Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War Movie ReviewWalt Disney Pictures
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem.
Running time: 146 minutes.
Three and a half stars out of four.

With “Captain America: Civil War,” directors Anthony and Joe Russo have found the tricky balance that eluded the ordinarily reliable Joss Whedon with last year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

They’ve made a movie that’s both self-referential and self-reverential, thrilling and heady, packed with giant set pieces and sly pop-culture quips in equal measure. Yes, there’s probably too much going on here: too many characters, too many subplots, too many gears keeping the behemoth Marvel Cinematic Universe grinding ever forward toward world domination. And at nearly two and a half hours, it’s a long sit — although Nicolas, at age 6 1/2, was thoroughly engaged the whole time. (Then again, he’s inordinately Marvel-savvy. Your mileage may differ.).

But “Civil War” remains entertaining throughout, even as it turns introspective. The Russos, who also directed Chris Evans & Co. in the excellent “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” from 2014, have reteamed with the writers of that movie, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Like “The Winter Soldier,” “Civil War” is relevant and resonant without becoming heavy-handed or self-serious the way, oh, say, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” did. It’s got some intelligent, important matters on its mind but also finds a way to deliver in terms of  summer thrills.

Now, I don’t want to divulge too much in terms of plot. I’d like to avoid spoilers for both of the people on the planet who haven’t seen “Civil War” yet. (For a spoiler-tastic review of the film, please enjoy our What the Flick?! discussion.) But I do want to touch on the main things the movie gets so right, as well as the few it gets not quite right.

An inadvertent deadly attack on an office building in Lagos, Nigeria — the result of the Avengers trying to do the right thing, as usual — prompts the U.S. government to question whether these superheroes should be allowed to continue functioning autonomously. A quick montage of the massive urban destruction that has occurred in the past few Marvel movies makes an awfully persuasive case: Yes, they’re using their powers for the greater good in all these instances, but the collateral damage is undeniable. The fact that a Marvel movie dares to question the big, shiny spectacle that is its bread and butter — and acknowledge that untold thousands die in the name of entertainment — seems rather novel. At the same time, “Civil War” approaches this topic in brisk, smart fashion rather than languishing in perpetually rainy, philosophical doldrums the way Zack Snyder’s “BvS” did earlier this year.

As the Avengers and their newfound allies take sides on the issue of whether to sign a treaty agreeing to international oversight or continue with their current strategy of world-saving, no matter the cost, it’s fascinating to see who falls where. It doesn’t shake out the way you might expect; there’s a bit of role reversal here. The typically brash, billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), better known as Iron Man, is surprisingly conservative when it comes to the group’s use of power. He’s seen some things and thinks General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) has a point in seeking oversight and accountability. Meanwhile, Evans’ Steve Rogers — the earnest do-gooder, Captain America — takes an if-not-now-when, if-not-us-who approach. He wants to maintain the status quo and refuses to sign.

As Steve’s old childhood friend-turned-enemy Bucky (Sebastian Stan) returns from obscurity to unleash his full potential as the reprogrammed killing machine The Winter Soldier, the Avengers must side with either Iron Man or Captain America as the latest and greatest threat to world peace looms ever larger. We’re talking about a lot of people here, folks — so many that you may lose track of who’s on which team in the midst of major battles. Maybe that’s the point, though — the futility of war and whatnot. All I know is, the next day, Nicolas and I had a hard time recalling who was Team Cap and who was Team Iron Man. (Luckily, the ubiquitous billboards throughout Los Angeles helped jog our memories.)

There’s also the revelation of a deep secret that provides a surprisingly emotional underpinning to the ideological feud between Iron Man and Captain America. It arrives during a moment of beautiful dramatic in snowy Siberia, and it’s the film’s most gorgeous, memorable image (the work of cinematographer Trent Opaloch, who also shot “The Winter Soldier”). And that’s about all I want to say about that.

As for the performances — because yes, they do matter, even in a blockbuster about comic-book heroes — an enormous cast gets even bigger with the addition of characters from Marvel movies past and future. Everyone gets a brief moment to shine but it’s often tantalizing and perhaps not enough. Besides Evans and Downey — who seem to feel these characters in the very fiber of their being by now — there’s also Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Anthony Mackie as Falcon, Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany as Vision. The tremendously versatile Chadwick Boseman, who’s already played Jackie Robinson (“42”) and James Brown (“Get On Up”) in just the past few years, provides excitement both physically and emotionally as newcomer Black Panther — and he’ll get his own movie, directed by Ryan Coogler, in 2018.

But the best part of “Civil War” for me was the reintroduction of Peter Parker/Spider-Man. It is THE highlight of the movie. Tom Holland finds just the perfect tone as the webslinger, whom we’ve seen in countless other incarnations. Tobey Maguire was quippy and Andrew Garfield was angry and both played this iconic role with varying degrees of success. Holland gets the boyish giddiness of having superpowers; his joy is infectious, and his banter with Downey positively crackles.

And unlike the Black Panther movie, you only have to wait until next year for “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Because regardless of how good any of these movies are individually, they’re all just cogs in the massive Marvel machinery.


28 Comments on “Captain America: Civil War

  1.  by  Saim

    Umm. Miss Lemire? Your review seems positive but it’s still showing rotten on Rotten Tomatoes. Is there a mistake here or am I just confused?

    Also nice review.

    •  by  Christy Lemire

      Ummm. It’s fixed. You are one of many, many thoughtful people who pointed out this discrepancy. But thanks (and thanks for reading)!

      •  by  Josh

        Its worth seeing just to hear Spiderman yell “Holy sh1t!”.

  2.  by  jozielee

    Just saw it and surprised how much I enjoyed it. You’re right, loved the comedy – In the midst of battle Black Widow asks Hawk: “We are still friends, aren’t we?” “Of course,” he replies. Yet they’re on opposite teams. Hahaha.

    As you said, the movie was a tad long. Even while I enjoyed the action, had to go the restroom but scared I’d miss an important plot point I, like many other folks in the theater, waited. We missed the credits as many made a mad dash for the toilet.

    Great summer fare.

  3.  by  Krishna

    Without spoiling any of the major plot points I have one major issue with this movie – Being that Captain America is a man of the uniform who follows authority, wouldn’t he be on the political side that Iron Man took. And being a sort of anarchist who doesn’t follow authority wouldn’t Iron Man be on the opposite side of the political position he takes as we saw from previous Iron Man films. Apart from that it was a awesome fun summer movie.

    •  by  Jamie

      I think this Cap lines up with the one we saw in Winter Soldier – one who believes in freedoms and ideals, not government.
      Following Ultron, I think this move only sort of makes sense for Tony given that his solution to ultron was to create another thing that could go bad

    •  by  Matt

      I can only assume you have not seen Winter Soldier or Age of Ultron. The positions taken in this movie are a long time coming. You see the seeds of this in several movies.

      Stark is now the guy that wants to make everyone safe and will use any means to make it happen. Safety is the priority, no matter the cost.

      Steve is the guy that doesn’t trust anyone. He wants to keep the world safe, but not at the cost of his or anyone else’s freedom.

      Their positions have changed over time. There has been a role-reversal, in many ways. I think it easy to see why a guy that jumped from 1940 to 2011 might be horrified about how for technology has come. The world we live in where there is almost no expectation of privacy has been gradual for us. For his character, it was instantaneous.

      I think it all makes a lot of sense, but that’s just me.

    •  by  Fred

      Nah. Tony Stark has been coming to this realization that there needs to be some sort of check in place for a while now. Especially after he was sort of responsible for Ultron existing in the first place.

      As for Cap, he doesn’t blindly follow authority. He is a champion of freedom and democracy above anything else. Being a patriot doesn’t mean doing what your government tells you. It’s the people who have the power, not the government. We need leaders and decision makers in the political arena, but the moment those decisions infringe on our rights is the moment we must take action.

      Of course there will always be room for argument over what those rights are exactly, but it seems obvious Cap believes yet another government agency demanding private information and submission to their will is not something we would benefit from even if the end goal is a noble one.

      •  by  Son of Prometheus

        Well said my brother 🙂 If you keep texting like this I might have to press Follow on your Twitter account (If you have one) Articulate & Insightful. “Being a patriot doesn’t mean doing what your government tells you to.” Damn! I like that. Might have to put it on a t-shirt.

      •  by  Sharon

        Regarding “Cap’s” views on government, I would most DEFINITELY, be on his side!!!
        I agree w/ not allowing our government today, to have so much access to all citizens privacy!!!!! No one should have that much access on anyone!!!; unless it’s matters of national security!!!! High ALERT
        THREAT!!!!! i.e….anything that’s criminal and/or a threat to society.????

    •  by  jgfox

      Are the rulings of the UN actually Law? Did any of the Avengers swear allegiance to the UN?

      When I was sworn into the US Army, I took an oath to obey the orders of the President and those he delegate over us. I also was told in Basic training that I should not follow orders if indeed they were not lawful. We were instructed that no superior could instruct you to do something that was unlawful. “I was only following orders” could never be an excuse in the US Military.

      From what was done to those Avengers who dared to question the totalitarian rulings … it was clear that the UN resolutions were not lawful … just Ordnungs.

    •  by  Craig Berger

      It’s easier to buy if you read the book. Essentially, Iron Man, who has evolved from reckless, womanizing alcoholic to taking Nick Fury’s top spot in SHIELD, sees himself as a sort of patriarch for the hero community: He knows what’s best for them. Cap, on the other hand, loves his country and the freedoms it provides–freedoms which include autonomy from government interference wherever possible-not for him-he’s a soldier, but for his fellow superhumans whose only vow of service is to the innocents they have sworn to protect.

  4.  by  Fred

    Thanks for a great in depth review, I thought ‘Civil War’ was just superb. The thing with movies is there are different genres and there is always something for everyone in movies. This is not just a comic book film, but an action film that has heart, emotion, humor, great action sequences and visuals. Like ‘Winter Soldier’ it’s darker than other MCU films and more complex, but it still doesn’t forget to be fun. I think Black Panther and Spider-Man we’re outstanding in their MCU debuts and their strong performances should leave many movie goers excited about their upcoming solo films. I think a lot of credit goes to the Russos and the writers for giving us a thoughtful CBM and not just some run of the mill market machine.

    •  by  jozielee

      So agree with you, Fred, about Black Panther and SpiderMan. When Black Pather reveals his identity I gasped. Never even considered him as the culprit. And all those great toys he came with . . . wow. Then we see him with an entourage and know he’s got bucks to support his enterprise.

      SpiderMan, on the other hand, we’re meeting as the boy wonder. Still in high school. Still under his Aunty’s thumb. Tom Hollander’s awkward and bumbling characterization charmed.

      •  by  Noober caller1549

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  6.  by  MadMaxx63

    This review sounds more like someone fishing for a lot of big words and trying desperately to put them in a cognitive format!

    •  by  JRS

      Yeah, lots of big words…. Like “latest” and “dramatic” and “enough”….

      Your comment could not be more inane, misapprehensive and defensively anti-intellectual.

  7.  by  james ball

    The kill count is actually alot lower than what you assumed.

  8. Pingback: REVIEW Captain America: Civil War : Watch It Twice! No, Thrice! « Creative Writing English Universitas Padjadjaran

  9.  by  PJ Pierce

    Civil War was a little hard to get through for myself. The experience of the film was gloomy for the most part and I am not sure that is exactly what I want to see in a Marvel film. I think there is some truth when the reviewer says that the arguments of Captain America and Iron Man kept grinding through and became repetitive. However, I agree – Spider-Man is the best thing that happened in the who film. He and Ant-Man were not only enjoyable characters but they even seemed to be the only characters who loved being a superhero (or being in the movie for that matter). My favorite thing plot-wise in this film was Black Panther. He was the only one in the film who seemed like he resolved his conflict. – I don’t want to give away much – but I think he is the only one who was really redeemed from the whole ordeal as opposed to the other heroes who didn’t seem to resolve anything at the end. In this sense Black Panther was inspiring to me because he was able to overcome and not give into his hate. This review was enlightening and gave the movie a little more clarity for me as a whole

  10.  by  Edmund

    Civil war is a great marvel movie with terrific action. The liepzig airport avengers action blitzkrieg is a thing of beauty; action nirvana spun with intricate webbing, served up with a giant helping of comic book retrograde pastiche. However I find villain baron Zemo’s scenes boring and a stretch of willing suspension of disbelief. After the airport action extravanga, I was looking for an even more rousing epic action finale; the smallness of the finale and slow burn of it left me disappointed. Movie was in fine feckle and soaring up until the rather tame finale. Excellent except for Zemo who is not as commandeering and action savvy as his nefarious comic roots counterpart.

  11.  by  Subash

    Hi Christy Lemire. That’s really a great thought of yours towards the movie. I had also watched it many times and still don’t mind to watch it again. I am a big fan of Avengers since it first came at 2012. Since then the progress they have made on the following movies are remarkable. As being a fan of the Avengers I had a great expectations from the movie CIVIL WAR too and I must say it does meet the expectations. The story of the movie is really attention grabbing. I totally agree on your description of the plots and the subplots. And I do like the way they come up with the concept of Peter Parker (Spider Man). But they only thing that I don’t like is, his role throughout the movie. He was just introduced for a certain purpose. While there was a conflict between the avengers of the Captain America side and the Iron Man side, Spider Man was plotted as a major character. After that he was lost. I think if they had extended his role a little bit more then it would be something more to watch.
    When I saw the trailer, I was like wow! Spider Man. But, later on after watching the movie I realized that it was just for certain time. That was the only this I find which could have been improvised. Else then that everything is just amazing. I love this movie. And I am waiting for its next series.

  12.  by  Cil

    I was a huge DC fan and back in 2008 couldn’t care less on what Marvel was doing. Then, IronMan happened and the rest is history. Both Winter Soldier and Civil War are a poem to fans of these comics. Well done, well executed, fun to watch, fan to think about. Love Civil War!