Captain America: Civil War is a comic book brought to life on the screen
As the universe expands, Marvel films are going to become increasingly unwieldy. The comic books are already so and have been for decades. That’s why there are periodic reboots, from the “Ultimate” series or the most recent “All New, All Different” changes of “Secret Wars”.
Given that this is within comic canon, and that the films are closely following its own canon inspired by official Marvel stories, the behemoth of a franchise is slowly becoming an unstoppable force that will ultimately hit the immovable object of over exposure.
But damn if it isn’t a fun ride for fans of the comics. These films are remarkable in their casting, writing, and story management. The unsung heroes of contract lawyers that work for Marvel deserve far more credit than they receive. I doubt there’s a film reviewer alive that’s praised their work, but without them, these films would be dead in the water.
The latest in Phase II of Marvel Studio’s Hollywood onslaught is Captain America: Civil War. While this film holds the moniker of the star spangled WWII era soldier, make no mistake: this is an Avengers film. Hulk and Thor may be AWOL, but the rest of the gang is available and ready to fight. The film even adds a few new faces.
Captain America: Civil War comes close on the heels of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, when the team of elite super-humans lifted and dropped an entire city, causing losses on an incalculable scale, and saving the planet once again. But here, rather than getting off with excessive and deadly mass destruction, the world has become wary of these unilateral actions by costumed vigilantes.
In the comic book on which this film is based, the U.S. Government created a law that required all superheroes to unmask and register with them or retire back to the recesses of humanity from whence they came. Here, the world is uniting by passing a joint U.N. resolution requiring U.N. approval before heroic actions of any kind.
In many ways, this makes sense. The Avengers are living weapons capable of inflicting massive amounts of damage on the world around them. Of course the people of the world are going to ask that some restrictions be put in place. Tony Stark, the Iron Man that started it all, agrees and pressures the other members to sign the agreement.
Most are willing—Captain America is not. He is the embodiment of American individualism and responsibility. He’s American gun laws personified. No amount of oversight is going to stop him from doing what he sees as his God-given responsibility to seriously injure people with his physics defying shield.
When his friend Bucky, now known as The Winter Soldier, reappears and has apparently bombed the U.N. meeting that set out to restrict the superheroes, Captain American goes outside the law to find him and get to the bottom of what really happened. It sets up an epic battle between friends and the Avengers are torn asunder.
As I was watching Ant-Man transform into Giant-Man and bat War Machine out of the sky, it dawned on me that for the first time ever, I was watching a comic book come to life. These films have left the realism that started with Iron Man and moved into the camp and absurdity of Marvel comics. For this reason alone, I consider Captain America: Civil War to be among the best superhero movies ever made.
Despite being thematically identical to Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, this film succeeds everywhere the DC film fails. It may be simply because audiences have had more time to become familiar with the characters—Marvel has had a long roll out, building across both film and television to tell a fully realized story, hinting at unrest among the rest of the world at the carnage wrought by this team. There are mentions of New York and Sokovia, as well the general distrust of “those people” in almost every Marvel studios project.
DC simply hasn’t had that kind of presence and it shows in the way the film expects audiences to accept certain truths without earning them. Let’s be clear: DC has characters equal to Marvel in every way. The difference has been in overall planning. At this point, DC will always be playing catch up.
That said, I can’t help but wonder how long Marvel can keep the quality high. The cast of characters far exceeds Game of Thrones, a show that struggles to fit dozens of stories into ten hours of show time. Marvel films are already at the two and half hour mark. They’ve mostly avoided the pitfalls of having too many protagonists in one film so far. At some point, however, it’s going to stop working.
For now, though, the films continue to be the best in the genre.