Captain America Civil War (2016)

Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Brühl

For the last eight years, since the inception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the clear favorite in terms of an individual character has been Tony Stark/Iron Man. But, in truth, his movies have only been as good as their lead actor. Remove Robert Downey, Jr. from the equation, and the “Iron Man” franchise is left with mostly average stories to tell. On the other hand the “Captain America” franchise, while it too needed the right guy in the pivotal role, has been less dependent on Chris Evans than its great storytelling. Steve Rogers’ journey from movie to movie has been unlike any that his fellow Avengers have experienced, and none have thus achieved the personal growth that Steve has. That streak continues in “Captain America: Civil War.”

Avengers team members Steve Rogers/Captain America, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) prevent the theft of biological weapons material in Lagos, Nigeria, but at too high a price. The terrorist Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), an enemy of Cap’s left over from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” chooses death by suicide bomb over being captured. Wanda does her best to contain the blast, but it still levels a nearby building, resulting in the deaths of many civilians. The team is later paid a visit by Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) who lets them know that the United Nations are drafting a resolution which, when passed, will give the UN control over exactly when and where the Avengers can do their world policing. The news fragments the team philosophically, especially when Tony Stark/Iron Man reveals his intention to sign the accords. Stark is more motivated than most given that it was his creation, the artificial intelligence known as Ultron, which destroyed the Eastern European nation of Sokovia (Wanda Maximoff’s home country) only one year prior. Steve, whose once unyielding faith in his government has become irreparably shattered by mounting betrayals, outright refuses to sign.

Natasha attends the meeting in Vienna where the accords are meant to be finalized, and in the process meets King T’Chaka of Wakanda… whose country suffered several casualties in the incident in Nigeria… and his son, Prince T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). Another terrorist bombing claims the life of the King, and evidence points to Rogers’ old friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) a.k.a. the Winter Soldier, a former Hydra sleeper agent who still has yet to shake off his brainwashing. With the limited evidence at hand, T’Challa vows revenge while Steve wants to bring his friend in before the authorities make good on their threat to shoot on sight. The ensuing battle, which also includes Sam Wilson, leads to all four superpowered men being placed under arrest.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, a Sokovian named Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is in the process of setting his own sequence of plans in motion. He kills the man he used to pose as Barnes for the Vienna bombing as well as Barnes’ former Hydra handler. Next, Zemo maneuvers his way into the Berlin holding facility where Bucky is being held and poses as an interrogating officer. There’s something locked away inside Bucky’s mind… something having to do with a mission he’d performed as the Winter Soldier in 1991… that Zemo needs to know about. Once Zemo gets what he needs, he activates Bucky’s brainwashing to cover his own escape. Eventually, Steve is able to subdue and extract his friend, and discovers what information Zemo was after: the location of a base in Siberia where other Winter Soldiers are currently in cryostasis.

Unwilling to submit to the whims of government approval, Steve assembles the members of the Avengers whom are sympathetic to his cause and they head for the airport. In addition to Rogers, Barnes, Wilson, and Maximoff, this team also includes Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). A government-approved team of Avengers intercepts and engages them. Led by Tony Stark/Iron Man, this team includes Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, T’Challa/Black Panther, James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), the Vision (Paul Bettany), and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), the latter of whom Tony traveled to Queens, New York to recruit. Why Tony couldn’t have made a stop in nearby Hell’s Kitchen while he was at it is beyond me… The resulting spectacular battle results in most of Team Captain America being arrested, while Steve and Bucky escape to Siberia. Team Iron Man, meanwhile, suffers one casualty: An errant blast by the Vision results in Rhodey being partially paralyzed. Natasha, who fought for Tony’s team, regardless must flee after facilitating Steve and Bucky’s departure.

Tony follows Steve and Bucky to Siberia, with T’Challa stealthily trailing behind. There, the other super soldiers are discovered dead, each of them shot through the head by Zemo while still in cryostasis. Zemo doesn’t want an army of super soldiers. Hardly. All he is interested in is revenge against the Avengers for the death of his family, casualties of the team’s climactic battle with Ultron in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” He means for the team to fall apart from within. Aided by footage of a grim 1991 incident, meaningful to Tony and perpetrated by a brainwashed Bucky, Zemo’s plan succeeds. With Tony pitted against Steve and Bucky, the three are nearly killed in the ensuing fight, and wind up going their separate ways. Meanwhile, satisfied that his plan has worked, Zemo moves to attempt suicide, but is halted by T’Challa, who declares that he has decided to forego revenge for his father’s death. It is also strongly implied that T’Challa aids in the jailbreak of Steve’s team, thus turning them into what Marvel Comics fans will recognize as the “Secret Avengers.”

The same shades of grey that drove “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” exist here. Certainly we all have our favorite between Tony Stark/Iron Man and Steve Rogers/Captain America, but in the story presented in “Captain America: Civil War,” it’s not as easy to take sides as you might think. None of the heroes come off as being entirely righteous. Sure, everyone means well, but they are all of them misguided. Even Helmut Zemo, the film’s antagonist, is not your typical black hat villain. Has he done horrible things? Certainly. But he is not an entirely unsympathetic character either, which is more than you can say for most of Marvel’s one-and-done bad guys.

“Captain America” is a rarity among superhero franchises. Unlike most which find themselves starting to decline by the third chapter, this one has only gotten stronger. 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” by virtue of being a WWII-era adventure, remains Marvel’s most aesthetically pleasing film. However, in terms of scale, character-growth, and for what it symbolizes in regards to securing the future of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, none has more successfully dotted its I’s and crossed its T’s than “Captain America: Civil War.” In fact, it is the new faces which are the most enjoyable parts of this movie. Whatever degree of interest I had in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Black Panther” was magnified by the impressive appearances of Peter Parker and T’Challa in “Civil War.” In particular, Tom Holland’s wisecracking teenage Peter Parker is really spot-on. I look forward to more from him and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, who also has a short scene). More time is needed to be able to tell how well that “Captain America: Civil War” will hold up against repeat viewings, but I foresee no problems for this, one of Marvel’s greatest cinematic achievements.

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Well, what a great, well crafted review! Sounds like I have a treat in store!

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