Captain America: Civil War is more than just another superhero movie. It’s more than a two-and-a-half-hour special effects smorgasbord/fanboy wet dream (although it is that too). It’s more than Captain America vs Iron Man. Captain America: Civil War is a consequence. A consequence of almost a decade’s worth of films and the events that have spanned them. For years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has existed under the assumption that the world’s need for superheroes outweighs its need to regulate them. Our heroes arrive to save the day, only to bound off for the next adventure before the dust ever settles from the last. The world is then left to contend with the aftermath of a conflict they usually played no part in. And, as the damage to infrastructure, and more importantly, casualties, pile up, so too does the public’s impatience for the free reign that our destructive, albeit well meaning, heroes are afforded. Civil War asks, “Are the Avengers above the law?"
The seeds of this question were planted as far back as the first Avengers film when, in the aftermath of the Battle of New York, the public wondered whether the Avengers would answer for all the collateral damage they caused during their triumph over Loki and the Chitauri. In the movies since, we've seen our heroes' trust of government organizations, and of each other, challenged, as well as an exponential rise in global chaos, with each catastrophe more devastating than the last. Avengers: Age of Ultron’s Battle of Sokovia serves as the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, prompting the world’s leaders to finally take a stand for increased superhero accountability, turning the Marvel Cinematic Universe on its head in the process.
Civil War is one of Marvel’s most iconic storylines; however, fans have long wondered whether a film adaptation would ever be possible. The comic book arc pits characters from every corner of the Marvel universe against each other, in an all-encompassing battle of ideologies that transcends mere kicks and punches. When Civil War was first announced back in October 2014, it was hard to overlook the MCU’s then seeming lack of heroes. At the time, outside of the six core Avengers, Civil War could really only rely on Don Cheadle’s War Machine and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon to round out its rosters. Less than two years later, however, and the ranks have been bolstered considerably. 2015's Age of Ultron introduced us to Wanda Maximoff and Vision, while Ant-Man debuted in his surprisingly successful solo film just three months later.
Even with the requisite number of good guys, Civil War faces a tough task in finding enough screen time for all of them. However, unlike Age of Ultron, which crumbled beneath the weight of its own cast, Civil War gets the most out of its characters by maximizing the utility of their scenes, and ensuring that every secondary storyline stays relevant to the film's wider plot and overall theme. Tertiary players like Hawkeye and Ant-Man really only show up about halfway through the movie, but their impact seems much greater because the few scenes they are in play so well in complementing the rest of the film. Simply put, Civil War is able to juggle an even larger cast than Age of Ultron by keeping its characters in their lanes. The film's heavy lifting is left to Steve Rogers and Tony Stark - the story very much flows through the consequences of their actions, while supporting characters support them by filling in the narrative gaps - helping to move the plot forward, rather than peeling off in their own directions. Contrast this with Age of Ultron, whose focus vacillated between Tony Stark and Hawkeye, only to become even more clouded with the tangential exploits of Thor and Bruce Banner and Black Widow.
Above all else, Civil War is a story about the characters we've grown to love during the past eight years, and the relationships between them. There's a feeling that our heroes are actual people, whose playful banter speaks to an authentic level of friendship, something that was missing from the contrived quip-fest in Age of Ultron. Civil War manages to recapture the magic of The Avengers, bringing characters together who had previously never met, and the results are just as rewarding, especially for fans who have followed this fictional universe since its inception. It also does a great job of laying the groundwork for future movies, building genuine interest for newly introduced characters by organically blending them into the film’s plot. Because Civil War builds off character development that has taken place over a dozen films, we have an immediate sense of emotional investment before the opening title card ever drops. As the film progresses, we find that its central conflict is driven, not by the typical escalation of bad guy-overpowers-good guy-overpowers-bad guy, but by a nuanced chain of events that eventually forces our protagonists to pick sides opposite the same morally grey line. After these alliances start to crumble, the fallout resonates with us in a way that a Batman -Superman slap fight never could. And, in some ways, this is exactly the kind of grounded, intimate conflict that the comic book movie genre so desperately needs.
It seems like every May the movie industry churns out yet another summer blockbuster built on the same tried and true formula that always seems to conclude with a special effects-filled final battle. And while I'm clearly a fan of said fare, the tendency for these films to favor style over substance is hard to ignore. Obviously, Civil War has its share of action-heavy scenes; however, the scale is noticeably more intimate than in its fellow summer blockbusters. Even its giant, soon to be iconic airport fight pairs its combatants off in 1-on-1 matchups that manage to provide us with surprisingly compelling micro-interactions between characters, giving us bite-sized insight into heroes both old and new. Civil War consistently hits that hard to find combination of fun and engaging action sequences that can simultaneously drive the narrative and provide relevant character development. Civil War is an example of what comic book movies can and should be: not just a collection of fight scenes set in the foreground of a narrative; but rather, a strong character-driven story that just so happens to feature superhero action.
At the time of this writing, Captain America: Civil War currently sits fifth on the all-time opening weekend list, grossing $179 million in just three days. And while this does fall about $20 million short of initial projections, Civil War has firmly entrenched itself as Marvel's finest outing to date, and arguably as the greatest comic book film of all-time. It’s not a flawless movie, but it’s pretty damn close - maybe as close as we’ll ever get within the genre. For fans of the MCU, movies, and just strong storytelling in general, I highly recommend Captain America: Civil War as a film that will likely change your opinion, for the better, on all three.
Garrett Yoshitomi is a contributor for A Play on Nerds. He covers Marvel films and television, and enjoys fantasy baseball, Big Brother live feeds, and Anna Kendrick. You can find his tweets @garrettweets