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Directors Joe and Anthony Russo (Captain America: The Winter SoldierArrested DevelopmentCommunity) returned to the Marvel Cinematic Universe this week with Captain America: Civil War, the highly-anticipated follow-up to The Winter SoldierCivil War marks the beginning of Phase Three in the MCU, and what a beginning it is.

Civil War is loosely based on the comic book event of the same name, and, like most of the Cinematic Universe entries, incorporates elements from several other storylines in addition to original material. However, it comes as no surprise that this film utterly transcends the rather mediocre source to become something incredible.

The action begins in Lagos, Nigeria. Steve “Captain America” Rogers and his new team of Avengers are following the movements of Brock Rumlow, AKA Crossbones, former SHIELD operative and Hydra agent. Crossbones, last seen at the end of The Winter Soldier recovering from having a large portion of SHIELD headquarters collapse on him, is out for revenge. He leads his own team in an assault on the Institute for Infectious Diseases, stealing a biological weapon to draw out Cap’s Avengers. In the ensuing battle, Crossbones detonates a bomb in an attempt to kill Cap, ultimately failing thanks to the timely intervention of Scarlet Witch. Her powers save Steve, but numerous nearby civilians are still caught in the blast, injuring and killing several.

Enter Secretary of State Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. Best known as the general in charge of taking down the Hulk, Ross is now coordinating with the United Nations to bring the Avengers under international oversight. Reminding the team of the collateral damage they caused in their previous battles in New York, Washington D.C., and Sokovia, Ross invites the Avengers to sign the Sokovia Accords, which would require them to act only when authorized to do so by the UN. The members of the team are clearly conflicted. Tony “Iron Man” Stark is wracked with guilt over his involvement in various incidents, including the deaths of civilians in Sokovia, and feels that signing the accords is the only safe move for the superheroes. Cap, on the other hand, can’t help thinking of the failure of similar initiatives in the past, including Project Insight and the way that people with personal agendas can manipulate and control others. Other Avengers begin to choose sides, with nobody wanting to have to go against their friends.

The rift between Tony and Steve only grows wider at the meeting to sign the accords. A bomb goes off at the UN, killing King T’Chaka of Wakanda, who had been on a diplomatic mission following the use of his country’s greatest resource, vibranium, in the disaster in Sokovia. Steve’s best friend, Bucky, is blamed for the explosion. The ensuing manhunt spirals out of control as Captain America, Falcon, Hawkeye, and Scarlet Witch go rogue in an attempt to clear Bucky’s name, and Iron Man and the remaining Avengers follow orders to bring them in. Fear, paranoia, and doubt begin to gnaw at them all as the two forces clash, and a new enemy, Helmut Zemo, works to drive them to destroy one another.

This film is easily the pinnacle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at least at this point. The Russos prove that they are more than worthy of inheriting Joss Whedon’s mantle for the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War films and that the wild success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier was no fluke. Civil War takes us around the world, from Lagos to Bucharest. Our returning heroes and villains sport new gear and strategies that enable them to continue to surprise allies and audience members alike. And while the overall tone of this piece is rather somber, the banter between characters prevents things from getting bogged down. Every major character gets considerable screen time (an impressive feat, considering the sheer number of heroes returning or being introduced), and no one feels like they’re being left out. Chadwick Boseman rules every scene he’s in, balancing the solemnity of T’Challa’s royalty with the ferocity of a man bent on revenge. Tom Holland nails the role of Peter Parker and Spider-Man, capturing the exuberance of the adolescent superhero. I have great hopes for both Black Panther and Spider-Man: Homecoming, as Civil War left me wanting more of both of these characters. I’ve honestly been burned out on Spider-Man for a long time after the last, you know, five movies… but now I’m honestly excited about the character again. As for Black Panther, there’s no doubt in my mind that the new king of Wakanda will be the king of the box office as well.

In short, Captain America: Civil War was everything that I’d hoped for and more. The only true low is that, as the first film in Phase 3, it had to leave a lot left partially unresolved. With Doctor StrangeThor: RagnarokBlack PantherSpider-Man: HomecomingCaptain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, Ant-Man and Wasp, and Avengers: Infinity War all on deck, there’s a lot to look forward to. We’ve gotten a very brief taste of what’s to come, and I need more. If you’ve loved the Cinematic Universe thus far, there’s no reason for you to wait any longer to catch this film. All of the action and humor you’ve enjoyed is there in abundance. And as always, stay through the credits. You won’t regret it.

The massive cast includes the return of Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanov/Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye, Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon, Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier, Paul Bettany as Vision, Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man, Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine, Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter, and William Hurt as Thaddeus Ross. Civil War also introduces Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther, Martin Freeman as Everett K. Ross, Daniel Brühl as Helmut Zemo, and Tom Holland Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

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