If you enjoy superhero films, actions films or just well-made genre films, then I have three words for you: watch. This. Now! It looks like Captain America has just pulled off the holy grail of trilogies, what I like to call a Star Wars arc. The First Avenger was a largely overlooked yet surprisingly solid introduction to the main characters, with some flaws but a consistent and well-formed core that made it an enjoyable watch that has aged surprisingly well. As a sequel The Winter Soldier is a clear Empire Strikes Back analogue, raising the stakes consistently, advancing plot narratives and being centred around a large plot twist that kept the action feeling fresh whilst maintaining a break-neck pace. Plenty of other franchises have pulled off this one-two punch, but frequently it is the closer that fails to land (I'm looking at you, Nolanverse Batman!).
Not so with Civil War. It's definitely a little slower than Winter Soldier, with a storyline which can struggle to breathe amidst the required action sequences. As a result, it doesn't quite hit the formers heady heights, but much like Return of the Jedi this third outing ties together the core storylines, fleshes out the universe, and allows for significant character development across the board. If you hadn't noticed by now, I'm definitely a fan.
There's actually not much for me to nit-pick. I felt the new characters were introduced well, with just enough screen time and interaction to make their presence feel warranted, rather than pandering to the fans or setting up spin-offs (even though that is certainly the core reasoning behind their inclusion). At the same time, the film had specific roles and ideas it clearly wanted to play out with the returning cast, making sure each hero had a moment to shine. I'd say Civil War did what Age of Ultron ultimately failed to do: produce a film with a huge supporting cast, yet succeeded in feeling both manageable and tight whilst finding time to advance each characters plotline in a meaningful way. Hawkeye definitely came out of the film with the least "impact", yet still managed to feel necessary. Furthermore, not only did each hero feel like they were needed to make the film work, they each felt realistic in the sides and decisions they chose.
Unlike the comic series on which the film was based, Tony Stark felt like a logical fit for the main antagonist. Rather than sliding into clear villainy, like the comic interpretation, the movie Stark maintained the strong sense of self that Robert Downey Jr has so cleverly crafted for him, with his actions following logical trains of thought for the character to be having. It makes sense that a visual, human reminder of his failings to end suffering and reduce the human cost of conflict – Stark's main driving factor since the Phase One films – would tip him over the edge and cause him to side wholeheartedly with the Accords. Similarly, Vision and War Machine have always been straight shooters, who expect everyone to be reading from the same playbook. Widow is a more tangential ally but, as she explains, siding with the government will be in her best interest, which is a very Widow thought process. On the flip side, the story very cleverly turns Wanda against her fellow Avengers, with Falcon sticking with his friend as would be expected and Antman just happy to be included (and no stranger to breaking the law).
If anything, Steve Rogers himself may be the sole character whose choices felt a little odd: though the Accords are clearly set up as something that shouldn't be trusted, they actually don't seem to do a great deal. Unlike the Superhero Registration Act, the Accords really don't do anything more than formalise a setup that has been informally maintained until this point. The Avengers were brought together by a government agency, S.H.E.I.L.D, specifically for use by that agency; Cap himself then goes off and works for them, thinking nothing of obeying official orders throughout Winter Soldier (though clear divisions are seeded as well). Stark has long provided military weaponry and tech, even after his change of heart when becoming Iron Man, as can clearly be seen by the fact that War Machine is still operational – not to mention the whole Extremis suit "army" that the US military seemingly had access to throughout Age of Ultron. My point being that Rogers hasn't seemed to have any issue with following governmental orders in the past, even those he didn't fully agree with under Nick Fury. As a result, his instant refusal to sign the Accords feels a little lacking in conviction. In this sense, Hawkeye's minimal role may actually be an incredibly clever one. The archer has the most to lose at the start of the film, being the only hero with an actual family/life outside of crime fighting (especially as Ms Potts has gone AWOL), yet he doesn't hesitate in joining Cap and company rallying against the Accords. That's a surprisingly big deal, as Hawkeye is the one that has gone from government agent to superhero; he's really the only character here who fully understands both sides (Widow also has this angle, but even as a S.H.I.E.L.D agent her spying background would have cast her as an outsider). As a result, because he falls where he does, it really lends credence to the idea that there is something off about the Accords and that Captain America has taken the correct stance.
Whichever way you cut it, though, the film stands up. It advances
plot threads cleverly, introduces new characters and locations perfectly
(I am so excited for Wakanda right now!) and tells the core story succinctly and clearly. Having now seen a couple of interviews with the
Russo brothers discussing that Civil War was very much a trial for how they want to weave characters/plotlines together during the MCU's grand finale, Infinity Crisis,
I have to say I'm both impressed and excited. So I guess the next big
question is: how exactly is magic going to fit into everything else, Dr Strange?