Directors Anthony and Joe Russo return to lead Marvel Studios' thirteenth entry as an Avengers style team-up and battle film in Captain America: Civil War acting as a direct follow-up to both The Winter Soldier and Age of Altron. The film is centred on a fierce ideological battle between Captain America and Iron Man framed as a sort of superhero soap opera spanning decades.
Chris Evans really anchors the film as Steve Rogers once again and is able to ground most of the world-shattering ramifications of his defiant actions. His assured morals and values hold the film together. Robert Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark works as the film's most central antagonist and sort of villain. Downey is much more focused and self-serious here based on his grief and guilt with enough charm and humour to make all the heroes fighting still joyous fun.
The Russos rely heavily on capturing the action close up with a visceral, intensely felt feeling until the bigger sequences show more of the glorious visuals. What's most refreshing are the personal stakes in response to previous global battles and their resulting destruction. This is not so much about a world threat, but revenge, vengeance, relationships, and yes, avenging. It also really pays off some of the baggage accumulated in previous films.
Regular Cap screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely greatly benefit from not having to deal with any greater S.H.I.E.L.D. plotlines (including Nick Fury) or dealings with Thanos or the tiresome Infinity Stones. The absence of ultra powerful wildcards Thor and Hulk also help move the film along nicely.
A returning Sebastian Stan as Bucky reveals himself as even more of central anchor in the MCU with his intense yet powerful performance as the brainwashed hero turned villain turned hero again in the Winter Soldier. He and Anthony Mackie's Falcon continue their strong work playing best buddies to Cap on the run. Don Cheadle as War Machine is short-shrifted but manages some fine work while being given his own mini character arc.
Daniel Brühl as just some regular guy named Helmut Zemo seeking vengeance continues Marvel's lack of villain problem. However, his performance, motivation and storyline effectively deconstruct our heroes and he's an almost too formidable threat to the entire Avengers team. In this way, Zemo seems straight out of an 1990s action movie in the Die Hard mould.
Newcomer Chadwick Boseman as the royal Black Panther shows a lot of promise while playing a central role in the film's conspiracy plot. His athletic and cat-like fight sequences are quite thrilling and adequately tease excitement for his own upcoming solo adventure. Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow plays a key role as an ally and foe to both sides while Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye serves as a small but nice foil to Iron Man and Black Widow echoing their past relationship dynamics.
Paul Rudd shows up as new team member Ant-Man and serves as a very welcome comic presence including a centrepiece action sequence that's nothing short of delightful. A wide-eyed Tom Holland as yet another new and younger Spider-Man is used just about the right amount and is given a soft introduction before being immediately thrown into action with all the Avengers. His inclusion is an undeniably joyous occasion for fans of the character with a portrayal straight out of the comics.
The talented Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch is unfortunately saddled with some difficult, emotional material surrounding her guilt in the context of her immense powers. Also, that Sokovian accent (a rather vague, generically Eastern European one) is still much very distraction. Paul Bettany uncomfortably sticks out a bit as the powerful and robotic Vision used mostly as a device to reiterate Olsen's performance.
Captain America: Civil War largely triumphs on its merits as a complete entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It balances the weight and depth of its many characters fully evolving from all twelve previous films until now. It benefits from being a direct sequel to not only The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier, but also, both Avengers films while wisely focusing on Cap's central role firmly grounded on Earth in this shared universe.
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