Review: 'Captain America: Civil War' explores family, friendship, sacrifice
It’s almost easier to say what isn’t in Captain America: Civil War, since the latest Marvel movie features deaths, bad feelings all around, alliances formed and broken, two guys with bug names, a kiss and the best superhero battle put to film yet.
Tear away the powers, abilities and egos, though, and the third Captain America movie (***½ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters May 6) is at its core a deep exploration of friendship and family and what sacrifices should be made to hold onto both. And while it’s not the greatest Marvel effort — that honor goes to the previous Captain America: The Winter Soldier — Civil War does pull outstanding performances from its two franchise faces, Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr.
Evans’ Steve Rogers is faced with struggles on all sides: Cap’s childhood best pal Bucky (Sebastian Stan), who has been brainwashed into being the assassin Winter Soldier, is framed for a terrorist incident in Vienna. Making matters worse, Captain America is already dealing with his Avengers supergroup crumbling around him when a new law places the heroes under United Nations jurisdiction after too many international incidents with catastrophic collateral damage.
He’s against the move, his buddy Tony Stark (again played by Downey, doing great stuff outside the Iron Man armor) is for it, and civil discourse between the two isn’t happening, at all. “Sometimes I want to punch you in your perfect teeth,” Stark hisses.
Under the direction of Winter Soldier’s Anthony and Joe Russo, Civil War is the most epic Avengers movie so far, even though it’s not an Avengers movie. The divided team allows many character moments for the android Vision (Paul Bettany), newer heroes Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and mainstays Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and War Machine (Don Cheadle).
The movie also features the impressive introductions of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), a Wakandan prince bearing claws and a grudge, and a new Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Previous movies have had issues balancing the youthful banter and scientific confidence of the comic-book wallcrawler, but Holland nails the role in every aspect.
Both those guys and many more are involved in the aforementioned big brawl, a massive airport throwdown between the bickering heroes. It’s a brilliantly crafted affair featuring new team-ups and fabulous dialogue (credit to screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) ultimately heisted by surprising scene-stealers Spidey and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).
Between the political issues, explosive battles and a nefarious plot by new villain-on-the-scene Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), Civil War is overflowing with story. It's a gold mine for Marvel nerds that may be dizzying for the rest.
Yet the central conflict between superfriends Steve and Tony stays in focus, even escalating in a real and tragic way as the plot progresses and weaves in Winter Soldier’s history of breaking bad to tear them apart even further.
Rather than rooting for the fisticuffs, it hurts to watch these men, brothers in a sense, punch and blast each other into oblivion — a testament to two actors totally on their game but also to audiences’ investment in these characters paying off in dramatic fashion.