that some are claiming that Civil War is the best MCU film so far. I wouldn’t quite go that far. The film never quite reaches the lunatic heights of Guardians of the Galaxy nor does it match the subversive glee of Winter Soldier revealing that smug old Robert Redford is an agent of HYDRA. But, no matter! Captain America: Civil War is pretty freaking great!
Here are the other MCU reviews that have appeared here on the Shattered Lens:
- Arleigh on Iron Man 2
- Arleigh on Thor
- Arleigh on Captain America: The First Avenger
- Leonard on The Avengers
- Viktor Von Glum on The Avengers
- Ryan on The Avengers
- Arleigh on Iron Man 3
- Leonard on Iron Man 3
- Ryan on Iron Man 3
- Ryan on Thor: The Dark World
- Ryan on Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Lisa on Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Ryan on Guardians of the Galaxy
- Lisa on Guardians of the Galaxy
- Lisa on Avengers: The Age of Ultron
- Leonard on Ant-Man
- Ryan on Ant-Man
- Lisa on Ant-Man
- Arleigh on Captain America: Civil War
- Gary Loggins on Captain America: Civil War