“It’s easy to tell the difference between right and wrong. What’s hard is choosing the wrong that’s more right.”
-Elise Kraft (The Siege)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is perhaps my favorite comic book movie of all time. I remember five years ago thinking that the idea of a Captain America movie sounded like a doomed venture. After a decade at war and a foreign policy that seems antithetical to the founding of our country, patriotism seemed to be at an all time low. What Marvel did instead of pandering to nationalism was give us a hero who valued the Madisonian view of war. Captain is always questioning the morality of his government and overlords. Conversely to Cap is Tony Stark, who believes government oversight is the only way to control anyone who has superhuman abilities. The previous Captain America movies as well as Avengers: Age of Ultron have teased this moment.
It is extremely easy to compare this film to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice because the plots are very similar. But where Captain America: Civil War separates itself is in the shear quality of which it is made. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo have such a strong hold on the nature of these characters and what would motivate them to actually fight one another. Even though this is primarily a Captain vs Iron Man film, each hero fighting on a respective side is given a reason to take that side.
At this point, the performances are what we expect them to be. There are a few additions that are surprisingly great. Tom Holland as Peter Parker and Spider-Man was absolutely fantastic. Never before has Spider-Man been given such a reverential portrayal. I am oozing with anticipation for the MCU’s feature film version of him. Equally as impressive was Chadwick Boseman’s performance as T’Challa and Black Panther. Black Panther was such a welcomed addition, not only for diversity, but for the narrative of the film. The one performance that was a complete head scratcher was Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch. The accent needs to be completely dropped. It was beyond embarrassing how it came and went throughout the film. Some very touching moments between Vision and her were undercut by how silly she sounded.
The Russo brothers are now solely in charge of this universe. This film proved that they understand the characters and can competently shoot action. Civil War is breathtakingly shot, and the action beats are full of heart and purpose. This film has a terrific chase scene that reminded me of last year’s Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation. Every action beat happens for a reason and is visually satisfying. The Russos also did something that I hope Zack Snyder takes note of. They had fun. Ant-Man and Spider-Man are a joy. They are wise-cracking comedic reprieves.
My biggest gripe about Civil War might seem trite, but I felt that its morality was an after-thought. In The Winter Soldier, the Russos gave us a dilemma that felt poignant. The battle between privacy and security was front and center. The entire film has Cap fighting an internal battle over civil liberties and personal safety. Civil War propagates this battle outwardly between Cap and Stark, but the film doesn’t feel like either side is completely justified. I enjoyed The Winter Soldier so much because it felt like a real critique of the surveillance state.
Despite the film’s moral ambiguity, it is a fun and bombastic experience. The Russos are more than competent successors to Joss Whedon, and in some cases they might be better suited for this job. The action is terrific, and the character arcs are done well. Everything a comic book fan could want is in this film. Relationships are built to mean something in this film, and we understand that Iron Man and Cap don’t hate each other. They are both leaders who view the state from different lenses. This can be felt as a reflection of our current political state, which makes this film almost as culturally relevant as The Winter Soldier.