I think I have a new favorite movie. That probably sounds like hyperbole. Maybe it is. I’m an unabashed Marvel fanboy. I watch the cartoons. I read the comics. I collect the Funko Pops. I build the LEGO. I wear the shirts. I even spend money on the stupid free-to-play iOS games. On the list of my favorite things, Marvel is up there, so maybe you shouldn’t trust my opinion that Captain America: Civil War is the best movie Marvel Studios has ever made. Or maybe it’s the reason you should. Who else is better equipped to tell you that this movie represents Marvel Studios at the very top of their game?
I won’t waste too much time explaining in detail the plot of this movie or introducing any of the numerous characters whose presence is felt in this film. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you already have a good idea who the players are and what they’re fighting for. All you need to know is that in the wake of a number of catastrophic incidents involving the Avengers, the United Nations decides that super-powered individuals can no longer be allowed to operate without oversight. Tony Stark, wracked with guilt over the mistakes he’s made, supports this plan. Steve Rogers, who has reason to be paranoid about large supervisory entities, doesn’t feel that the will of the government always best represents the needs of the people. The comic book storyline this movie takes its name from deals with a different issue, although the overall themes are the same: accountability vs. liberty. Unfortunately, the comic storyline does away with nuance and turns Tony Stark into a villainous figure who’s willing to use crazed lunatics and killers to hunt down is friends. Thankfully, where the comic fails, the movie succeeds. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely deftly handle the weighty themes and do a great job of showing the merits of both sides. You’re able to understand why each characters decides the way they do and why it’s so difficult for their friends and teammates to share that same point of view. It’s this understanding that makes it so heartbreaking to watch these friends go after another. That, and their shared history.
Cinematic universes are all the rage these days. Fox has one for the X-Men. Warner Bros. has one for their DC characters. Universal has one for their monsters. Paramount has one for their Hasbro properties. They’re all trying to copy the Marvel model, which has paved the way to unprecedented success. Nobody else has managed to pull it off yet, however, which has led many to believe that this new trend is going to be the downfall of the Hollywood blockbuster. The problem is that in looking to replicate Marvel’s success, nobody wants to truly follow in Marvel’s footsteps. Look at Warner Bros. and their DC films, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in particular. Instead of slowly developing a world and building up an assortment of characters through multiple films, they chose to jump in head first, doing away with any of the character and world-building that made a movie like The Avengers possible. Everyone is so behind the curve on this that they don’t have the patience to do it right. Captain America: Civil War works so well because all of the emotional beats feel earned – no shortcuts were taken to get to this point – there are clearly defined characters arcs flowing throughout all of the Marvel Studios films, all of which seemingly inevitably lead to this point. Within the context of the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe, the conflict in Civil War makes so much sense; It’s been building for years, this is just the tipping point. If there is an argument to be made for the value of the cinematic universe as a storytelling concept, Civil War is that argument. This movie, with all its emotional heft, would not be possible without the MCU. You could tell the same story, but it wouldn’t be as natural, streamlined, or as emotionally charged. This movie is a testament to sharply-defined characters and thoughtful world-building. There is this lived-in feeling to the movie that comes from knowing the history of these characters and the world they operate in, a feeling that was almost completely absent from Batman v Superman, outside of the opening scene. I wasn’t planning on comparing this film to DC’s counterpart, but it’s hard not to – Civil War is everything BvS is not – well-paced, funny, emotional, and fun.
What more can I say? Civil War is the longest Marvel movie to date, but the time just flies by. I didn’t want it to end. It’s filled with hilarious one-liners and thrilling action sequences that get a lot of mileage out of everyone’s unique abilities and personalities. Somehow, the Russo brothers, Markus, and McFeely ensure that every character gets their due diligence – everyone has their moment and nobody truly feels underserved. It’s a remarkable accomplishment and it instills hope in me that this team, responsible for two of the MCU’s best films, will be able to juggle all of the characters in the next two Avengers films. On top of all this, the film is bolstered by great performances that truly communicate the gravitas of the situation. It’s a stunning achievement.
Captain America: Civil War is an absolute triumph. I’m sure plenty of people will still hate it, or at the very least find fault with it, but for me, this is as good as movies come. With the Russo brothers steering the ship, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in good hands. Now bring on Doctor Strange.