Captain America: Civil War Sets Up the Game for Marvel’s Phase III

“Choose a side” was the marketing message for Captain America: Civil War. It’s Team Cap vs. Team Iron Man. But after years of watching these characters grow and work side-by-side, it’s impossible to choose a side. I like all of them. I want good things for them. And even though I’ve secretly wondered who could kick the crap out of whom among the team, I’ve never wanted them to hurt or kill one another. It’s what makes Civil War so good.

So why are Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) fighting each other instead of bad guys? The Sokovia Accords, a political document put together after the world saw the collateral damage caused by the Avengers in New York (The Avengers), Washington, D.C. (The Winter Soldier), Sokovia (Avengers: Age of Ultron), and Lagos (where the first major scene of this movie takes place). It suggests the United Nations would determine when and where the Avengers services are needed. Steve doesn’t want to sign the document because he doesn’t trust shifting political agendas; Tony, however, is crushed by guilt and believes the team needs to be put in check. Therein lies the cause for their fight.

And, of course, the Avengers (minus Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk) get involved. As they should. Cap is the de facto leader, and they’re no longer a group of super soldiers who only come together when there’s an alien threat. After Age of Ultron, they became a united task force that works to tackle terrorism around the globe. That’s how and why Civil War manages to be an Avengers movie inside a Captain America story. But not in a gimmicky way like another “versus” movie we saw earlier this year. Marvel has earned the storytelling right to feature more than the titular character because they’ve invested in and built upon origin stories, team movies, and more to shape their cinematic universe.

Robert Downey Jr and Chris Evans in Captain America: Civil War

Where does everyone stand? Well, on Cap’s side, you have Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), and Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). On Iron Man’s, it’s War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Bettany), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland). It’s important to note that Black Widow is never truly one-sided. Nor is Black Panther, which we’ll see more of in coming films.

The climatic battle between the Avengers is fantastic. It effortlessly showcases each individual’s fighting techniques, sense of humor, sense of morality, and dynamics with other members of the team. Like when Black Widow asks Hawkeye if they’re still friends, and he responds with “Depends on how hard you hit me.” Or how Ant-Man is just being a huge goober all over the place (Yes, I said “huge.” That is your only spoiler. Enjoy.). Or how Spider-Man can’t seem to shut up because he’s a big ‘ole ball of overenthusiastic puberty.

Speaking of Holland’s Spider-Man, he’s soooo much better than both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s versions because, well, he’s actually a kid. And his “recruitment” scene with RDJ is SPOT ON regarding the relationship between Peter Parker and Tony Stark. Both are boy geniuses, one just happens to be a grown man who acts like a teenager. And Boseman as Black Panther? God, can we please have that movie now (especially since it’ll be a Ryan Coogler film)? T’Challa’s suit is hardcore. Like…bullets can’t penetrate it. Not to mention, he’s the only one who actually poses a threat for Winter Soldier.

Tom Holland as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War

And with so many characters and storylines in Civil War, you might assume that the movie would move too quickly, not give enough screentime to each Avenger, or would have a sloppy, confusing story. Nope. That’s not how director duo Anthony and Joe Russo (known as “The Russo Brothers”) operate. In fact, they’re the reason The Winter Soldier was so good. They fundamentally get how to combine political thriller, character drama, and action into a superhero film that’s intense, well-developed, and still fun.

That’s not to say Civil War is perfect because it’s not. Marvel has a villain problem. They have Loki and HYDRA among their most epic nemeses. We could argue Ultron, too. But beyond that, the film villains have kind of sucked. Civil War‘s Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) literally shows up in this movie to be a Machiavellian spark for the fight between the Avengers. But much like the Raiders of the Lost Ark theory with Indiana Jones and the Nazis, even if Zemo didn’t exist in this story, the Avengers still would’ve imploded on their own. To me, we didn’t need a villain for this movie. The whole point was that the Avengers were their own antagonists. Plus, why waste a perfectly good Daniel Brühl role?

And the other major problem? If you haven’t kept up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films, you will be confused and probably won’t enjoy the film as much as you would if you’d been following since day one. Like when Ant-Man first arrives in Civil War, they refer to him only as “Scott.” That’s it. No superhero moniker, no “This is Scott Lang, the dude who succeeded Hank Pym as Ant-Man.” Nothing. So good luck keeping up, pal.

But if there’s one thing the MCU does well, it’s changing the game for all of the players. While each movie adds a new twist or challenge for the characters in the MCU, the Captain America films (excluding the origin story) have been the major turning point for each Marvel movie phase. The Winter Soldier stepped up Phase I to Phase II, and Civil War is moving the pieces into place for Phase III. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

Be sure to stay for the mid-credits scene and the post-credits scene as well, or you’ll miss some Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Black Panther (2018) teasers!

Captain America: Civil War: A-

Listen to my review of Captain America: Civil War on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 50:24).

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