Kicking off the final phase of our MCU Review series, it’s Captain America: Civil War – the beginning of the MCU’s Phase Three and the final entry into the Captain America trilogy (after The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier).
Despite Civil War being the official end to Cap’s trilogy, it’s not entirely his film. Civil War feels more like an Avengers-lite entry to the franchise, owing to the fact that it features almost every existing MCU hero up to that point (minus Thor and Hulk, who are presumably off doing Ragnarok stuff). It also introduces two new heroes into the MCU, Spider-Man and Black Panther – two of the franchise’s most popular characters – bringing them in as part of a wider narrative as opposed to giving them individual origin stories like so many of Marvel’s other MCU characters. While this as a tactic is actually quite a refreshing way to bring characters into the universe, it certainly lends more weight to Civil War as more of an Avengers film than a Captain America one.
While it’s not exclusively Cap’s film, it is driven by the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and its narrative certainly exists squarely within the realms of furthering Steve Rogers’ arc, exploring the Winter Soldier a little more as a character, and also addressing the nature of Captain America and Iron Man’s turbulent friendship.
Civil War‘s main characters – if you can call them that when they appear alongside so many other fan favorites – are Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson, and Bucky Barnes, and all of the other Avengers that appear do so in a supporting role. Except, that doesn’t really work on any level, because the film’s entire gimmick is the way in which these characters interact with one another (and inevitably fight, too – it is Civil War, after all). This doesn’t really give any of the film’s heroes enough attention, leaving the actual narrative feeling weak and uninteresting, with the action pushed to the forefront. While the action is every bit as exciting as you’d expect from an MCU film, it relies so heavily on the Civil War gimmick that it falls a little flat. After all, with Thanos already revealed as the franchise’s main villain, it feels a little hollow watching the heroes fight knowing that before long, all will be forgotten in favor of frying bigger fish.
There’s flashes of what made The Winter Soldier so great, with some particularly fun action sequences and occasional moments of genuine character development, but they aren’t enough to redeem the film entirely. Some of Civil War‘s most grating moments include; shoehorned references to Empire Strikes Back as a joke about Spider-Man’s age (we get it, he’s young), Tony Stark being incessantly and uncharacteristically whiny, the conveniently relayed speech from a now-dead Peggy that just so happens to be exactly the pep-talk Cap needs to start cracking his friends skull, and many, many more. It’s a shame, because these moments are just slightly too on-the-nose, and it ultimately undermines the rest of the film.
Really, though, Civil War‘s biggest issue is that it’s overstuffed. Not only did it feature as many heroes as an Avengers film, but it made a point of giving them each a few lines by turn, leaving the film feeling more like a playground exercise in inclusion than a well-written blockbuster. The character development it does manage is buried under so many heroes that it just feels too heavy-handed to have any real impact.
That said, Civil War does at least attempt to address some of the wider themes of the MCU, and its narrative – while a little lost – is true to Captain America’s arc. It also features some solid action, and does a sound job of introducing both Black Panther and Spider-Man, building anticipation for their first solo outings in the MCU.
It’s far from the MCU’s best – in fact, it’s much closer to the bottom of the pile, in my opinion – but even if it does drag on a little, it still entertains for most of its bloated runtime.
Summary: Captain America: Civil War isn’t the MCU’s most innovative or exciting, but it’s also not its worst. In fact, it’s a pretty average film that rests just a little too hard on the laurel of its cast of heroes.
Highlights: Finally seeing Spider-Man among the MCU’s other heroes is a dream come true for many fans, and Tom Holland is able to immediately showcase why his was the perfect casting for the role. Seeing Captain America fully embrace his shift to lawlessness isn’t without its high points, either.