Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) haven’t always seen eye to eye. In The Avengers, they debated combat tactics and whether to follow or question orders, and in Age of Ultron they butted heads on the topic of trying to save people before they needed saving. Their friendship grew despite conflicting opinions, but all the while those conflicts were carefully laying the groundwork for their flashiest and most severe disagreement yet in Captain America: Civil War.
The premise is quite simple: following the grand-scale battles in New York (The Avengers), Washington D.C. (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Sokovia (Avengers: Age of Ultron), and more, civilian casualties are at an all-time high. The Avengers have saved the day countless times, but people who lost loved ones during those battles are tired of seeing these superheroes run wild and unrestricted. Enter the Sokovia Accords: a document signed by over 100 countries that would keep all enhanced humans in check and only sent on missions that the U.N. deem worthy of intervention. Stark wants everyone to sign the Accords, while Rogers doesn’t think it’s such a good idea.
This idea of having superheroes controlled by the government isn’t just a cheap plot device to make the Avengers fight each other. The question of accountability has been tossed around in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for several years now, and it all comes to a fantastic and emotional head here. Nearly everyone involved in the super-powered battle royale has personal reasons for taking the stance they’ve chosen, and those reasons are explored extremely well in various arcs scattered throughout the film.
Most notable is the continuing story of Cap and his childhood friend “Bucky” Barnes, a.k.a. The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). This is a Captain America movie, after all. As if refusing to sign the Accords doesn’t have Cap in enough hot water, his rekindled friendship with Bucky – now a rehabilitated man on the run thanks to his numerous assassinations that have now been made public – only makes matters worse.
Before all that though, let’s step back a bit. That titular Civil War shown off so much in the trailers doesn’t start with everyone suited up and ready to fight. Tension builds straight from the beginning with typical verbal sparring with the odd joke peppered in, quickly devolving into shouting matches and getting in each others’ faces. Finally, when it is evident that neither side is prepared to back down from their beliefs, the time comes to beat some sense into each other. And oh, what a glorious match that is.
Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) steal the spotlight during the big battle, the former bringing some big surprises to the fray while the latter just doesn’t stop talking and making you laugh. Holland makes the most convincing and entertaining Peter Parker we’ve seen on the big screen in the last 15 years, which is most impressive considering his role in Civil War is essentially just a tease to make audiences want to show up to next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. Mission well and truly accomplished, Marvel. The budding friendship between Stark and Parker will be a delight to watch unfold, and this new Spider-Man will fit right in with the rest of the MCU.
He’s only the second best new addition to the roster though. Chadwick Boseman absolutely shines as Wakandan Prince T’Challa and his country’s protector, the Black Panther. It couldn’t have been easy to give a brand new character a sort of origin story in a film that features over a dozen other high-profile names and heroes, but directors Joe and Anthony Russo made it work brilliantly. Boseman didn’t just take the material and phone it in; he makes T’Challa someone the audience can instantly empathize with and relate to, while also letting him kick all kinds of ass. He easily keeps up with the numerous MCU veterans, and even surpasses some of them. T’Challa sees more character development in this one film than Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye has seen in his four to-date appearances combined.
Another noteworthy newcomer is Daniel Brühl, playing the mysterious antagonist of the film, Zemo. His performance is understated and subtle, unlike the Baron Zemo from the comics that his character is based on, but Marvel is no stranger to taking certain liberties with characters so as to make them less predictable. Chalk up another win here, as Brüle’s Zemo knows exactly what he wants and how to get it, regardless of the number of Super People who oppose him. It’s difficult to properly explain his brilliance without entering spoiler territory, so suffice it to say he’s not the villain you may expect, but he is still a key character worth paying attention to.
Ultimately, Civil War feels like the ensemble extraordinaire that Avengers: Age of Ultron wanted to be. Unlike Ultron, however, Civil War takes its enormous cast and makes each and every one of them work. They all get enough screen time so as to not simply feel shoehorned in, and many of them take meaningful steps forward as characters. With the next two films being Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, it will be a while before we see any of our main players again, but expect them to come back in a full and fantastic force when they do.
Oh, and as always, do make sure you stay for both the mid-credits and post-credits scenes. You’ll be glad you did.