More than anything else, Marvel’s latest entry into their superhero franchise, Captain America: Civil War, is about consequences. The overt example appears early in the movie as the heroes work to thwart a group mercenaries lead by former SHIELD/Hydra operative Brock Rumlow (played by Frank Grillo) in their attempt to steal a lethal biohazard from a Nigerian facility. While the heist ultimately fails, it results in casualties among civilians which increases the world’s governments’ unease about “enhanced humans” (remember, Fox has the rights to the term “mutants”), their powers, and disregard for national borders and laws. Even actions from decades ago still hold sway over the events of today and they set the stage for the conflicts to come.
The super-powered clashes in New York (Avengers), Washington DC (Winter Soldier), London (Dark World) and Sokovia (Ultron) lead the UN to create the Sokovia Accords, which were mentioned in Ant Man. These accords would restrict the actions of the Avengers to only those sanctioned by a UN committee. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) supports it with growing passion after being confronted with the personal consequences of his actions. Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) fears that this outside control would force the Avengers to stand by as injustice occurs – or worse yet, compel the Avengers to take part in actions they don’t agree with. Each man realizes that their power has consequences as does how it is used – or not used. This fundamental disagreement, begins to unravel the team, slowly at first, but quickly leading to outright conflict as external events unfold driving each faction to take actions they believe are right and for the better good, but ultimately at odds with the other. And, of course, each of these actions has consequences that reverberate through the team and the larger world as a whole.
In addition to the drive to Do Good, the other underlying theme that directs the actions of the characters is vengeance – in both its avenge and revenge incarnations. At times the heroes slip from the noble cause and it’s also not always clear that the desire for revenge is unjust. While the realization of the consequences of pursuing vengeance comes at different times and in different ways, it is clear that the heroes – and the world – have been changed because of it.
Captain America: Civil War does not feel like its two-and-a-half-hour running time. It is well-paced and is somewhat of a departure from the previous films with the action interspersed between character-driven segments that show how each hero deals with the consequences of their actions as they search for the right course of actions, only to find that the path is not always clear. The trademark humor and combat/banter that has served to differentiate the MCU from the DCU doesn’t really come into play until the second half of the movie where it offsets the increasingly serious nature of the schism. It does not engage in the sensory overload that marked the battle scenes in Batman v. Superman, but there are several action sequences where the director has chosen to use the “shakeycam” to convey the chaos and uncertainty of the moment on perhaps a more human level.
The addition of Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is seamless and King T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is a main part of the plot from very early in the movie. The former’s origin was, of course, covered in his own movie. Black Panther doesn’t get his own movie until 2018, and the protector of the Kingdom of Wakanda and while his identity is quickly revealed, there is no other back story nor are the full extent of his powers disclosed. Spider-Man’s (Tom Holland) entry into the MCU from Sony is not quite as smooth and a little contrived, but we are spared (yet another) telling of his origins and this version is quite believable as a newly minted (six months) teenage hero who is thrown into the fray among his idols. He makes a pretty meta reference to another Disney property in the middle of battle with some very humorous results.
Comic book purists shouldn’t be surprised (or nerd-raged) that the movie diverges from the comic book version of the Civil War considerably. First, the point of contention is an international accord, rather than The Mutant Registration Act by the US Congress. Of course, the conflict on-screen is much shorter than the year-long arc of the books, and much smaller in the number of participants as well. The MCU has said that there are other superher… uh, enhanced humans outside the Avengers, but they haven’t mentioned any other groups and the number of human supervillains seems to be small. Black Panther siding with Team Ironman along with Spider-Man being much less conflicted about where his allegiances lie than in the comics both make sense in the context of the film. This likely means that speculated future events such as the assassination of Steve Rogers, or the Infinity War will likely have nods to the original material, but be independent from it.
Who should see this? Anyone who’s enjoyed the ongoing MCU franchise will enjoy this. Even if one has limited themselves to only the Captain America story arc and not kept up with the broader plot, they will be fully entertained. It may be a little confusing to someone who is a newcomer to the series, but only because the script only makes vague references to events that have occurred in previous movies, which thankfully keeps the story moving forward and the only flashbacks are to events that are “new.” Perhaps the only superhero fans who should not see Captain America: Civil war are the purists who yell at the screen when the action doesn’t go the same way as in the book and younger viewers (say, age 8 and below) who may be traumatized by their heroes fighting each other. This isn’t as grim as Batman and Superman beating each other with lethal intent, but parents should use their judgment. As mentioned before, the run time is 2 hours and 27 minutes, so plan accordingly – especially when deciding whether to get that 64-ounce kidney buster cup of cola. There really aren’t any good spots for a bathroom break.