While Captain America: Civil War doesn’t open in North America until this Friday, some of us have seen this hotly anticipated new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe already. And gang, I gotta say: you’re in for a treat. Not only does Civil War excel as a sequel to 2011’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it also serves as a more satisfying follow up to The Avengers than the mixed bag that was last year’s Age of Ultron.
Sure, it’s not without its flaws – it’s a little long at 147 minutes, and poor Daniel Brühl becomes the latest acting great to fall victim to Marvel Studios’ “villain problem”. But these are minor quibbles, considering how directors Anthony and Joe Russo nailed virtually every other aspect of the film. With this in mind, here’s a round-up of the top five reasons why Captain America: Civil War is the best MCU movie yet!
5. All your old favourites are given their due
One of the biggest ways that Civil War improves on Age of Ultron is the way it juggles its sprawling cast. Somehow, the Russos and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely marshal a huge roster of characters from across the ever-expanding MCU without things feeling overstuffed or aimless.
While the focus of the film is the friendship between Captain America and Bucky, the majority of the other major players from across the MCU who appear are given at least some character development, particularly Iron Man, Black Widow and Falcon. Even relative newcomers like Vision and Scarlet Witch score a few memorable scenes before the finale arrives, and Ant-Man shines more here than he does in his own solo outing!
And speaking of newcomers…
4. Spider-Man and Black Panther (almost) steal the show
By now we’re all used to Marvel movies introducing at least one new character per film, with the intention of spinning them off into their own solo adventure later on down the line. Even so, few characters have enjoyed as hotly anticipated an arrival as Black Panther and Spider-Man – and, fortunately, both superheroes shine in their debut appearance.
For his part, Black Panther brings something new to the table, not merely thanks to his regal bearing and cultural background, but also due to his enigmatic and conflicted nature. His role is skilfully woven into the film on both a narrative and thematic level, and star Chadwick Boseman is so perfect for the part that anticipation for the Black Panther solo movie is surely higher than ever before.
Spider-Man’s introduction feels a little more tangential to Civil War‘s plot by comparison, however, that’s easy to overlook considering Marvel Studios’ first bash at bringing the character to life gets so much more right about the wall-crawler during his extended cameo. Not only is Tom Holland is an actual teenager – unlike the usual baby-faced 20-somethings hired to fill Spidey’s tights – but more importantly, he behaves like one too.
Just like in the comics, this version of Spider-Man is constantly running his mouth mid-fight, firing off an endless stream of terrible quips, science geek observations and pop culture references that bewilder his opponents and amuse audiences. Coupled with the spot-on portrayal of his physicality and web-slinging abilities during the film’s major action set piece, and it’s fair to say that Civil War gives fans the definitive movie Spider-Man they’ve always craved.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject of set-pieces…
3. The action sequences are jaw-droppingly good
Superhero movies in general – and Marvel movies in particular – are well-known for their unbelievable action sequences, and Civil War more than delivers on this front. While the seams of the CGI occasionally show, a lot of these effects are virtually invisible, and the amount of practical stunt work on display ensures the fights in Civil War keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
Admittedly, Civil War‘s final showdown does feel a little anti-climactic, but that’s only because the show-stopping brawl at the Berlin Airport that rounds out the second act is pretty much impossible to top. To say too much would be to spoil things, but as mentioned earlier, all of our heroes get at least one big moment, and while the stakes always seem real, there’s a welcome sense of fun to proceedings as well.
Just on that point…
2. The tone is perfectly balanced
Part of the charm of the MCU has always been the way that each flick has embraced the fun and humour of the source material. Whereas other films in the franchise – most notably Age of Ultron – could be criticised for leaning too heavily on the comedy at the expense of the story’s dramatic weight, Civil War expertly walks the tightrope of being fun without sacrificing any of it’s emotional heft. In short, this is a movie that will make you laugh as much as it will make you cry (OK, maybe you won’t cry, but you might get a lump in your throat!).
What works so well about the humour is that it rarely comes across as forced, instead flowing naturally from the characters and their situations. It also doesn’t hurt that – as much as the Russos haven’t lost sight of the joy in superheroes slugging it out – they don’t feel the need to completely undercut the tension every five minutes just to score another chuckle from the audience.
The result is a movie that ends with hearts being both literally and metaphorically broken, and yet which never feels oppressively and needlessly grim, fully in keeping with the MCU films that came before it.
And that brings me to my last point…
1. It’s a (mostly) standalone movie
If I have a pet hate regarding the last eight or so years worth of blockbuster films, it’s the increasing trend towards releasing a film solely to set-up its eventual sequel. Granted, for a shared screen universe like the MCU to work, it’s important to introduce characters and concepts that will only really come to fruition further down the line. But audiences still deserve a coherent story that satisfies on its own merits apart from the wider franchise, rather than simply serving as two hours of meandering board-setting (something Age of Ultron was certainly guilty of).
Happily, Civil War mostly bucks this trend, and – the introduction of Spider-Man aside (which could be excised without affecting the narrative at all) – the film does a great job of focusing on the ongoing journey of Captain America. Sure, plenty of groundwork is laid for future MCU instalments, however, this is grows organically out of the story itself, and not as a series of tangents.
Admittedly, Civil War probably makes a lot more sense – and definitely packs more emotional weight – if you’re familiar with the other MCU entries that came before it, but the movie only draws upon that material to tell the best story it can before the credits roll, not after.