Following the events of Age of Ultron, the collective governments of the world pass an act designed to regulate all superhuman activity. This polarizes opinion amongst the Avengers, causing two factions to side with Iron Man or Captain America, which causes an epic battle between former allies.
The biggest weakness the Marvel movies have had over the last eight or so years has been a distinct lack of A-grade villains. Loki is almost a good guy now; the Red Skull is MIA; everyone else has been forgettable foes who won’t be back. Captain America: Civil War sidesteps this problem by having the heroes fight amongst themselves. It’s not a solution they can return to in a hurry, but as the Marvel universe roster grows – the all-in battle here features 12 combatants, and that’s with The Hulk and Thor sitting this film out – a bit of internal friction makes sense.
With seemingly every Marvel movie ending in serious destruction of the “something big falls from the sky” variety, it was only a matter of time before someone suggested putting the superheroes on a leash. Slightly surprisingly, it’s Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) who bows to Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), his morale already dented by a grieving mother (Alfre Woodard) giving him a hard time over the collateral damage from the last Avengers movie. Despite actually being present for the most recent civilian-killing screw up (an opening sequence street battle with villain Crossbones), Steve Rogers / Captain America (Chris Evans) feels that superheroes should take personal responsibility for their actions rather than let politicians take charge. But the real problems is that Rogers’ old comrade-turned-evil-Soviet-killing-machine-turned-scruffy-wanderer, Bucky Barnes / The Winter Solider (Sebastian Stan) seems to be back to his terrorist ways. Rogers wants to handle it himself; Stark thinks this is the kind of thing they should leave to the experts. Fight!
"With seemingly every Marvel movie ending in serious destruction of the 'something big falls from the sky' variety, it was only a matter of time before someone suggested putting the superheroes on a leash."
At just under two-and-a-half well-paced hours, this is an Avengers movie in all but name, giving over multiple scenes to side plots like the growing relationship between The Vision (Paul Bettany) and The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The two sides are remarkably evenly-matched for the big knock-down fight; both get a super-suited black buddy (Anthony Mackie is the Falcon; Don Cheadle is War Machine), Scarlet Witch is countered by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, not having as much fun as usual), and Cap’s team brings in Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) to be their own tech-genius. There’s also two Marvel comic stalwarts making their debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, T’Challa / Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Peter Parker / Spider-Man (Tom Holland). The film takes the time to give them strong introductions; the forthcoming solo outings for both are off to a good start.
Increasingly much of the charm of these films is the skilful way in which they handle the demands of franchise maintenance. As movies they’re increasingly detached from human concerns: nobody here has human problems and much of their motivation can be boiled down to “fighting’s what superheroes do”. That has an upside too. Co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo (returning after Captain America: The Winter Solider) shine in the numerous fight scenes, with an extended mid-movie chase really displaying the balletic grace and power of these super-powered characters. And it’s impressive just how far a handful of decent jokes can go in making what are basically action figures seem warm and likeable.
No doubt this is the kind of high note Marvel would like to continue indefinitely across the franchise. This still a (small) step down from Winter Solider though, suggesting this particular gritty corner of the Marvel Universe might be showing some fatigue. The emotional core of this film is its real strength. Downey Jr and Evans have played their characters for so long now that their history gives this somewhat thinly scripted feud real weight. Marvel might not get this lucky with casting in the future; enjoy this double act while you can.