The ongoing Marvel vs. DC debate has always fascinated me. When it comes to the comics none of it ever really made sense; both companies have their share of iconic heroes and villains, with more than enough to please everybody. But it's been especially fascinating as comic book movies have become the standard by which all blockbusters are now measured. Once again, Marvel and DC are seen as contentious foes by the fans, but let's keep it real. In this particular case there is no competition. Marvel has no peer in this arena, and the utter perfection and sheer awesomeness of Captain America: Civil War is the best example of their superiority.
What started out as arguably Marvel's weakest first entry, the Captain America movies are now superheroes done totally right, combining mature themes with big, explosive theatrics. And in the case of 'Civil War', the film expertly juggles more than a dozen characters while introducing a few very high-profile new ones, like Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland), without missing a beat. The credit has to go to co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo, who have given these movies the edge the Marvel Cinematic Universe so desperately needed.
The Avengers have always been a "ticking time bomb" as Bruce Banner so eloquently put it in the first team-up flick, but this is the first time they've truly imploded. And it wasn't space aliens or an evil robot that did it; it was a United Nations resolution. The film tears the team down ideological lines with one side backing Captain America (Chris Evans) and the other on Team Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), as the government decides to hold superheroes accountable for the devastation they've caused. In the wake of the destruction seen New York (during The Avengers) and Sokovia (In Avengers: Age of Ultron), the U.N. proposes the Sokovia Accords, which removes the autonomy the team has long enjoyed. The situation gets worse after an incredible opening sequence where Cap's team: Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), battle Crossbones (Frank Grillo) to a tragic conclusion. While their teamwork is fluid (and totally badass) as ever, a momentary lapse leads to the death of innocents.
The U.N. proposal quickly divides the team into two camps, but this isn't done arbitrarily just to make sure both sides are even. No, the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely plays on each character's past history and current perspective. Tony Stark's continued guilt over the Ultron fiasco continues to weigh on him, and Cap's distrust of government, explored wonderfully in the prior film, drives his stance against submitting to the control of bureaucrats. Meanwhile, he's also forced to go on the lam to find his old pal, Bucky (Sebastian Stan), aka the Winter Soldier, who has been implicated in an attack that killed the King of the African nation of Wakanda. That brings into the picture the fearsome Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), on the hunt for some revenge.
It sounds like a lot is going on, and there is, which is why the Russos and the screenwriters deserve praise for keeping it so simple. What you get is literally everything a fan of these movies could want. The airport sequence alone, in which both sides, including Don Cheadle's War Machine, Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye, Paul Rudd's Ant-Man (displaying a power fans of the character will be elated by), and Paul Bettany's Vision engage in a super-powered battle royale is worth the price of ten tickets all by itself. It also gives us a look at how agile and funny Spider-Man is going to be as he enters his first real fight and trades quips with Marvel's greatest heroes.
And let's talk about Spider-Man because what Marvel has done with him is rather extraordinary. Knowing that nobody in their right mind wants another origin story, we're instead given a brief man-to-man chat between Stark and Peter Parker (with Marisa Tomei's Aunt May nearby) that captures everything we need to know. Holland is playing the youngest Spidey we've seen on screen yet and that injection of youth and vitality gives the entire MCU a different feel, a different kind of energy. Hopefully that can be recaptured in his upcoming standalone film, but Spider-Man is already an incredible addition.
The same goes for Black Panther, who is depicted as the unique figure in the Marvel Universe just as he is in the comics. He's not just some vigilante hero; he's the ruler of a nation, a Prince and now a King. And he acts with the regal demeanor befitting his position, and it comes out even more when engaged in combat, which he is frequently. Once again the Russos deploy an action style that isn't too far removed from the frenetic, jaw-jacking pace of The Raid movies. Let's put it this way: you notice the difference in the other movies the Russos aren't directing. They just don't have the same blistering choreography.
If there's anything that doesn't work it's a subplot involving Daniel Bruhl as Baron Helmut Zemo, one of the Avengers' most lethal foes. Here he's still depicted as a consummate schemer and strategist, manipulating the team in ways they couldn't even fathom. His plot reveals secrets that nobody could have expected and is perhaps the film's biggest twist, so try to go into it with as clean a slate as possible. The disappointment is that Zemo's plan should probably be a movie all by itself and yet it gets lost with so much going on elsewhere. Bruhl is still great in the role and captures Zemo's trademark arrogance, but he could have used more screen time.
While there will be many who proclaim Captain America: Civil War to be Marvel's best film yet and rightfully so because it certainly is their best yet, what's most amazing is that they are still capable of reaching such a high point. The MCU has been around for 8 years and thirteen movies now, incredible by any measure, and if they keep making movies as good as Captain America: Civil War they can keep going forever.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5