Stan Lee says that all superhero-on-superhero battles must end in a draw — but that doesn’t mean it won’t be painful.
Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) has a secret: his best friend Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) has managed to break his programming that keeps him an obedient soldier, but he doesn’t trust anyone and chooses to be left alone. On the eve of the signing of the Superhero Registration Act aka the Sokovia Accords (named for the country Age of Ultron targeted), Cap and Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) are at odds over the implications, mainly that politicians would decide who should and shouldn’t be helped. They’re both right in their own way, but when Bucky being fingered in a terrorist attack is offered as proof of needing such UN legislation, Rogers decides to confront Bucky himself and before he can be apprehended by Iron Man — that is, if the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) doesn’t kill the winter Soldier first in an act of revenge. Most of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe squares off in a throw-down over principles and secrets as lines are drawn and friendships are tested, but who will pay the ultimate price for their convictions?
Captain America: The Winter Soldier directors, the Russo brothers, twisted the MCU formula with a cold war spy thriller take on the superhero; with Civil War, they dare not only to pit our heroes against one another but challenge them in the worst possible way. Sure, comic book fans love to argue who can whip who in a fight, but the trailers suggest there’s no way Civil War can end in anything but a downer. While it’s pretty clear no one important dies in the MCU, it sure looks like neither Steve nor Tony have any intention of backing down; it’s also probably a good thing Hulk and Thor managed to steer clear of this. Hold onto your privates, generals…
While the big set piece is the super-brawl that ends the second act, the third act is exactly what we expected: hard to watch in the most dramatic way possible. If you’re the kind of viewer who wonders why name actors are picked for these parts instead of just any up-and-coming thespian, these are those moments. For a genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist, Robert Downey Jr. knows how to bring “the haunted,” painting Tony Stark as someone who never wanted the responsibility that goes with the limelight — heavy is the head that wears the crown. In full contrast to the get-it-done-now and grieve later attitude of Steve Rogers, this is exactly what we asked for since he and Tony squared off in The Avengers… but it is also not what we wanted — and that’s a good thing. There are consequences for actions, and nothing here is black or white.
Before the world went spiraling out of control, however, we are treated to some amazing moments as superheroes meet one another for the first time, including the Sony-sanctioned debut of Spider-Man in the MCU (due for his own feature film Homecoming next summer). The airport battle is a comic book double-sized issue full of combat goodness (and much easier to follow than the Age of Ultron finale free-for-all), including all the fan-boy reluctance of beating up fellow admired heroes and plenty of great one-liners. The scene is what it is, but it isn’t all fun and games; unlike DC where characters only appear to have one emotion at a time, complexity is the order of the day, and you never know who’ll do what until it happens.
Those invested in these characters may feel the need to scream at the screen a time or two; yeah, it does that. It’s interesting that, while this film was being made simultaneously as Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, there’s a sense of Civil War being the right way to do this, a bullet list of what can work and what shouldn’t be done when heroes collide — it’s like they knew! This isn’t the kind of movie you buy to watch over and over again; it’s the kind you know which scenes are you favorites to skip to and for watching all the making-of features to remind yourself “It’s just a movie.” Kudos to the Russos for bringing the heat, but let’s not do this downer thing again for a while, okay?
3 Skull Recommendation Out of Four