The latest incarnation in Marvel’s cinematic universe begins as world-wide public opinion has begun to turn against the Avengers. Although many people are thankful for the good they have done in the world, others are becoming bitter at the amount of death and destruction which always seems to follow in their wake. These people point to the destruction wreaked upon New York City (The Avengers), London (Thor: The Dark World), Washington D.C. (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Sokovia (Avengers: Age of Ultron), and demand that they be reined in. In response to public pressure, the majority of nations in the world sign the Sokovia Accords, an international treaty which would turn the Avengers from a private group into a public organization supervised by the United Nations. While some members of the group (led by Tony Stark/Iron Man) believe that they must be held accountable due to their capacity for destruction, others (led by Steve Rogers/Captain America) fear that political obstruction could prevent them from helping people or, even worse, that they could become tools for world governments to wield against each other. Tensions only get worse following a terrorist attack during the signing of the Accords, an attack for which Steve’s old friend Bucky, known to the rest of the world as the Winter Soldier, is implicated. Rogers suspects a set-up, but it turns out that the Avenger’s worst enemy could be itself.
The first thing that you will notice about this film is it essentially another Avengers movie in all but name (I may refer to it as Avengers 2.5). Virtually every super hero character from every previous Marvel film is present, save for the conspicuous absence of Thor and the Hulk. There’s Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawk Eye, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Falcon, War Machine, Ant-Man… There’s even Spider Man and Black Panther, whose own movies aren’t even being released until 2017 and 2018, respectively. I must admit, I was sure that the sheer number of characters in this film would make the film cluttered and unorganized, as characters fought each other for limited screen time. In fact though, the movie does a pretty good job at giving all the characters enough screen time, and the movie actually doesn’t feel that cluttered. This is helped by the fact that (A) most of these characters have already been established in previous movies so exposition can be kept to a minimum and (B) the movie is a full two and half hours. However, Captain America is still the one driving the plot forward, so putting his name in the title is appropriate.
I must also admit that I was skeptical that Marvel would be able to tell the story of Civil War well, considering their less-than-stellar track record of writing good plots thus far. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the story worked. I think the big reason for this is because the actual villain of this movie (without getting too spoilery) doesn’t actually spend much time on screen and mostly works from behind the scenes, manipulating the Avengers from the shadows. Rather, in many ways Tony Stark/Iron Man takes on aspects of the villain role. And this actually works really well because of the already-established characterization of each Avenger and their existing relationships with each other. The filmmakers didn’t need to write a villain, they just needed to place arguably their best character into a situation where he acts like a villain, and the plot just writes itself, side-stepping their traditional weakness in plot and villain characterization entirely.
Of course, Civil War is still an immensely satisfying action movie. There’s giant set-piece battles, funny quips, and of course the obligatory action sequence with all the heroes in the movie fighting each other, so if you’re just interested in that than you’ll have a grand old time. But Civil War is surprisingly more than that. It’s another step forward for Marvel, as they show that their superhero films can be more than just summer blockbuster beat-em’-ups, even if it still lacks the dramatic depth of a film like The Dark Knight. Between Civil War and the surreal and mystical Doctor Strange releasing later this year, 2016 is looking to be one of Marvel’s best years yet.