Over a dozen movies of setup have led to the first major MCU crossover event where characters from the different franchises are brought together to deal with one event.
The Avengers are after Crossbones, who’s after biological weapons. Before he can be caught, Crossbones tries to blow himself up. Wanda is able to contain the explosion and push Crossbones into the air, but there are still casualties as a result. The mission is the latest in the growing list of Avengers related events that have resulted in civilian casualties. This has lead the governments of the world to propose the Sokovia Accords. The point of the Accords is to put the Avengers under the administration of a council of nations. Riddled with guilt over his past actions and the consequences of their actions, Tony Stark tries to convince the rest of the Avengers to sign the Accords. Captain America refuses, believing that the best hands for power are still their own.
When the world leaders come together to sign the Accords, their meeting is attacked. Several leaders are killed, including the king of Wakanda. When the bomber is reported to be the Winter Soldier, Cap heads off to find his old friend. Bucky tells Cap that it wasn’t him, but he’s being hunted by the authorities and the Black Panther. Black Panther is the former prince, now king, of Wakanda and he wants revenge for his father’s death. Black Panther, Captain America, Falcon and the Winter Soldier tear through the streets, causing another international incident before the four of them are taken in. Only Bucky is actually arrested, but the others are basically put on house arrest and have put themselves on the wrong side of the authorities. Once again, Tony urges Cap to legitimize and sign the Accords, but Cap still refuses.
Bucky is freed by Helmut Zemo, who has learned the keywords to control the Winter Soldier. Bucky, fights his way out of the facility with Cap and Falcon giving chase. With the help of Agent 13 and Bucky, they find out that Bucky was set-up by Zemo and that his real target is the Winter Soldier facility in Russia where there are more soldiers like Bucky in stasis. Captain America is now fugitive and Tony Stark persuades the government to let his team bring them in. After both sides get some back up, there is an all-out throw down at an airport between the two groups of superheros. Captain America fights alongside Falcon, the Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Ant-Man. Iron Man brings War Machine, Black Widow, Black Panther, Vision and introduces everyone to Spider-Man. Before this, Spider-Man was just a 16 year old kid trying to help people with his powers. Tony found out about him through internet videos and offered to help him out. Now he’s in the middle of an insane battle royal.
Cap’s team sacrifices themselves and get an assist from Black Widow in order to allow Cap and Bucky to go after Zemo. After locking up the other heroes that fought alongside Captain America, Tony realizes that Zemo tricked them all. Without alerting the government, Tony flies off to Russia in order to help Cap and Bucky. When they arrive, they find that Zemo has killed the other Winter Soldiers in their sleep. His true plan was to have the Avengers tear themselves apart from within. To that end, he shows Tony a video revealing that Bucky was the one who killed his mother and father. When Cap admits to a heart broken Tony that he knew that Bucky was responsible another brawl erupts between the trio. Captain America is able to win the fight, but not without all three of them taking significant damage.
Black Panther, who had followed Tony and heard everything, finds Zemo sitting outside in the snow. Black Panther gives up on his vengeance and decides to force Zemo to face justice. After the fight, both sides are liking their wounds. The Accords have become law, which makes anyone who disobeys them a criminal. Tony is back at the Avengers compound, which is now a lot emptier. He receives a letter and a phone from Captain America who has left his shield with Tony, as it was Howard Stark who made it for him to begin with. In the letter, Cap tells Tony that he’ll be there when Tony needs him. However, for the time being, he’s busy breaking the rest of his team out of jail.
This movie is the culmination of all of the world building that Marvel has been doing during their last dozen or so movies. I, and many other people, have complained about the fact that the other MCU movies went out of their way just to set up other movies. I don’t know if this makes up for that, but it definitely shows the fruits of that labor. Here is a movie with a relative ton of characters and moving parts, but it has to do almost no set-up for any of them. Finally, the MCU has set the table to the point that you can see the heroes in a full-on adventure/story without having to worry about rehashing the parts of their backgrounds that you could’ve read in a comic. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to wind all these pieces together, but I think the Russo brothers did a great job in creating a fun and action packed movie that was as much an Avengers movie as it was a Captain America movie.
They managed to pack so much into this movie that you could spend forever breaking it down and talking about different facets of the movie. I don’t have that much time, but I’m going to try to keep it to the top 5 things that stuck with me from this movie.
5. The Villain and his plot
Helmut Zemo may not have been the most epic villain in MCU history, but he may have been one of the most effective. His plan really is the entire plot of the movie, setting up the scenario for the Avengers to tear themselves apart. First, through the Accords and then with the information about Tony’s parents. To be fair, I thought that the movie could’ve just done one of those things, even though it managed to pull off doing both. It was a great moment in the movie because of the performances but, looking back, it was a complete shift in the fundamental discussion of the movie. All of a sudden, the conflict went from being about a conflict in principles to Tony raging out because Bucky killed his mom and dad (but mostly his mom). Overlooking the logical problems with his plan, Zemo managed to be an effective and grounded character. The only slight inconsistency was him trying to kill himself when the Black Panther caught him. After that, he seemed to turn into a man with a much more steely resolve and seemingly no intention of giving up. Pretty good for a mere mortal.
4. The big action pieces
I would say that there are 4 major action scenes in this movie.
- The fight between the Avengers and Crossbones
- The chase with Cap, Bucky, Black Panther, and Falcon
- The huge fight at the air field (Best scene in the movie)
- The fight between Bucky, Cap and Iron Man in Russia
Number 2 was my least favorite of the action scenes because I was struggling to keep my suspension of disbelief when watching the sped up bodies running through the traffic and all the close-call jumps and dives. I’m probably in the minority there, but it’s just how I watched the movie. Number 3 is easily the best choreographed superhero fight that’s ever been on film. I can do nothing but compliment the entire team who made the movie for this one. The action, choreography, comic book references, and humor all come together perfectly here. This is the scene that the entire movie builds up to and it’s worth the price of admission on its own. Interestingly, #4 doesn’t feel like a letdown after seeing that huge fight. Admittedly, it’s not nearly as big of a fight scene but, it’s much more intimate fight scene that carries the biggest stakes of any fight in the movie.
3. Ant-Man and Spider-Man
From a story perspective, these two characters are basically only there to reinforce each side of the fight. From a viewer perspective, they’re there to make the fight much more entertaining. Ant-Man is just happy to be called up to the big leagues. Even so he has some of the best moments in the fight: accidentally throwing an oil tanker at War Machine, being shot on one of Hawkeye’s arrows, and becoming Giant Man to allow Cap to escape. As good as he is, he’s out shined by the most adorable version of Spider-Man that I have ever seen. Tom Holland plays a millennial web slinger, who’s just started his crime fighting career. Given the nature of the Civil War story line, I would’ve preferred someone like Andrew Garfield to play the role of Spider-Man in this movie, but it’s hard to argue that there was anything wrong with Holland. He primarily plays off of Robert Downey Jr. in the movie and everything that he does with his 30 or so minutes of screen time is gold. With all of that, the most impressive thing the movie does is manage to introduce Spider-man without using the phrase, “with great power comes great responsibility”.
2. Black Panther
This was probably my biggest surprise of the movie. I don’t know why, but I just assumed that the Black Panther would be paid very little attention in this movie. Instead, he was probably one of the more impressive individuals in the entire film. He delivered some of the best single lines in the entire movie, like his one about being a king and a warrior. Stern, serious, thoughtful and much more powerful than I would’ve expected, he stood out as being a real threat to the other heroes. Now, I do think that his character was the most hurt by the twist ending to the movie because the Black Panther isn’t the kind of character who just gives up on a grudge and lets “justice” run it’s course. Even so, I thought it was a great sign for the character that he was the one that was ultimately allowed to resolve the conflict with Zemo and take the higher ground.
1. Captain America and Iron Man
These two are the glue that holds the movie together and the caulk that fills in a lot of the movie’s holes. Bucky is at the center of the conflict of the movie, in a way that only works if you care about Bucky. The problem is, no one really cares about Bucky…except for Cap. Somehow, the fact that Cap cares about Bucky and that his friends stand by him, is enough to actually make the conflict work. Similarly, the twist in the 3rd act seems to completely undermine the conflict that’s been driving most of the movie. Even so, it’s the way that Robert Downey Jr. plays the hurt and betrayal that he feels from Captain America that made me not care about the fact that the story had just suddenly switched gears. Instead, I was completely drawn in by an all new conflict. There were lots of other moments during the movie that they elevated as well, both light and serious, that it would take too long to go in to. Having a Captain America movie heavily feature a heavy hitting actor like Robert Downey Jr. is a bit of balancing act and the movie and actors pull it off as well as anyone could hope for.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
- Masterfully uses the framework established by the previous MCU movies
- Manages to properly serve characters despite having a massive cast
- Robert Downey Jr. is stellar and Chris Evans steps up to match him
- Black Panther, Ant-Man and Spider-Man are all outstanding
- Two of the best superhero fight scenes ever committed to film
- Doesn't follow the comic story line (but that should be expected by now)
- some of the CGI characters, do look out of place
- Some smaller elements of the story are a little rushed