When I was growing up, Marvel was X-Men. The 80’s comic storylines like The Phoenix Saga, Dark Phoenix, and Days of Future Past defined Marvel for years. The amazing X-Men: The Animated series of the early 90s cemented my love of superheroes that continues today.

Meanwhile the Avengers were nothing to me. I had a bad NES game where you could play as the incredibly lame Captain America and Hawkeye. Iron Man was a D-list joke. I couldn’t tell you a single Avengers villain.

I am continually amazed by how things have changed with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel successfully adapted to the loss of many of their key franchises to other studios (the 90s were a rough time for comics).

Suddenly the Avengers are the hottest shit around, and while Marvel Studios still has a bit of a villain problem, Captain America: Civil War represents exactly what the studio does best: big screen heroes.

civil war

At this point in the MCU’s lifecycle, people have fairly high expectations. Marvel Studios films have ranged from “pretty good” to “amazing.” The internet age has created an unstoppable hype machine that oversaturates us with trailers, pictures, spoilers, and merchandising. It’s easy to be cynical over big movies (or games, etc).

Captain America: Civil War fucking delivers.

The story is based on Marvel’s 2006 comic event of the same name. In the comic (which I wrote about last year), a group of reality-tv mutants hunt down a group of villains. The New Warriors are cocky and under-equipped to deal with an enhanced Nitro, who’s powers blows up a city block, including a school full of children.

The event hits national news and unlike our tragedy-filled world, laws are passed and bills are made to try and change things. Superheroes were required to come forward and register so they can be held accountable. Also, each state would have their own superteam in case anything ever happens outside of New York or San Francisco.

Civil War who's sideThe Registration Act (which was a major plot point for mutants for awhile) divides the superhero community. The Avengers are most notably divided, with Iron Man waving the flag for government registration and Captain America leading the underground resistance who are branded vigilantes.

It’s a fun event, though Tony Stark comes off as a complete power-hungry maniac and you’re supposed to root for Cap the whole way.

The film takes the basic concept of registration and applies it in practical, modern terms. Of course it makes sense to have some kind of oversight given the insane destruction and loss of life that follows nearly every super-powered encounter.

In the MCU, they can already cite several incidents: New York’s alien invasion, Washington DC’s helicarriers, and Sokovia’s Ultron city-raising thing.

Steve Rogers already has problems with this oversight, knowing a UN-run superteam would be terribly ineffective. Stark is personally moved by a woman who blames him for the death of her son, who had been vacationing in Sokovia (a scene lifted straight from the comics).

What really ties it together in the film is the Winter Soldier. Bucky’s return was teased as the focal point of Captain America: Winter Soldier. Hell, he’s right there in the title! But that film ended up being more of a political thriller involving the dissolution of SHIELD and the depths of HYDRA. For the record, I consider Winter Soldier one of the best MCU films.

civil war

Civil War expands on those events by really making Bucky the impetus for Cap turning his back on the American government. Bucky’s past raises some interesting ethical quandaries involving mind control and accountability (the comics would later probe even further, having him stand trial).

Steve is somewhat blinded by his friendship and loyalty to Bucky. Bucky is super dangerous, a fact brought to light as he can literally be controlled through a series of Russian phrases.

Enter our villain, Helmut Zemo, a seemingly random dude with a major grudge. We know nothing about him until the end, when it’s revealed that he lost his family in Sokovia. He knows he can’t fight the likes of Stark or Rogers, so instead he pits them against each other.

That plot is a little thin, and relies on a lot of circumstances – like for Stark to get the info out of an imprisoned Falcon and rush off to help Cap and Bucky. Zemo reveals that it was Bucky that killed Stark’s parents while on assignment, which causes Stark to understandably flip out.

By making things more personal than political, we instantly gain some intriguing grey areas to the debate, as well as some much needed character background and motivation. Cap doesn’t like regulation, but more importantly he’s trying to protect his friend. Stark doesn’t want to cause more innocents to die, but he’s also reeling from a break-up with Pepper Potts and now the emotional bomb of his parents’ murder.

civil war iron man v capThe end teased a “let’s bring these two together to fight a big bad.” Or in this case, a group of Big Bad Russian Supersoldiers. Instead it was a total red herring as our heroes fight each other, giving us the brutal fight we were teased in the trailers.

I loved that in the end the Civil War wasn’t actually resolved at all. This is a complex issue without a happy ending. Or rather, one that will be at least temporarily solved once Thanos arrives in Avengers: Infinity War.

In the comics Steve Rogers was shot and killed on his way to trial after surrendering to authorities. He was dead for several years, with Bucky eventually taking on the shield and uniform.

After he came back, instead of resuming the role he created the Secret Avengers – a black ops team that worked off the books to do what needed to be done. From the end of the film it sounds like we might see a bit of this as Cap springs Falcon, Ant-Man, Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye from the Raft prison.

I really loved the big screen adaptation of Civil War. Marvel Studios excels at trimming the really goofy comic stuff while retaining what makes them so much fun – the heroes themselves.

My only major complaint was the use of Helmut Zemo. Baron Zemo, in the comics, is a major villain with his own super team and backstory. To use that name for an otherwise random throw away character seems crazy to me – unless Marvel has future plans. After all, the villain is only captured, not killed, thanks to Black Panther.

civil war

Holy crap I’ve written 1000 words without even mentioning the big new additions to the MCU. I’ve always been meh towards Spider-Man and I thought Tom Holland was suitably young and annoying. But Chadwick Boseman absolutely killed it as the new Wakandan king and badass warrior.

It seems crazy to include an entirely new superhero’s origin story within a film already brimming with superheroes. But Marvel pulled it off quite elegantly – weaving in T’Challa’s father’s assassination at the U.N. directly into the Bucky-plot. Boseman’s accent and characterization was pitch-perfect. His fighting style was smooth and awesome. He got the big reveal with the villain at the end – and made it through his own personal character arc of vengeance. I’m totally smitten by MCU Black Panther, and I want his film now!

As for Spider-Man I thought his inclusion was totally dumb and ancillary. I get that people love Spidey but Stark randomly just knowing who he is, and recruiting this kid to fight a very dangerous battle felt disingenuous, and an obvious post-writing addition. And I’m totally salty that Spidey’s MCU film pushed back Black Panther’s. Not cool.

As for the rest, holy crap there’s a lot of people in this movie. The MCU is busting at the seems with superheroes and damn near most of them are here. Scarlet Witch was particularly given some nice emotional discomfort to work through. She’s by far the most powerful person on the team, and with great power comes great regret when you accidentally kill people.

Vision was fun. I love how understated and quietly meek yet powerful he’s portrayed. Paul Bettany was brilliant casting. Black Widow has a bit more to do though she awkwardly kind of exits the film before the climax. Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man is goofy fun, and his Giant Man maneuver was the biggest surprise of the film – kudos to Marvel for at least keeping one thing under wraps!

Falcon and Bucky’s scene in the car was probably one of the funniest things Marvel has done. Just thinking about the head nod after Sharon Carter kisses Cap and the “can you move your seat” line still makes me smile. Marvel’s success is built upon the likability of their heroes, and they absolutely nail the various relationships and quips.

Captain America: Civil War works as both a Winter Soldier sequel and a proper Avengers film. Somehow they balance old and new heroes with a fun plot and complex social issues. Their weakness still lies in their villain, but if there’s a way to get around that it’s to have your heroes take center stage. That airport sequence is probably the best interpretation of a classic comic book battle we’ve ever seen on screen. I’m continually amazed that we live in a world where comic book movies are the most popular things around. Civil War‘s success will help cement that for years to come.

civil war

Quick Pros
  • Successfully adapted the main idea of the comic
  • Upped the personal stakes for Cap and Iron Man
  • Balances the insane amount of characters
  • Black Panther was perfect
  • Classic Marvel humor
  • Great twist at the end – no big bad, just a more intense hero v hero fight
Quick Cons
  • How the hell was that Baron Zemo?
  • Pepper Potts written out of an Avengers-style movie yet again
  • Spider-Man was meh, and largely unnecessary
  • No Wasp sighting, though I didn’t really expect it
Fun Bits
  • Sharon Carter uttered Cap’s famous “No, you move” monologue from the comic during Peggy Carter’s funeral
  • Bucky’s put on ice in Wakanda in the mid-credit scene. Will he return in Black Panther?
  • Aunt May gets younger and younger in every new Spider-Man iteration.
  • Ant-Man & Hawkeye team-up via arrow shot! Awesome comic-move nod.
  • In the comics Falcon has a pet bird named Redwing. In the film he has his own personal drone called Redwing. Show some respect, Widow!
  • Vision has the hots for Wanda. They were actually married at one point in the comics.
  • War Machine is badly injured in the airport battle. At the end he survives with cybernetic implants. For a while in the comics Rhodes was practically a cyborg after sustaining a major injury.

Final Say: Captain America: Civil War successfully combines all the winning elements and characters from the MCU into a satisfying sequel.