Even though it has the title “Civil War”, it actually has very little to do with the comic storyline it takes the title from. There’s the core starting point: registration for all super-powered beings on earth. And like in the comics, Tony Stark sits on one side while Captain America sits on the other. But that’s about where the similarities start and end.
This version of Civil War deals with the search for the Winter Soldier after he supposedly blew up a political conference, killing several high profile people including the father of The Black Panther. This sets him on a quest for vengeance, Tony Stark wants to arrest the Winter Soldier, and naturally, Captain America wants to find his friend and keep him safe.
You may be led to believe that the villain of this film is someone named Zemo. He has nothing to do with his comic book counterpart in this film and more or less meanders around the movie. His entire purpose exists to be a plot mechanic instead of an actual antagonist. He moves around the world, causing problems and setting up things in order for the movie to move along. But in the end he does very little, especially since his plan hinges on people being in a certain spot at a certain time, at the same time. It’s all very convenient and kind of damages the impact of certain scenes.
But the real action of the movie has to do with Cap and Stark. Their relationship has always been one of begrudged friendship and that’s been crumbling steadily since the opening of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Things go into overdrive over the course of the film, and thanks to a third act revelation, pretty much falls apart entirely. Civil War is a movie that – like other Marvel movies – you can more or less enjoy without having seen the others, but things wouldn’t have the same impact if you’ve been following the movies since the beginning. These characters have come super far since the original Iron Man movie and this movie feels like a culmination of that.
There are a few additional standouts. Black Panther is pretty amazing in this movie. Chadwick Boseman’s fits the role so well that the movie is immediately better when he’s on screen. I’m definitely excited to see how Black Panther’s solo movie turns out.
The other is of course the one and only Spider-man. Spider-man is one of the best and worst things about Civil War. Tom Holland is great in the role, and Spider-man’s action scenes are great. But you can tell that Spider-man wasn’t meant to be in this movie originally. The plot literally stops for fifteen minutes in order to introduce Peter Parker and get him up to speed with the rest of the movie. It’s unfortunate, as the movie suffers from enough pacing problem as it is.
Of course the most important aspect of a mash up movie such as this is the action. What we really want is to see our favorite heroes knock each other around and boy does this movie live up to that. There’s a really good fight between both “teams” in the middle of the movie where everyone from Spider-man to Ant-man gets to show off their skills. The fight kind of suffers from a “why didn’t you open with that” mentality a bit, but otherwise it’s really exciting.
The fight towards the third act is not only way more brutal, but more tragic. It’s here that you realize the damage that’s been done by both people can’t be repaired easily and both are looking to spill blood. This one isn’t made for cheering and popcorn fluff, it rings more sad than fun.
The movie also attempts to deal with some heavy themes, as most comic book movies do. In this case it’s the idea of a world police and the freedom to choose. It’s here that the movie feels almost too short, as the ideas aren’t nearly as explored as they could be. The movie takes more time dealing with the comic book-y aspects of the plot and sort of passes off the debates of these themes after the first act. By the time the movie finishes, you’ll forget entirely that the movie began because of a registration act.
Overall Captain America: Civil War is a great film. It isn’t as tight as Winter Soldier, or even Guardians of the Galaxy, but it ranks up there as one of Marvel’s top films. The implications of this film on the wider MCU are large and will no doubt take their toll on films to come (in a good, dramatic way that is). It’s worth remembering that this is the last time we’ll see most of these heroes – Black Panther and Spider-man not withstanding – for several years to come. So for things to end on a tragic note is bittersweet, but one that feels earned over the course of three Iron Man movies, two Avengers movies, and three Captain America movies.