Captain America: Civil War centres around the introduction of the Sokovia Accords, a legislation created by the UN which aims to keep The Avengers in check after their previous exploits in New York (Marvel’s Avengers Assemble), Washington D.C. (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Sokovia (The Avengers: Age of Ultron) caused untold destruction. After coming face-to-face with the innocent victims of their escapades, Tony Stark backs the now-Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross, last seen in 2007’s The Incredible Hulk, over the UN’s decision to “govern” the team.
Unsurprisingly, given the title of the film, this causes a rift within the group, half of whom side with Tony and half of whom side with Chris Evans’s Steve Rogers, who believes a team overseen by the government will lead to politics coming into play which may, one day, see them fail to save those who would otherwise would been saved if the government hadn’t vetoed The Avengers’ involvement. When Rogers’s childhood best friend Bucky Barnes re-emerges from hiding and is blamed for an atrocity he didn’t commit, Steve and his team embark on an international mission to save Barnes, crossing the paths of their once-fellow Avengers along the way.
It’s testament to the incredible directing skills of brothers Anthony and Joe Russo that Civil War isn’t a victim of ‘over-stuffing’. In a film dominated by strong characters – as well as the addition of two new characters in Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and the introduction of Tom Holland’s excitingly fresh take on Spider-Man – it would have been very easy to have some individuals included just for the sake of the story, but thankfully, this is absolutely not the case. Each hero is given their own chance to shine in amongst the chaos of a thrilling story, which cohesively explains exactly why each member of the Cap and Iron Man’s team are fighting alongside their respective team’s ‘captain’.
Surprisingly – for me, at least – I was glad to see that the core essence of the film still revolves around the story of Captain America, especially as the film was jokingly referred to during production as ‘Avengers 2.5‘. I was worried that the Captain America-specific storyline first established in 2011 with The First Avenger may take a back-seat in favour of the titular ‘civil war’ which tears The Avengers apart, but at its heart, Civil War is 100% the final instalment in the Captain’s trilogy. This level of anchoring is what makes the MCU so cohesive, in my opinion, in that it almost always manages to successfully balance the fine line between an engaging and rich story and the insane levels of personality and difference each member of the team brings. Civil War is a story of morality, right and wrong, and friendship, all of which are bigger than each member of the Avengers’ alter-egos and their superpowers. It’s human and relatable, emotional and engaging, with a whole lot of heart.
Of course, the crux of Civil War is the straining relationship between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, previous allies who are now at blows with each other over the Sokovia Accords. Both incredible actors in their own right, it’s thrilling to see Evans and Downey Jr. working so closely together as the whole film pivots around their interactions in a way which has never been quite possible in the ‘true’ Avengers ensemble films released previously. Whether you’re firmly on #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan, it’s impossible not to relate to and understand both sides of the conflict, which makes it all the more difficult to root for one side over the other. Compounding this difficulty is the team of heroes each has on their respective sides – Cap’s got Bucky, Falcon, Ant-Man, Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch, whilst Stark’s backed up by The Vision, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Black Widow and War Machine. Seeing the team duke it out with such ferocity makes for difficult watching when you consider everything that’s had to happen up until this point, and especially when they were such a cohesive unit in last year’s Age of Ultron, a point which I noted when I reviewed the film at the time.
One of the most-anticipated facets of Captain America: Civil War has been the introduction of Spider-Man into the MCU, now played by Brit Tom Holland after Sony and Disney’s landmark deal, first announced back in February 2015. Previous to the film’s release, I’d heard from a few sources that Holland’s inclusion in the film is a major highlight and, after seeing it myself, I couldn’t agree more. While he may only be around for about 30 minutes (which in itself is much longer than I originally expected!), I can already tell that Holland is going to be absolutely incredible in his new role as everyone’s favourite Wall-Crawler.
As Spider-Man, he’s funny and energetic, but it’s in his scene as Peter Parker where he’s truly engaging. Bouncing expertly off Robert Downey Jr. – who’s now confirmed to be in next year’s first solo MCU Spider-Man outing, officially titled Spider-Man: Homecoming – Holland absolutely nails the essence of the wise-cracking, schoolboy geek Parker which is so essential to the role. Although I enjoyed Andrew Garfield’s stint as the character far more than his predecessor Tobey Maguire’s, I’m really excited to see where Tom Holland’s going to take Spider-Man next, as we could really be in for a treat come next year. Given Marvel’s tendency to invest in a single actor on a long-term basis over a number of years, it seems like we may have found the Spider-Man we deserve, especially now he’s integrated so strongly into the MCU after just one film!
The second new addition to The Avengers in Civil War is Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther. The King of the mysterious country of Wakanda – which eagle-eyed Marvel fans will know is where the Vibranium material which Captain America’s shield is made from originates – Black Panther’s an incredible athlete. Although his origin story is only briefly touched upon in Civil War and will be explored in much more detail when his solo film rolls around in 2018, Boseman has enough of a part for us to completely understand his motives and for us to empathise with his character, which – like Holland – is no mean feat considering his limited amount of screen time. It’s when you realise this fact that you again marvel (no pun intended!) at Marvel’s ability to craft a whole backstory for a character with very little context, and allow us to feel something for said character. Here, again, the Russo brothers have put their stamp on the film, weaving the lore fans need for Civil War whilst holding back plenty to be explored at a later date.
Captain America: Civil War has been hailed by some critics as the best Marvel film to-date and, whilst it may seem like a stretch to believe if you haven’t seen the film, I have little doubt that you’ll most likely agree after your first viewing. It’s exciting, intriguing, thrilling and – dare I say it – gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking at times, as Cap and Iron Man – previously the best of friends – don’t pull any punches in their super-heroic battle. It’s everything you love about all the previous instalments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a whole boat load of awesomeness piled on top – not least because of Spider-Man and Black Panther! There’s new characters aplenty (including one played by our very own Martin Freeman, who’ll hopefully get a chance to interact with his Sherlock and The Hobbit co-star Benedict Cumberbatch in a future Marvel film after October’s Doctor Strange is released) and plenty of action to appease Marvel fans, but above and beyond this, the believability and strong moral compass that’s at the core of Captain America: Civil War is what makes the film special. It’s so much bigger than the impressive roster of superheroes included in the film and, believe me when I say that the whole MCU is torn completely asunder by the time the final credits roll.