Captain America: Civil War Review: Phase 3 Is Here in a Huge Way
"Once you spend more than $100 million on a movie, you have to save the world." That quote was uttered by screenwriter Damon Lindelof in a 2013 interview, and, for many reasons, it has always struck a chord with me, largely because it's absolutely true. With any movie made for that much money, the story simply must hinge on the fate of the world being put on the line, in some way shape or form. I can't imagine any studio executive forking out that much money about a movie to save Omaha, Nebraska from the brink of destruction (no disrespect, Omaha, just an example). Whether it be consciously or subconsciously, we've probably always known this conceit about Hollywood blockbusters, and they don't get any bigger these days than superhero movies. This week, fans will get to see quite simply the biggest superhero movie - in more ways than one - when Captain America: Civil War hits theaters, which is a truly fascinating, jaw-dropping and supremely entertaining movie. However, it may also signal that these movies are quite simply getting too big... but we'll get that last part in a bit.
I don't even want to get into too much of the story here. There is a LOT going in Marvel's Civil War, from the introduction of two fantastic additions to the MCU, Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) to the Sokovia Accords, which were put in place to regulate the Avengers after the Sokovia disaster, to the sinister motivations of Baron Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), and that's not even coming close to scratching the surface. The movie begins in a time I wasn't at all expecting - 1991, as we delve into one of The Winter Soldier's missions when he was still being "programmed" to do Hydra's dirty work. The scene itself isn't terribly revealing, but it's a brilliantly planted seed that pays off in truly profound and incredible ways throughout the movie. You most likely know the basic gist of the story - Cap and Iron Man disagree on the Sokovia accords, sides are formed, battles are fought - and, honestly, that's all you really need to know going in.
In a movie chocked full of sheer spectacle, most of Captain America's greatest scenes are where we get a closer look at these heroes themselves. Most of the early reviews that first surfaced highlighted Spider-Man as one of the best parts of Captain America: Civil War, and they certainly weren't wrong. Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn made a (somewhat) bold statement that Tom Holland is the best Spider-Man we've ever seen on the big screen, and he wasn't wrong either. The tiny bits we've seen of this new Spidey in the trailers is just the tip of the iceberg in regards to how truly great Tom Holland is as Peter Parker. Thankfully, he has much more than a cameo, but even though he isn't introduced until halfway through the story, I can say that without a doubt, THIS is the Spidey I've been waiting years to see on the big screen. Holland, who made his feature debut in an enthralling performance in 2012's The Impossible, perfectly captures the awkward and insecure Peter Parker, while also shining as the snarky Spidey. Chadwick Boseman also puts in a fantastic MCU debut as Black Panther, who actually has one of the most interesting character arcs in the whole movie, from beginning to end.
Last year, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige mad a not-so-surprising statement that the Marvel Cinematic Universe will never be "dark," stating that humor will always be a touchstone of the MCU. Many believe that the MCU's balance of humor, high stakes drama and inventive action sequences are the main ingredients that attribute to the MCU's success. With all that being said, Captain America: Civil War is by far the studio's "darkest" movie to date. Yes, there are many humorous moments that are all very effective, but out of all of the studio's movies, this one got the fewest laughs out of me and the rest of the crowd, although it's safe to say that Tom Holland probably got the most laughs throughout the movie as Spidey. Of course, when you're pitting beloved heroes against each other in a big splash page fight, I wouldn't imagine humor is a huge priority. The balance of humor, drama and action is still there. It's just skewered a bit less on the comedy side.
You're probably going to see a lot of derogatory posts from Marvel fans on social media after Captain America: Civil War hits theaters, which will probably say something to the effect of, "THIS is how you juggle complex story lines at the same time, Batman v Superman." Given the negative backlash from critics and many fans alike, BvS is certainly an easy target, because there are similar themes at play, like heroes being held accountable for their damages, and, you know, heroes fighting each other. Batman v Superman, however, didn't have the luxury of 12 previous movies to set up these characters, and were forced to shoe-horn so much story into a 150-minute timeframe. The Captain America: Civil War script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is much tighter than the BvS script, with some utterly brilliant storytelling put on display here, although admittedly, the story does take a bit to truly get going. Still, as great as the plot is, the sheer scope of the story - not the action - is becoming indicative of a trend that these movies may be getting too big for their storytelling britches, so to speak.
If putting the fate of the world on the line in every $100 million movie is an unwritten rule in Hollywood, another is that sequels have to be bigger than their predecessors. For me, 2012's The Avengers may have been "peak Marvel," so to speak, because it told a thoroughly efficient story that was action-packed, hilarious, everything that you could possibly want from a summer movie, executed at the highest possible level. Avengers: Age of Ultron showed just how tough it is to top something like The Avengers, and, ultimately, it didn't, from both a critical and a financial standpoint. Let's not forget that Avengers: Age of Ultron was also the movie that "broke" director Joss Whedon, who has since parted ways with the studio. The Avengers focused on five heroes and their fight against evil, and the cast has gotten exponentially bigger ever since then, which in turn, leads to bigger stories.
Captain America 3 is quite possibly bigger than both Avengers movies combined, and I honestly have to give tremendous props to directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, along with writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for crafting an utterly fantastic movie that is thorough, engaging, powerful, while juggling more superhero characters than we've ever seen in an MCU movie. Even with so many characters, they all get compelling arcs, including a particularly intriguing paired storyline of Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany). Both Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. deliver their best MCU performances ever, both showing sides of their characters we haven't seen before, while the ever-expansive supporting cast continues to be top-notch. I can't imagine how challenging that must be to give meaningful roles for all of these characters, that advances each of their individual story lines, throughout the MCU. But, with the two-part Infinity War on the horizon, Captain America: Civil War may not be the biggest Marvel movie for long.
Some have speculated about "superhero fatigue," wondering when audiences will grow tired of seeing costumed heroes and villains doing battle on the big screen. I don't think it's superhero fatigue the studios have to worry about, especially when a divisive movie like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice can pull in $862 million worldwide, and an R-rated movie like Deadpool can earn $761 million worldwide. I think a bigger concern may be stakes-raising fatigue, so to speak, especially when Marvel keeps adding more and more characters with very little turnover. It seems this will all culminate with the two-part Infinity War, but where the MCU goes from there is anybody's guess. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven to be revolutionary in terms of long-form storytelling, and Captain America: Civil War is flat-out remarkable in many ways. Still, Captain America: Civil War gets uncomfortably close to collapsing under the weight of its own excesses, even though it never does.