So I have finally come in and done the review I have been sitting on for a couple of weeks now, and without further ado, here are my thoughts on Captain America: Civil War. I’ll try my best to keep this free of spoilers as much as possible, but I’ll still provide a spoiler warning for everything after the jump, and here we go.
First, a brief digression on the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. While superhero movies are by no means new, they nevertheless try to stick to a proven formula, and it is typical for the first movie in a series to serve as an origin story, with all the typical bells and whistles that it entails. Of course, the MCU is no exception, and yet it does one thing really well that pretty much sets it apart from, say, Warner’s handling of the DC Comics heroes or Fox’s adaptations of the X-Men franchise. It manages to deal with continuity just right. There’s enough continuity to satisfy those who started watching with Iron Man way back in 2008 (yes, Virginia, it’s been eight years) and the call backs and call forwards, especially in the stingers, create enough hype for every successful MCU film. Even so, it’s not a surfeit of everything being connected; while knowledge of previous films (The Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron in particular) will make Civil War far more enjoyable, it is still mostly accessible to the average movie-goer who doesn’t bother with the side series like Agents of SHIELD (though it’s worth noting that watching it will have a big payoff in a few years). In other words, there’s enough thread to pull it all together, but not too much that the skein gets tangled.
Now on to the movie itself. As it is billed, the primary conflict in the film is described as Captain America coming to a disagreement with Iron Man regarding the regulation of the Avengers, with incidents such as that portrayed in the Avengers films being the catalyst of the Vienna Accords. One would think, naturally, that their stands on the issue would be the opposite of what is shown – Captain America was a government-sanctioned hero, and Iron Man is an infinitely rich playboy with a brash streak – yet the development of the two heading into the movie has the two men taking the side that would apparently be different from what they symbolize. Steve Rogers awakening in the modern world as well as the events of The Winter Soldier have shaken his faith in the institutions that govern humanity, and his concerns of power abuse are well-founded in the light of his experiences. On the other hand, Tony Stark feels that his role as Iron Man has thrust on him a grave responsibility; it is all but stated that his remorse for his actions all throughout the MCU is why he appears to have PTSD, and that his chronic desire to be the hero may have been more destructive than it appeared. Iron Man wanted a leash, and the Accords seemed to have been his hope.
Now on to the villain, Helmut Zemo. In the comics. Baron Zemo was a nemesis of Captain America dating back to the Nazis, with a mask draped over (and later fused with) his face. In the MCU, Zemo is naught but a regular man, with a very human motivation as opposed to classic megalomania. Zemo has no powers (unless you count an uncannily dogged determination as a power) and yet the man managed to drive a wedge between Earth’s Mightiest Heroes more decisively than anyone else. Loki failed to break the Avengers. Ultron failed to break the Avengers. But a man with a plan pretty much did. And much like Zemo himself, the final conflict of the film goes beyond the Accords, and the motivation of the Civil War itself becomes more personal, more visceral, more human. For all the ideas and ideals the heroes of the MCU stand for, they still are human, with all the foibles and glories that implies.
So regardless of what team you stand for (Team Cap or Team Iron Man; I leave it up to you), the film nevertheless starts off Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a bang, and setting a bar that may very well be hard to clear.