Basically, I love this movie. It does so very many things right, things that it had every opportunity to get wrong.
The thing I was most worried about was the central conflict between Tony (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Steve (Chris Evans). As they’ve been portrayed in nearly a dozen films, Tony’s always been the loose cannon, thumbing his nose at authority at every turn. On the other hand, Steve’s been the good soldier, following orders and laying his life on the line as needed for the greater good. Now, however, the world is getting sick of all this superhero stuff. The US Secretary of State (William Hurt, returning from his appearance in The Incredible Hulk) shows them The Sokovia Accords, a treaty signed by over a hundred nations, putting the Avengers (and by association, any other “powered” individuals) under the aegis of the UN. They don’t want another Battle of New York. They don’t want another Sokovia.
How do Tony and Steve respond? The opposite of the way you might think. Tony is haunted by his failures (Ultron being the biggest) and he is all for control. Steve, on the other hand, has been slowly and surely ground down by the duplicitousness of his superiors to the point where he can’t hand over the reigns to a body he doesn’t necessarily trust.
Then, at the signing of the accords, a bomb goes off, killing the King of Wakanda, leaving behind his son, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). The prime candidate for the bombing is Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). And now we’re off to the races, as Team Cap tries to save Bucky (who was framed, natch) and Team Iron Man tries to stop him.
This already seems like a monstrously complex movie. And that’s another thing the Russo brothers (the directors) could have messed up. But they didn’t. And it’s astonishing. And I haven’t even mentioned the following characters: Black Widow, Falcon, War Machine, Hawkeye, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man, Sharon Carter, or Spider-Man.
Oh, yeah. Spider-Man is in this movie. Tony recruits him in a scene that feels a little bit too much like a setup for another movie (it is) but still sort of fits into this one. Add that to the significant set up for the upcoming Black Panther movie, and there are a lot of balls in the air.
The centerpiece of the film is an extended team-on-team fight in an airport. Everybody gets their moment to shine in this scene. (Ant-Man gets maybe more than his share. He’s awesome.)
Notice that I haven’t even mentioned the bad guy. Daniel Bruhl plays Zemo, a character you watch behind the scenes, doing stuff, and you can’t quite tell what or why. That’s saved for the climactic scene at the end which I will not spoil. Somehow, it all works.
I can’t say Civil War is the best MCU film. (I still like Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers better.) I can say it’s better than most, and certainly better than most other superhero films.
Now that the review is over, let look at the similarities between this film and the other big superhero Battle Royale this year. No, not X-Men: Apocalypse. I’m talking about Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. (Spoilers follow.)
A climactic scene from a previous film kills a bunch of people, and two superheroes come down on opposite sides of the “How much should we conform to the law?” question. The guy who was (indirectly) the cause of the destruction leans toward law and order. The government’s position is portrayed by a guy who used to be a general in a previous film, but is now a member of the US Cabinet. Midway through the film, a bomb at an official function kills a key politician and a bunch of other people, the end result being huge resentment toward the “not law and order” superhero. All the while, the conflict is being orchestrated by an unassuming but ruthless man and the finale hinges on the mother of one of the superheroes. Also, let’s not forget the fantasy sequence where the law-and-order superhero talks to his dead father.