Once in a while – in fact very occasionally – studios and filmmakers will pay attention to what the critics are carping about. After all the outrage over the casualness with which entire cities were shown to be flattened or blown up at the end of every other blockbuster (think Transformers, Man of Steel, Avengers), some recent films have attempted to address the consequences of such widespread destruction.
Like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – only smarter, better written, and more coherent – Captain America: Civil War presents a scenario where superheroes find themselves being held accountable for the massive loss of innocent lives in the wake of their battles with power-hungry villains. Set a year after they more or less wiped out the fictional Sokovia in Age of Ultron, Civil War sees battle lines drawn between the Avengers when the world’s governments want to rein them in and put them under the supervision of the United Nations.
Wracked with guilt, Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) somewhat surprisingly agrees to sign up for the plan. But Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) resists, arguing for personal freedom and choice. When Stark is tasked with eliminating Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Cap’s childhood friend-turned-brainwashed assassin The Winter Soldier, the gloves come off and the rest of the gang is forced to pick sides.
That’s the trigger for the film’s thrilling action, as Cap and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) commit themselves to trying to save Bucky from the authorities and from the mysterious Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who has very personal reasons for going after the Winter Soldier. As old friends (Black Widow, Hawkeye, Scarlett Witch, War Machine, Vision) and new recruits (Ant-Man and Spidey) align themselves on either side, Team Cap and Team Iron Man face off in an epic smackdown at a deserted airport. You’ll be giddy with excitement watching this terrific sequence that’s really one of the most memorable in any Marvel movie.
Despite populating the film with so many superheroes, directors Anthony and Joe Russo make Civil War about character and consequence. Spectacular set-pieces and clever one-liners aside, the film allows every single one of its players to have a beat of character development. 19-year-old Tom Holland’s introduction as Peter Parker aka Spider-Man is one of the most charming scenes in the film, and Ant-Man’s place in the pantheon of Marvel’s crime-fighters is hilariously established. Even Daniel Bruhl, as the film’s rather underwhelming villain, gets his moment in the sun.
Crucially – and here’s where Marvel towers over its DC rivals – there’s real maturity in this story of guilt, revenge, friendship, and loyalty. Civil War, its every frame crammed with multiple heroes, often feels like a big Avengers film, but there’s no question this is Captain America’s journey. Chris Evans, by now virtually inseparable from the character, continues to invest Cap with old-fashioned sincerity and decency, emerging the conscience of these films.
Although less urgent than The Winter Soldier, this new outing is undeniably good fun. I’m going with four out of five for Captain America: Civil War. This is how blockbusters should be done.