Good versus Evil. The North versus The South. The Rebels versus The Empire. These are just a few of the great battles throughout history, non-fiction and otherwise. They were intense, blood filled, but someone came out on top, and whatever side you chose dictated quite a bit about yourself. Now in 2016, we have many other sides to chose, but the most important of all (in the nerd community that is) resides in the simple question: Are you Team Cap or Team Iron Man? Personal choice aside, both teams have an argument to be made. But until you see the evidence (aka Marvel’s latest release, Captain America: Civil War, directed by the Russo Brothers), the choice rests on your own inner nerdy core.
Warning: If you consider even the tiniest of mentions a spoiler, even if they are in the trailer, you might want to wait to read this review!
The third installment in the Captain America franchise brings us into a much different world than we have seen in prior Avengers tales. The atmosphere (within each new installment) continues to get colder, bleaker, and tougher than the colorful adventures we saw in Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Steve Rodgers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) is still leading his group of misfits, even when danger is on the horizon. Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is trying to keep up the charm that the world knows him for, even though personal demons continue to eat at him. But when an incident brings all the current heroes together, these two leaders find themselves at an odd crossroad: Do they sign a document that lets the government control their actions or continue to fight evil regardless of whether it is legal?
As a tried and true believer in the power of superheroes, Captain America seems like the obvious choice, right from the get-go. Have “The Man” rule over the world’s most powerful forces and let evil possibly take over all of humanity, are you insane?! Of course, Cap seems right! But by the end of Civil War, your ballot could suddenly change, and you might find yourself at a standstill much more intense than even the one our protagonists feel. This incredible emotional shift is due in part to the simple fact that this is one fantastic cinematic ride.
For those not “in the know” when it comes to comics, Civil War is a famous event within Marvel Comics’ long history. And though this movie is, at best, a loose adaptation of the comics that inspired it, it still pays homage to the general story. There is no identity revealing issues for our protagonists here, but rather much more mature fear of control and loss of freedom. Though the deeper feelings of paranoia might go over most younger audiences heads, to those more adult viewers, the themes explored in this new Captain America ring pretty true to what is going on outside our window – continuing the progression Winter Solider started perfectly. This is an MCU that is more refined and sure of itself, and advances past the Saturday Morning Cartoon story-lines viewers might be accustomed to.
Comic book films have definitely increased in the acting area as well, and Civil War might be one of the best examples of this. There’s of course Evans and Downey Jr., who continue to build upon the ground work of their iconic roles to a degree in which it is hard to separate the character from the actor. But then there are the supporting players who surround them, and bring another layer of depth that certain other comic book-to-movie adaptations have been missing in the past. Specifically in this MCU adventure, there are three stand outs, but only two of them should really be discussed at length prior to your viewing.
Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch was not the biggest draw during her debut in Age of Ultron, but here, she begins to become one of the most interesting of the female Avengers. When we first meet Wanda in the MCU, she’s militant, reserved, and lacks any sort of emotional depth due to her history. But once she breaks through that personal barrier, we see that she becomes a true hero, who though flawed in her still developing skills, refuses to back down from a fight. We even get to see her blossom as a confident woman outside of combat, even allowing a few to enter her heart (and if you know your Marvel history, you might have a clear “Vision” of what I’m speaking to.) All of these moments (highs and lows) are brought to life beautifully by Olsen, and if this progression continues on both page and screen, Wanda could become a true force to be reckoned with.
One of the newer additions to the MCU is Black Panther, brought to life by the underrated Chadwick Boseman. When we meet the future King of Wakanda, it is hard to not be immediately smitten with T’Challa. He’s strong, regal, and has a certain way about him that even in his short introduction is hard to miss. But once the film progresses, and his “chess piece” is correctly placed on the board that is the plot, Black Panther becomes something that Marvel hasn’t had in a while: a truly intimidating presence. He takes his job very seriously, making the other members of the Avengers seem like mere children in comparison. But the reason any of this works is purely through Boseman’s performance, who embodies almost perfectly Ta-Nehisi Coates’s recent Black Panther comic series.
The third figure I would like to mention is someone that is best kept under wraps. Even though he is seen in the trailer, the less you know about him the better. If you are curious to know the most simple reaction I can give to said individual: Bravo, Marvel! If this is the direction you are going with this character, you might have finally cracked the code on how to bring this kid to the screen. All of Queens would be proud.
Those behind the scenes should have just as much pride, as this movie not only has one of the strongest screenplays of a Marvel film (written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely), but also contains what could be one of the greatest action scenes in all of superhero film history. Yes, many will hype the Airport sequence to a degree that some might think is too much, but for those of us that collected a ton of action figures and hoped to see these kinds of battles “for real”, the praise is much deserved. It is as if the beautiful art of Penciller Steve McNiven came to life in the most magical of ways.
It is also important to note that there will be a divide when it comes to the antagonist of Civil War. On the one hand, their reason for creating any sort of conflict is pretty predictable and makes them fall in line with the other failed villains of Marvel’s past (almost as bad as Thor 2’s Dark Elf) – but then at times you could say that this person is the baddest of bad when it comes to baddies in the MCU. Unlike prior villains that just kick and punch their way through the conflict, this antagonist goes more into the psychological breakdown of our heroes – an effect that is much harder to shake than just an ordinary injury. The true evil effects need to be continued through future Marvel films for their efforts to be worthwhile, and until Infinity War, I’ll lean on the cautiously curious side.
With the incredible talent that is the Russo Brothers behind it, the Captain America films continue to be the crown jewel of the MCU. Civil War proves that the comic book genre has yet to lose its steam, and if other studios could produce something with this kind of energy and love behind it, than maybe all of Hollywood could join in the superhero fun. Until then, Marvel can remain as confident and striking as they ever have before. They’re like the child you’ve watched grow from preschool to now high school age. And at their current Junior level, I’m that much more excited to see what they become as they graduate to the Senior class.