REVIEW: Superhero storytelling and thoughtful theme unite in “Captain America: Civil War”

Ryan Meinerding and Andy Park’s concept art for “Captain America: Civil War”. Credit to
Ryan Meinerding and Andy Park’s concept art for “Captain America: Civil War.” (Courtesy photo:

By Claire Alongi, Staff–

Tight spandex suits, explosions, zingy one-liners–oh my! After the somewhat disappointing “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” Marvel zooms back into the box office with “Captain America: Civil War” and reminds audiences what it takes to make a great superhero movie (and adds a few extra ingredients to help raise the standard).

The start of the film has Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) attempting to stop the release of a deadly bioweapon in Lagos, Nigeria. While the team succeeds, innocent lives are lost. After the disastrous civilian casualties sustained during “Ultron,” the Avengers are faced with an ultimatum of liability not only from the government but from within their own team: surrender their privatized organization to the jurisdiction of the United Nations, or retire.

Sides are chosen (Team Iron Man or Captain America?). Throw in Cap’s recently de-frosted, de-brainwashed, not quite de-assassined best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) as a man on the run, South African prince turned warrior Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and a superb new Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and “Captain America: Civil War” is up and running.

Even though “Civil War” clocks in at nearly two and a half hours, it seemed nearly impossible that directors Anthony and Joe Russo would be able to pack in all the plot, especially with a cast that boasts 12 Avengers and numerous other side characters. However, the veteran Marvel directors, who previously helmed “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” knew exactly what they were doing.

What the Russos did in “Winter Soldier” and mastered with “Civil War” is the superhero movie with a message. It’s fun to see Marvel’s visually stunning fight scenes–which abound in this film and do not disappoint–but in the end it’s all something that has been seen before.

What hasn’t been seen before is the characters looking back and not just focusing on the triumphs of their teamwork, but their losses.

The world is saved, but at what cost? Under what conditions are people truly accountable for their actions? These are hard topics to discuss even in normal conversation, and unsurprisingly add a bit of a dark and sharp edge to “Civil War,” despite the customary (but nonetheless hilarious) Marvel one-liners.

The Russos also manage to juggle all the characters while ensuring the film feels like a “Captain America” movie and not an “Avengers” movie. Even during the blowout fight at a German airport, where the action is fast and cuts between characters are short and crisp, it always circles back around to Cap, his relationship with Barnes, and ultimately with Iron Man himself, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.).

Of course, “Civil War” isn’t perfect. The main villain, Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), is clever but cliche and brings with him a vaguely interesting but unexplored side-plot. Said plot and the villain himself essentially act as a means to an end when it comes to furthering the Avengers’ self-destruction.

“Civil War” also sadly embraces a few unneeded romantic sub plots. Thankfully these are brief, and at least one provides one of the most humorous moments in the film.

When all is said and done, “Captain America: Civil War” is a breath of fresh air in Marvel’s incessant bombardment of superhero blockbusters. Sure, it’s not as out there as “Guardians of the Galaxy” or even “Ant Man,” but it possesses a mastery of thematic qualities often lacking in other movies in the genre. The Russos have done it again, and will hopefully bring their A-game one last time when they direct both parts of “Avengers: Infinity War” slated to come out in 2018 and 2019.

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