Captain America: Civil War
A lot of people are probably here to understand why I would make such a bold claim. Indeed, I am claiming that Captain America: Civil War is, not only the best Marvel movie, but also the greatest superhero film of all time. This is a bold claim, especially when it contends with the likes of The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2. However, whether it was because of sheer enjoyment, or how intelligently the film treated its audience, how well the film handled mature political themes, how it still managed to be a Captain America film with the amount of bru-ha-ha in it, I feel like every part of the film worked in ways that other films just didn't have up to this point. But, hey, enough of the exposition...let's get into it.
Perhaps the biggest strength of the film is how well the characters are handled by the Russos. Not only are they handled expertly but they were obviously cared for by fans. From Falcon and Bucky's relationship ("Can you move the seat up?" "No.") to Tony and Steve's relationship, every interaction makes sense. And every character in this film is unique. Captain America's reasons for being against the Sokovia Accords and fighting for his old friend are completely different than Scarlet Witch's reasons for joining Captain America's team. While they both are on the same team, the motivations for them are completely different and their motivations, both, make sense. And, yet, the Russos still give the focus to Captain America that is needed for this film to work as a Captain America film. At its heart, it remains a tale of friendship between Captain America and his old friend Bucky. It just so happens that this occurs among the grandious setting of a political rift being caused between the Avengers, forcing everyone to pick one side or the other.
Spider-Man is probably the best that he's ever been in this film. I loved Andrew Garfield's Spider-Man and Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker and Tom Holland's performance provides a perfect amalgmation of the two while also bringing something new to the table: the obvious youth. Black Panther, too, gets the introduction he deserves that propels the character into his new film with the audience interest it deserves. The newcomers get the fantastic introductions they need to get people excited and energized about the film and, yet, it never seems like the film becomes Avengers 2.5.
Iron Man's decision to support the Sokovia Accords is a decision that makes sense, not only in the context of the story, but for his character. In the first two Iron Man installments, it would've been unthinkable that Iron Man would be on the side of the government. In the first Captain America film, Steve Rogers would never go against the government. He's an ordertaker. But following the years of build-up and events, it is clear why Tony Stark would feel guilty, like he did in the first Iron Man, and to make sure that there are people in place to control people like him. Steve Rogers, too, can remember a time in the not-so-recent-past where he was manipulated by a government group to do something. The evolution of these characters to these points could've felt so odd in the hands of someone as unsubtle as, say, Snyder but they didn't. It felt natural and it felt like both sides were right.
The theme of the movie is vengeance and the reason the Accords are put in place is to deal with the problem of collateral damage. The Russo brothers managed to create a villain who is the embodiment of collateral damage and what that means. Baron Zemo's motivations aren't murky (ahem, Lex Luthor, ahem) and his plan makes sense. I understand that there were some people that were confused and found a lot of the progress to be convenient but, after a second viewing, I can't agree even a little. Some of the points are nuanced but they are there. Baron Zemo's character is clearly not a good guy and, yet, you can understand why he's angry and why he wants to tear apart the Avengers. When you piss off a guy who isn't particularly good or well-intentioned, especially in such a personal way, it is bound to bite you in the ass and it did.
It is a true testament to the talent of the writers and the directors that this movie didn't fall flat on its face with the sheer amount of plot points that it tries to juggle. It is an even bigger testament, then, that these plot points intertwine and come together to form a cohesive story. After all, if the Sokovia Accords alone had been the fight, Captain America might've just had the good heart to retire himself and let Tony lead the team. There might've been a philosophical debate in a closed room but it likely wouldn't have escalated past that. The story needs the Captain America: The Winter Soldier sequel storyline in order to move the plot forward. If not for Bucky being framed and Captain America having to go outside the orders of the Accords to get him into custody safely and the need to stop Zemo from activating other Winter Soldiers, the two sides would've never come to blows.
If Zemo's plan doesn't work for the audience, though, it becomes a lot harder to appreciate. However, I thought it worked and worked splendidly. Zemo didn't do anything to influence the Sokovia Accords. That is a pure matter of convenience that there is this political rift between the Avengers. Zemo's plan focuses on driving a wedge that is far more personal, and thus more important, between the Avengers. His entire plan is to find out what happened to Tony Stark's parents, knowing that Hydra had something to do with it. It only gets better for Zemo when he realizes that Captain America's friend must've had something to do with it. By forcing Bucky to come out after framing him for a bombing, he can drive the initial wedge between Captain America and Tony Stark, standing at opposite sides of the political rift. When Captain America brings Bucky in, like Zemo knew he would, Zemo forces Captain America's hand even more, making him act outside of the law to help his friend stop Zemo. Zemo, also, releases the information of Bucky's innocence to the people in "the know" like Tony Stark by having the woman discover the body of the doctor supposed to interrogate Bucky. Tony Stark, then, catches up with them. (Zemo might've actually wanted more of them to show up and force them all to fight each other there but the key players did show up anyway.) And his plan works. The movie ends with them divided.
Now, if that above part doesn't work for you, which I totally get (I'm not going to call you stupid for not understanding this masterpiece of filmmaking or some other crap like that). It did for me though as well as the natural political division over superhero registration that had been built up to over many films. The Winter Soldiers storyline worked really well for me and I fully appreciated how smart and intertwined all of the separate plot points built up into the movie. For me, this part was flawless as well.
There is nothing more annoying in modern film than action that takes place without a reason. Well, maybe besides action that you can't understand what is going on. Thankfully, Captain America: Civil War has none of that. Overall, there are five action sequences and each successfully better than the last (except that the airport scene is better than the final fight but the final fight was still great). Not only are all the action beats perfectly executed, all of them are different in unique and fun ways.
The first action sequence acts as a kind of spy thriller action scene. There is a little bit of shaky cam but, oddly enough, it adds to the dramatic emphasis of the scene. The second sequence, a chase sequence where Captain America is trying to catch Bucky in the midst of Black Panther also trying to catch him, is exhilerating and fun. It isn't hard to understand what everyone is doing in this chase scene and the motivations, again, of every character is quite clear. The third sequence, another chase sequence adds a little bit of fist-fighting flair into it, that makes for a very fun sequence where the Avengers try to take down Bucky, who is on a rampage. They fail and it sets the stage for the rest of the film.
The airport fight scene, though, is the centerpiece of the film. If this scene failed, the whole movie probably would've. Even shortly introduced characters like Spider-Man get to shine throughtout this funny and action-packed sequence, though. The action is directed spectacularly and all the characters show off their unique abilities while also making it clear what the central conflict of the scene is and why each character is fighting with the other. And everyone gets a chance to fight one another. It's a blowout that could've ended badly but doesn't because of how true to each character that they all stay and how it serves a purpose to fulfill the final parts of the Sokovia Accords division.
The final fight scene, too, is fantastic. It's far more brutal than the last one. Obviously, the last scene shows that no one is in it to kill the other person. However, from the way Tony interacts with Bucky and Steve interacts with Tony, they are all trying to kill one another. Each punch has the emotional weight of betrayal behind it and it is lovely. It is also ethically conflicting in how it presents itself. Each blow matters to the audience and it holds its own.
Given the fact that I gave every section in here five stars, it isn't difficult to figure out what I will ultimately give the film. For me, everything in this film clicked. From the villain to why Tony acts as an antagonist to why Captain America doesn't support the Accords to why the Winter Soldier needed to be in this movie, I never had any problems with any of it. I was able to figure out why things worked for me if they didn't work for others. And everything everyone else agreed on, I liked even more about the film than probably even they did. This movie is a masterpiece of cinema and the gold standard for superhero films.
I can't wait to see what the Russos do with Avengers: Infinity War. Because this movie is one of the best films I have ever seen, comic book movie or not.