What a difference a focused, well-written script makes. Age of Ultron had a similar cast as Captain America: Civil War, but the characters in Age of Ultron felt out of place, and the action forced down the viewers’ throats, while Civil War’s script better understood its characters, and that’s weird for a movie that features heroes fighting heroes. The biggest reason for this is that Civil War starts with a quieter script and explores the inner thoughts of superheroes.
If you read my rankings of Marvel movies (here’s a link to it), you’ll see a common thread for most of them: their villains are non-existent or they weren’t developed as well as they should be. Captain America: Civil War avoided this—for the most part—by having heroes fighting other heroes. Usually, I don’t care for the plot device of heroes taking arms against other heroes, because at least one character is written out of character (read Jim’s portion of our Batman v. Superman review here), but Civil War has done the best job I’ve seen of using this device. While you may not side with a particular hero in Civil War, you can understand why the heroes on the other side of the issue chose their path. That was something the comic book series of the same name didn’t do well. Great job, Civil War, great job.
I’m not saying Civil War is a perfect movie or that it goes light on the action. It crams as much action as it can in short order, but the two hours of Civil War were better used and paced than the two hours of Age of Ultron. The characters weren’t given equal time—and that might have been the reason Age of Ultron was lopsided—but they were given their own moments, and the viewers knew where each hero was as a character if nothing else. Civil War is a Captain America movie after all, so certain characters had to take a backseat.
It’s difficult not to spoil any of Civil War, and I’m trying hard not to drop any spoilers, but I will get into some particular heroes. Cap (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansen), and The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) work well off each other, illustrating where each character falls on the spectrum of government oversight as it pertains to The Avengers. We know most of these characters well, so that shouldn’t have been a surprise, but Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) was a breath of fresh air.
T’Challa wasn’t just an excuse to have an African hero, he served as a third party to The Avengers. His inclusion painted how The Avengers are seen outside of the United States. And that is one of Civil War’s central themes. Viewers caught a hint of T’Challa’s origin as Black Panther, but since his presence was integral to the main story arc, Civil War incorporated his origin in stride. I’ve always liked how Wakanda was the most technologically advanced country in the Marvel Universe and how it developed, unfettered by colonialism. After Civil War, viewers should be primed for 2018’s Black Panther.
I’m sure a lot of fans are interested in Spider-Man. He was amazing—pun intended. Spidey was a larger part of Civil War than I thought he’d be, and Tom Holland did a great job of portraying a really young Peter Parker. Civil War integrated him into the cast as well as it did T’Challa. We’ll have to see whether or not Spider-Man: Homecoming will be weighted down with Spidey’s origin, but at least Civil War didn’t go that route.
Like I said before, every character had a moment. Scarlet Witch, Vision, Ant-Man, Falcon, Hawkeye, and War Machine each had flashes of what made them tick as characters and why they chose which side they chose. Civil War was a hero versus hero story done about as well as it can be done. Sure, it had a bloated cast—we knew that before watching the movie—and the story did drag because of its large cast, but if Marvel can remind us why we care about these heroes (like it does in Civil War), I’ll continue to find enjoyment with these movies.
As Kyle noted, I’ve been pretty open about disliking the plot device of heroes fighting heroes. It does require at least one side being written out of character, and Captain America: Civil War is no exception. Tony Stark is out of character in supporting government oversight. This is the guy who refused to turn his suit over to the government, right? Well, Marvel has done a lot to develop Tony Stark’s character, and they use his guilt over what happened in New York, D.C., and Sokovia to make his surprise decision to serve governments a little less unbelievable. Of course, Stark’s logic still requires a selective memory, as Captain America: The Winter Soldier showed us Hydra (and other rogue elements) can infiltrate any governing body. Suffice it to say, I’m Team Cap.
What helped Civil War was keeping the conflict contained. These heroes are opposed to one another, but for the vast majority of the film, there is focus on how the characters are pulling their punches. This isn’t so much a Civil War as a Civil sparring match, and that helps these characters not feel like they’ve completely lost perspective.
I won’t blow the villain’s identity here, because fans of the comics may appreciate the surprise. It’s a version of a character from the comics who doesn’t really resemble the comic book character in any way, so that might upset some hardcore fans, but I’ll leave that to you to decide.
The important thing about the villain in this story was his plot. What Civil War does so well is it makes you think the villain is aiming much higher than he is, then the plot shrinks. It’s refreshing to me to see a comic book film where the fate of the planet or even the galaxy aren’t on the line. Civil War manages to keep the plot small, but the stakes high, and that’s a compelling story.
I wish there had been a little more closure in the end, but it would’ve been hard to do without glossing over everything the story did, so I can’t fault the film for that. I will say what I loved, and respected, so much about The Winter Soldier is how that movie changed the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It forced all of their storytelling to adapt, and Civil War has done that again. I was nervous about this movie going in, and I can tell you my fears were put to rest. I’m sure I’ll see this at least a couple more times before it’s out of theatres.