In 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was launched with Jon Faverau’s Iron Man. Over the past 8 years, we’ve been to the war-torn era of World War II to find Captain America, we’ve been to the golden realm of Asgard with Thor, we’ve been on the run with Bruce Banner and his alter ego, we’ve seen Avengers assemble, we’ve been to the vast expanse of the universe with the Guardians of the Galaxy and even to the miniscule Microverse with Ant-Man. In 2016, every event over the course of 12 movies, 2 network television series, and 3 Netflix series came to a head in Captain America: Civil Warto bring what has been revered by many as the greatest comic book movie of all time.
Like my Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice review, I’m going to delve into the same 7 categories I explored previously: Story, Casting, Costumes, Cinematography, Score, Editing, and Action. I will give each category a score out of 5 stars, at the end of the review, I will tally up the scores for an average score and that will give the final score. So, let’s dive in!
STORY/PLOT: With a title like “Captain America: Civil War”, comic book fans everywhere knew right away that the Russo brothers would be drawing from the Marvel Comics storyline of the same name that came out in 2004.
For this adaptation, the film picks up roughly 6 months after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron and the governments of the world look at the Avengers as more of a danger than a benefit with the path of destruction they leave in their wake. In an effort to create a better sense of safety and security, the UN proposes the Sokovia Accords which would create a system of oversight for the Avengers. The Accords create a division within the team as some members agree with the idea while others ardently oppose it. Like the comic it is based on, the figureheads of each side are surprising as it is Tony Stark who decides to side with the government while Steve Rogers represents the resistance against it. Added to this, a mysterious figure, Baron Zemo, is setting events into motion by bringing to light the past actions of Bucky Barnes, aka The Winter Soldier.
Looking at the story at face value, this was the perfect story to tell at this time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it’s something that could only be told with the years worth of story and continuity that they have amassed. What is most brilliant with the plot, as it was with the comic, is that there is no right or wrong side. It is for the viewer to decide who’s point of view they agree with. A viewer could say, “I’ve always loved Iron Man, but he’s wrong on this!” or “Captain America always does the right thing, so why is he doing the wrong thing now?” It’s from this that we get a very compelling drama as we explore with the characters the morality of what’s right and what’s wrong. As Steve states in the movie, “What if they put us somewhere we should go? What if there’s somewhere we NEED to go and they don’t let us?” Add to this, the heartbreaking fractures within the team when you see which characters side with who and how those relationships are strained or even broken.
The chief subplot of the film is the continuation of the Bucky Barnes story that was initiated in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While I am a big fan of the character, this is where the story became extremely weak for me because this subplot ends up superseding the main plot, so our climax is dictated not between difference of opinion on a political issue or methods, but instead becomes an emotional revenge/love story where Tony Stark comes off as a spurned lover for being lied to by Steve Rogers because he chose to be faithful to his lifelong friend Bucky Barnes. Even the major set piece of the film (the Airport Fight) is predicated not upon the characters’ strong morals and differences of opinion on the issues, but instead is predicated upon Team Iron Man thinking that they’re fighting escaping fugitives while Team Captain America is trying to get to Siberia and stop Zemo from releasing other Winter Soldiers. I feel that when conflicts and fights in movies are not predicated upon mutual understanding of “this is why we’re fighting”, then the conflict just becomes spectacle and doesn’t have the heart that it needs to make it as impactful as it should be. The film suddenly shifts to being solely about Zemo trying to divide the Avengers which is precisely what Loki tried to do in Avengers and what Ultron did in Avengers: Age of Ultron, so it becomes a plot that we’ve really already seen before.
I think that the fracture between Tony and Steve in the third act is very emotional and well done. Their fight feels very visceral and emotional because of the history and relationship they’ve established in past movies. It leaves audiences wondering how these two will ever be able to come back from this. I think it was very iconic, but feels like it should have been the ending to a different film because at the end of the day, Tony and Steve aren’t fractured because of their moralistic opinions on a political issue, but are instead divided due to a truth Steve kept from Tony within their friendship.
While I greatly like the story, tone, and themes of the movie, I feel that having the movie suddenly shift gears halfway through to adopt a subplot as the main plot and really become more of a Winter Soldier movie than a Captain America movie or even an Avengers movie, it weakens what they were trying to achieve. Coupled with the fact that Zemo’s main objective is repetitive to that of Loki and Ultron, I’m going to give the Story/Plot 3/5 Stars.
CASTING: Over the past 8 years, arguably the most consistent strength of Marvel movies has been their impeccable casting. It started in 2008 with Robert Downey Jr. and has continued all the way up to 2016’s Doctor Strange with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. Captain America: Civil War assembles the single largest cast of characters we have ever seen in a comic book movie and this is where the film hits levels of amazing that fans have been dying for years to see in live action: All their favorite superheroes in one single frame. Yes, we had seen the Avengers together in Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, but Captain America: Civil War brings every single character back (short of the characters introduced on Netflix) for essentially a “splash panel” sequence like out of a comic book.
Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans return to the roles they were born to play as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Steve Rogers/Captain America respectively. Join Team Cap, we have Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier, Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon, Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye, and Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man. Opposing them on Team Iron Man is Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine, Scarlet Johannson as Natasha Romanov/Black Widow, Paul Bettany as Vision, and introducing Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther. Every actor has completely invested in themselves in their roles and brought those characters to life both physically and emotionally.
This cast is the biggest highlight of the film. Anthony and Joe Russo have crafted a human story around superhuman characters, and this cast brings the perfect levels of emotion and personality to these physically imposing roles. This film also introduced the amazing addition of Black Panther and created a new era of Spider-Man which have gotten fans even more excited for their further developments in the MCU. I think it goes without saying, I am going to be giving Casting 5/5 Stars.
COSTUMES: Since the inception of the MCU with Iron Man in 2008, directors and designers have made a commitment to making costumes that were both realistic and embodied the classic fantasy elements that we’ve all known and love from the comics. They were never going for costumes that were “pretty” but completely non-functional in the real world like latex rubber suits. Since there are so many characters in this film, it would be a bit too difficult and lengthy to go through each character’s costume like I did in Batman v Superman, so instead I will expand only on Cap and Iron Man and sort of touch briefly on the others.
This movie, of course, sees the next upgraded model of Iron Man’s Suit, the Mark 46. This suit is a loyal adaptation of the 2010 comic version of the suit which had the smaller blue lights sprinkled throughout the joints of the suit. While I like the overall design and sleekness of the suit, I feel as though it doesn’t convey a sense of strength and durability like past suits have due to the lack of bulk and weight. Yes, I know Tony is a futurist who is always upgrading his tech, but a big part of what made the Mark 3 in Iron Man and the Mark 7 in Avengers such great suits was that they had this bulk and presence to them that made Iron Man look like a walking tank. This movie, the suit obviously looks good, but just doesn’t have the presence that past suits have had. I was definitely much happier to get to see a lot more shots of the suit from the outside instead of spending 90% of the time inside the HUD with Tony’s face like we did in Age of Ultron.
Captain America’s suit has gone more or less unchanged since Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron. The colors are a little darker I think to stay in step with the darker tone of the film, but the suit still functions extremely well as a great representation of solider meets superhero. Like with Iron Man, I was extremely happy to see Cap wearing the helmet a lot more than he did in Age of Ultron. Not that I don’t like Chris Evans, but when I’m watching a comic book movie, I really want to see the character in their costume, not the actor. It’s why it always bugged me in the Raimi Spider-Man movies to have every final fight with Peter having his mask ripped off somehow. It’d be like going to a Batman movie and watching Bruce wearing the suit without the cowl. It’s not Batman without the cowl.
Spider-Man and Black Panther get their Marvel Cinematic Universe debuts here and their costumes are brilliantly realized. Black Panther I think had to be the hardest suit to realize because it’s really just an all-black bodysuit, so they had to find an interesting way to bring that suit to life and they succeeded. I really like how they interwove the black with slight hints of silver threads in a very unique weaving pattern so that you get this sense of Wakandaian technology with a Vibranium weave. Spider-Man’s suit is also very well done. There were a lot of moments where the suit looks a bit too CGI’ed for my liking. Not to the point of Green Lantern by any means, but there are quite a few scenes where it just looks a bit rubbery and fake. I did like the addition of the expanding and retracting lenses to help convey Peter’s emotions and I think that will be a huge help going forward in future films, just like with Deadpool.
Everyone else’s costumes are very much based in that sort of military realm where you can see that it’s all believable tech that could actually function in combat. Falcon and Ant-Man aren’t wearing a spandex suit like they do in the comics. Everything is very rooted in reality with darker color schemes like Captain America’s to, again, stay in step with the darker tone of the film.
The costumes are very well done, but nothing new or vastly different has been added that we haven’t already seen in past films. While I like the reality that the costumes are based in, I would like to see a bit more loyalty to the comic books like the Batman v Superman costumes or Deadpool’s costume. I’m going to give Costumes 4/5 Stars.
CINEMATOGRAPHY: As I have explored with the story and costumes, the movie has taken a darker tone and this is further evidenced in their cinematography. However, I suppose I should say that this is something that was started as far back as Captain America: The First Avenger or the first Avengers movie: The color palate of most of the Marvel movies is extremely muted. Not dark or grainy, but just very grey and muted to the point where colors don’t really pop. Movies like the first Thor and Guardians sported scenes with richer color palates, but the majority of Marvel films of late have been very grey and Captain America: Civil War falls victim to it as well.
To get a little technical with you: most major blockbuster films of today are shot on digital cameras. While the video quality/pixilation gives us far better video quality and clarity, it saps out a lot of color. Now, digital cameras do this on purpose to make it easier for editors and effects artists to add in digital manipulations later in post-production. However, Marvel has either chosen not to do much color correction because they like the look it gives their movies or they just don’t really think it matters. A big benefit that I gave to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in my review was the cinematography because the colors of the movie really popped off the screen and give this very effective color palate to their scenes. In Civil War, it just looks very bland. This becomes extremely apparent to me during the Airport Sequence. Everyone is standing there and it just doesn’t feel AS epic as it should because everyone is sort of blending into the grey metallics of the background.
While I understand that the story elements convey a darker tone to the film like that of The Empire Strikes Back or The Dark Knight, your color palate and cinematography still need to be rich and vibrant so that your audience have certain pieces that catch their eye, such as with costumes or explosions. Even the explosions in Civil War were sapped of color. I have to give the Cinematography 3/5 Stars. It doesn’t look horrible, but it’s just very bland and muted.
SCORE: Henry Jackman returns from his previous work on Captain America: The Winter Soldier to score Captain America: Civil War. Jackman created a fantastic score, previously, capturing the thriller elements and tone of the last movie. In Civil War, he goes for a more operatic and tragic tone to capture the fracture of relationships that occurs within the movie. I think that while Jackman has a couple of fantastic tracks that play during the main battle sequences of the film, the rest of the score doesn’t capture a memorable sound to give the picture an specific identity. My favorite tracks are “Civil War”, “The Tunnel”, “Boot Up”, “Clash”, and “Cap’s Promise”. The rest of the tracks are okay, but nothing really special to get your emotions pumping or any real specific tone or theme that you can hum to yourself while you’re in the shower or something. Jackman’s Winter Soldier score has that very identifiable sound with the screeching electric beats of the Winter Soldier theme, much like the “razor wire” ascending tone Hans Zimmer used for the Joker in “The Dark Knight”.
While the major fight sequences have some great tracks that suit what we’re seeing on screen, I feel that the rest of the score is pretty lackluster and doesn’t create as memorable of a sound that a movie of this scale needed to have. I’m going to give the Score 3/5 Stars.
EDITING: Many fans and critics pointed at Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice having extremely similar plot elements, but that “Civil War was Batman v Superman done right.” I think a big piece of this comes down to editing. The Russo brothers obviously crafted a well told story, but it was the editing that put the pieces together to not only assist in presenting a well told story, but in giving a perfectly timed and well-paced story. Everything is very tight and concise so that the audience isn’t bored by sequences that go on longer than they should or become confused because sequences are too short.
Marvel has always been praised with how well they tell their stories and I think a huge credit of that should go to their editing teams. They just know how to perfectly take us from Point A to Point B, giving us what we need to follow the stories and not get bored along the way. Editing gets 5/5 Stars.
ACTION/FIGHT SEQUENCES: The job of any sequel is to both match and surpass what has been done in the previous films. In the MCU, a director doesn’t just make a sequel to Captain America 1 or 2. They have to make a sequel to every single Marvel movie that has come before it because the stories of each film directly affect all the others. Often times, to surpass what has been done in previous films, directors tend to go for bigger and better action sequences to create a larger spectacle that will not only challenge the characters, but also entertain the audience so they don’t all leave saying, “Yeah, I’ve seen this before.” Civil War does show us old tropes that we’ve seen now multiple times in past Marvel movies such as Cap throwing his shield in impossible angles or Iron Man firing his repulsors or Hawkeye firing arrows, but it’s the emotional backbone fueling these sequences that make them stronger.
As I said earlier, seeing all these characters on screen together is amazing in that it satisfies every comic book fan’s dream to see all these characters in the same frame in a movie. The battle sequences are even further fan service because it plays on one of the oldest desires: “Who would beat who?” The biggest trophy moment of this movie is without a doubt the Airport Sequence. Everyone loves it for the sheer spectacle and joy of seeing all these characters we love fighting each other and seeing who’s going to come out on top. All of this culminates in the third act fight sequence between Cap, Bucky, and Iron Man which is a very visceral fight between friends that is fueled by pure rage and emotion.
Something the Russos first introduced when they did Captain America: The Winter Soldier was implement a more complex and visual stimulating technique to the way Cap fights. It’s more acrobatic and skillful than had been previously seen in past movies. This gave us some of the best hand-to-hand fight sequences ever put to film with Cap and Winter Soldier. Civil War continues that tradition and not only do we get well choreographed fight sequences, but each character has their own specific style. For example, Cap doesn’t fight the same way Spider-Man fights, and neither of them fights the way Black Panther fights. So seeing those variances in technique create very eye-catching scenes.
For the Airport Sequence and Final Fight alone, I have to give the Action 5/5 stars. I truly believe that it’s those two sequences that really lead people to say that Captain America: Civil War is one of the best comic book movies ever made.
COMBINED SCORE: 4/5 STARS
In my Top 10 of 2016 List I said that the last 3 movies of my list were extremely close and I really wasn’t lying. Batman v Superman only eked out half a star above Captain America: Civil War for me. Both movies are truly great films that have ushered in a new era of comic book movies. I think that Civil War is a fantastic culmination of 8 years worth or continuity and character relationships.
With any sequel, the job should never be to create more breathtaking action sequences to wow your audience because then the movies just feel hollow. Civil War did what sequels are supposed to do which is stretch and pull the characters in uncomfortable ways so that the audience isn’t sure who or what is going to break or how these characters will ever come back from it. Focusing more on the human stories behind their characters is what has made Marvel the beloved franchise that it is. And while I do not find this movie to be bad in the slightest, I do think that there are a lot of elements that could have been improved upon. I understand why they went in certain directions with certain characters, but where this movie disappointed me was that it was a Captain America movie that was presented as an Avengers movie, but became an Iron Man/Winter Soldier solo movie as those are the two characters who undergo the most change. Cap stays consistent both morally and emotionally from the beginning of the film to the end of the film. Where in The Winter Soldier, at the beginning of the film he still had his faith and loyalty to serve his country and the government, we see Cap lose that part of himself when he loses that trust and even feels that he’s potentially lost his best friend and creates a fundamental change in his character when we see him next in Age of Ultron and again in Civil War. But at the end of this film, Steve remains unchanged and, for me, that is a very weak element of this particular installment.
I am very much looking forward to seeing the fallout of the Avengers in the coming Infinity War. I do hope that the events of this film continue to have an effect on the entire cinematic universe for years to come as that is where the real heart and impact of this film will be felt. Captain America: Civil War is the benefit that Marvel has been allowed to reward themselves with after all they’ve accomplished in the MCU. While it may not be my #1 pick for greatest comic book movie of all time, it has certainly earned a place as one of the best and will be hard to beat for future installments in the franchise.
Written and Edited by: Witt Reese. Co-Edited by: Jack Flowers. Published by: The Nerd Hub
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