Captain America: Civil War has the great action and spectacle one can expect from Marvel, but what really makes it work is that the characters are developed and the story never loses focus.
The film opens with the Avengers taking on a terrorist group led by the scarred Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), which results in collateral damage. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) spearheads the Sokovia Accords, which establishes international governmental control to monitor the growing superhuman population. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) opposes the action, which forms a rift in the Avengers. Meanwhile, another act of terror occurs, with the blame being placed on Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Roger’s friend and the unstable Winter Soldier. While ideologies clash, a new threat looms.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo return for their second Captain America film and their imagination knowing no bounds. A foot vs. vehicle chase sequence and a heroic clash at an airport are definite highlights. However, these set pieces never overshadow what is really important here: the characters.
Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are not content with just delivering a blueprint of spectacle. They clearly lay out the motivations for why the heroes choose their respective sides and, for the first time in the MCU, challenge the benefits and consequences of what happens when these heroes go uncheck.
The excess of characters can threaten to overwhelm. With some exceptions, the balancing act is performed exceptionally. In particular, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch is givenmore substantive work here than in her introduction with Avengers: Age of Ultron. Scarlett Johansson remains the emotional core as Black Widow. Evans and Downey, Jr. play off of each other nicely, but the real prize is Stan, who shows many layers as the complicated Soldier, and who figures into a nice revelation later.
The new comrades get their fair share of moments. Chadwick Boseman finds sympathy and stoic intensity as the agile Black Panther and Tom Holland is charismatic as a certain wall-crawler. Returning pint-sized hero Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), though not introduced until a little halfway in, makes an impression with a delightfully bonkers sequence.
However, not everyone gets the same amount of screen-time to completely register. In particular, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is thrown in without a proper explanation. Paul Bettany’s Vision and Don Cheadle’s War Machine also can not escape the trappings of oversaturation, as their characters are sidelined for a majority of the film.
The film jumps from setting to setting, with what feels like ten being visited within the first half-hour. It can be tough to try to keep up with where everyone is at what time, but that becomes rudimentary because of the many great moments. Director of photography Trent Opaloch deserves credit for finding a pulpy, yet somber atmosphere. Composer Henry Jackman does adequate work, but the lack of musical continuity can be frustrating in a franchise that has had problems with it in the past.
Captain America: Civil War reminds us that people exist under the spandex. And sometimes, it’s their regular persona that shines most. The added layers of costume and power are a bonus.