Given the factious fervor of fans on both sides of the aisle between Marvel and DC Comics films, it’s a droll coincidence that Captain America: Civil War, the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, shares the same general premise as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, DC’s most recent blockbuster.
Both films revolve around humankind’s attempts to rein in demigods and the collateral damage of their heroism. Both feature clashes between seminal superheroes who are manipulated by a bad guy and at odds over how much power they should be permitted to wield. And both pivot on the lingering effects of the deaths of a billionaire playboy’s parents. They even share the same burdensome title structure. The main difference is that where BvS is dark and moody, Civil War delivers Marvel’s usual kicks with a wink and a smile.
In the wake of destruction heaped upon New York City, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere by sundry Avengers conflicts, the United Nations implements the Sokovia Accords, named for the site of the cataclysmic battle in the disappointing Avengers: Age of Ultron. The pact puts the Avengers under U.N. oversight, which suits an increasingly guilt-ridden Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). A splinter segment led by Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans), resists tethering the Avengers to political whims.
The schism widens when Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), is implicated in the assassination of an African king, whose son then vows revenge. Stark and government authorities want Barnes dead or alive, while Rogers believes his old friend is being brainwashed or framed. The Avengers must choose allegiances: War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Vision (Paul Bettany), and newcomer Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) team with Stark. Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) side with Rogers. A flurry of fisticuffs, firefights, and chases ensues, including a well staged battle royale at an airport that’ll send Marvel fanatics into fevered fits.
It’s little use continuing to glean social and political allegories from all the superhero flicks monopolizing theaters lately—if you want to pontificate about the subtext of Captain America being the one who resists U.N. control, be my guest. The tension between heroes in the Marvel movies has always been more internal than external. That’s amplified in Civil War, which lacks a super-villain on the order of Loki or Ultron. Even a dormant army of Winter Soldiers turns out to be a MacGuffin. There’s only a shadowy terrorist (Daniel Brühl) whose primary weapon is exploiting the Avengers’ insecurities and secrets, culminating with a dark reveal that recalibrates a rift between alpha-Avengers that previously felt forced.
photo courtesy of Marvel Studios
Web in front: Spider-Man finally makes his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
There’s plenty of filler designed to give each character his or her moment in the spotlight, including half-written relationships between Vision and Scarlet Witch as well as Rogers and CIA agent Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp). Fortunately, they provide an opportunity to refill the popcorn audiences will eagerly munch during the copious action sequences.
On the other hand, Stark pays a visit to Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei!), ushering in the long-awaited arrival of Spider-Man to the official MCU. It’s refreshing to see an actual teenager playing Parker, a wide-eyed kid who refers to The Empire Strikes Back as "that old movie" and jokingly reads a combatant his Miranda Rights mid-fight. In his limited minutes of screen time, Holland channels more witty charm than two movies’ worth of Andrew Garfield.
Another parallel with DC's recent effort: Spider-Man’s entry is the highlight of Civil War, as Wonder Woman's debut is the best part of BvS. It forecasts an oncoming flood of new heroes and villains in a new phase of the MCU—you know, just like DC’s gestating Justice League franchise. Maybe fans can just sit back and enjoy the shows without exacerbating their cinematic civil war.