Captain America has become the gold standard for all the franchises contained in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The crusader has delivered the best of all twelve MCU movies (The Winter Soldier) and has effortlessly become the moral center of this colossal enterprise.
Outside one small but increasingly problematic qualm (more on that later), Captain America: Civil War ranks up there, not quite at the top, but higher than Ultron or Iron Man. Sure, it’s easy to pick on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but it’s embarrassing how superior Civil War is using basically the same elements: Collateral damage, superhero supervision and a bad guy pulling the strings. It’s not only plot. The action scenes –particularly the centerpiece- had me giddy, while in BvS:DoJ I was just bored.
A routine mission for the Avengers gets several Wakandans killed and sheds light on the growing number of unintended casualties this “saving mankind” business entails. An initiative suggesting the United Nations should supervise the Avengers’ deeds causes a rift between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), who agrees with the motion, and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), who has come to distrust civilian authorities.
The fracture becomes a full schism as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) re-enters the picture as the main suspect of a terrorist act. Rogers is not willing to give up on his best friend, even though the evidence against him is overwhelming. Sides are formed and old and new superheroes line up behind Iron Man or Cap more out of loyalty than ideological conviction.
More its own beast than based on the original comic series, Civil War does a remarkable job balancing no less than 16 main and supporting roles -let alone introducing two major players- and yet remain cohesive. The matter of political supervision, a complete drag in Batman v Superman, feels organic here, same as Captain America’s objections.
In spite of the heavy themes the film touches upon, Civil War is always entertaining, allowing comedy to emerge from every corner. The increasingly troubled Tony Stark hands out the comic relief mantle to Ant-Man and Spider-Man to riotous results. The new Spidey (Tom Holland, The Impossible) is the closest to the spirit of the comic, basically a good, polite kid thrown into situations way above his paygrade. Doesn’t hurt he actually looks like a teenager (Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield are ancient by comparison).
The stunning twenty-minute brawl at the heart of Civil War has to be the finest scene ever produced by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The use of teamwork to amplify the heroes’ powers combined with Stark and Rogers’ tactician skills results in pure, unabashed fun. These movies get a lot of mileage of the Avengers enjoying themselves. Sure, they are in opposite bands, but it’s clear they are getting a kick out of it.
Daniel Brühl as the presumed villain Baron Zemo is bound to be divisive. Zemo is an agent of chaos, but also bright and human. He is the most approachable of all the villains featured in the MCU: Undeniably evil, but there is a method to his madness. Positively an improvement over Ultron.
There is one element that keeps Captain America: Civil War from soaring: Stakes. Delving too much on this matter would take us into spoiler territory, but suffice is to say this is a recurrent problem in the MCU. Granted, there are only so many alternatives, but some risks should be taken in order to go from entertaining to memorable. Three Team Cap prairie dogs plus one Team Iron Man. So, four.
Captain America: Civil War opens tonight everywhere.