2016 is shaping up to be the year of superheroes turning their high-powered fists on each other, with the selling point of both Marvel and DC Comics’ biggest releases being sizable dustups between the companies’ flagship heroes. While Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice features two of the most popular comic book characters of all time duking it out, the conflict at the heart of Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War is arguably the film that many moviegoers are much more interested in seeing. But could the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe really be its best? It’s still too early to know for sure (especially considering we haven’t actually seen it yet) but if past history and word of mouth are anything to go by, Captain America: Civil War could very well be the best Marvel film to date based on the following:
10. It Has Years of Build-Up Behind It
It goes without saying that the very nature of the MCU dictates that each successive installment builds upon the last, but Civil War in particular will tie together many different threads that other movies in the series have been laying the groundwork for for years. We’ll not only get to see the fallout of the uneasy rivalry between Captain America and Iron Man that’s been simmering since the first Avengers movie, but also major developments in pretty much every character’s story. You can be sure that there will be intense drama between Black Widow and Hawkeye — two of the closest allies in the entire Marvel film universe that find themselves on opposing sides in this new conflict — as well as the continuing relationship-building between Cap and his most trusted friends and allies, Falcon and Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier. By this point, we’re truly invested in these characters and their stories, and Civil War is set to deliver the most engaging plot yet.
9. The Russo Brothers
Anthony and Joe Russo, the directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (AKA the best non-Avengers Marvel film to date) are back in the driver’s seat for Civil War. While their sample size is still too small to judge for sure whether or not Civil War will be a triumph, the Russos are now Marvel’s go-to directing team and are being charged with the studio’s biggest and most important features, so you can be sure that they’re going to be giving this film their best effort. With The Winter Soldier, the Russos showed that they know how to merge engaging political drama with the kind of superhero dynamics audiences have come to expect from Marvel movies, and Civil War represents an even more taut and thrilling twist on that concept. With Avengers: Infinity War being the next project on their to-do list, the Russos have to get Civil War right if they want audiences (and Marvel especially) to come along on the next epic ride with them
8. No Easy Answers
Although viewers may be more inclined to root for Cap and his merry band of anti-registration allies in Civil War‘s central conflict, you can bet that things won’t be so black and white for either side once the final film arrives. Iron Man may be being presented as the “villain” of this piece, but much like any intensely divisive political debate, there are legitimate pros and cons to both sides. Marvel may be running with the tagline “Whose Side Are You On?” for this one, but the film’s central conflict is much more than an excuse to get everyone’s favorite superheroes punching each other. Marvel movies may be giant popcorn blockbusters at heart, but the studio isn’t afraid to tackle some big issues and Civil War is arguably shaping up to be their most thought-provoking feature yet.
7. Universe Shake-Up
Civil War is the bridge between Marvel’s second and third phases, closing off the story beats of Iron Man 3 through to Ant-Man while establishing the jumping off point for films such as Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and the two-part crossover event, Avengers: Infinity War. As such, you can expect Civil War to dramatically shake up the MCU status quo, to the point where it’s highly speculated that some characters may not even make it out alive. Marvel has been reticent to kill off many of its characters so far thanks to the shared universe structure of the MCU, but there’s good reason to believe that the studio will bend this “rule” for Civil War. For one thing, the entire film’s premise precludes that there will be casualties, with promotional material so far hinting that War Machine’s days are numbered. There’s also a good chance that Marvel will go big or go home, with some expecting that Captain America himself, Steve Rogers, won’t make it out of this film alive and that Bucky Barnes will pick up his shield and identity going forward. Whatever the case may be, it’s hard not to think that Civil War will offer Marvel’s biggest gut punch to date and that’s an exciting prospect.
6. Emotional Stakes
It’s telling that the first Civil War trailer contains what is arguably the most emotional moment in a Marvel film to date, with Steve and Tony lamenting the loss of their friendship. With friendship and allegiances set to be some of the film’s major themes, that depressing display of bro-sadness is likely only a taste of Civil War’s emotional stakes. As already mentioned, there is much more to Civil War than just a giant airing of grievances between the two leads; every single Marvel hero whether major or minor (outside of a few like Hulk and Thor who are busy off-world) will be deeply affected by this conflict, which should result in some of the best character drama in the MCU yet. As anyone who reads Marvel Comics is well aware, Marvel’s characters are at their best when they’re wearing their deep and intense flaws on their sleeves. We’ve seen great examples of this so far in the MCU, but Civil War has the potential to take these damaged psyche plots into the stratosphere.
5. Black Panther and Spider-Man
Introducing new characters in their crossover event films is nothing new for Marvel, but Civil War might just have the most exciting introductions we’ve seen to date. Not only is Black Panther making his debut here, but we’ll also get to see Spider-Man for the first time in the MCU. Black Panther is no doubt an exciting addition and we can’t wait to see his solo film when it hits theaters in a couple years, but come on: it’s all about Spidey. The best part about the Spider-Man addition (other than the fact that it’s about damn time!) is that Peter Parker actually figures prominently into the Civil War comic arc. Of course, the film adaptation is already shaping up to diverge dramatically from the original storyline, but it would still make sense to use Spider-Man as the fence-sitter of the conflict, with ties to both sides. He won’t have a major role, sadly, but when Spider-Man swings into the frame, you can be sure that audiences are going to go nuts, which will go a long way in making Civil War stand out among the large crop of other MCU films for years to come.
4. Cap vs Iron Man
The concept of close allies such as Captain American and Iron Man being at war with one another may seem alien to some viewers, but if you look at what’s been going on in the MCU, you’ll see that this conflict has been brewing for years. Steve Rogers and Tony Stark have had an antagonistic relationship from day one, differing in opinion and outlook on pretty much every issue the Avengers have had to face. Their friendship, for what it is, is based upon mutual respect and a recognition that at the end of the day, they’re on the same side of the conflicts that really matter (such as the Earth’s safety). Civil War represents a boiling point for the animosity between the two Avenger leaders, as they become divided on an important world issue that is large enough in scale to truly matter, but is also not on the same scale as something like an alien invasion that would force the two to set aside their differences. The Sokovia Accord is really just window dressing for Captain America and Iron Man to air their petty grievances and we honestly can’t wait to see them go mano a mano.
3. Captain America Has The Best ‘Solo’ Movies
Civil War has such a large cast of familiar faces from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that it feels more like a crossover event on the scale of an Avengers film than the latest installment in a “solo” superhero series, but at the end of the day, the film still has Captain America’s name on it. To date, the Captain America films have been the strongest and most consistent of anything Marvel has put out, to the point where the previous installment, The Winter Solider, can justifiably be declared the best Marvel movie to date. Civil War not only widens the scope of a non-Avengers Marvel film in a way that no other entry has done, but will also expand upon Cap himself, who has been the MCU’s most compelling character since his introduction in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. Captain America movies have been fantastic so far and there’s no reason to think that trend won’t continue with Civil War.
2. It Kind Of Has To Be
Admittedly, Captain America: Civil War could just depict two dogs in superhero costumes chasing their tails for two hours and it would be a financial success, so firmly entrenched is the Marvel brand at this point. Still, Marvel has been on a bit of a downward trend recently in terms of the overall quality of their film output, with both of their 2015 releases registering as disappointments. Ant-Man was a fun, if not terribly memorable outing for the studio, but Avengers: Age of Ultron was kind of a disaster in retrospect: a film with so many moving parts that it ended up being crushed under the weight of its own ambition. Civil War may not be as big in scope as Age of Ultron, but it still has to juggle a large cast of characters while telling a coherent, focused story and doing the requisite setup work for the next wave of MCU films.
Marvel will still be absolutely be fine if Civil War is deemed a “failure” by critical consensus, but if the studio wants to maintain its dominance in the increasingly crowded market of shared universe blockbusters — especially in a year when DC is throwing down the gauntlet with its own shared universe brand — it needs Civil War to be an unqualified success on every front.
1. It’s Been A Hit With Test Audiences
We’ll be the first to admit that a lot of the points that have been raised so far are based predominately on speculation, as you can’t exactly declare with 100% confidence that a film is going to be incredible without having seen it first. That being said, that opinion is now somewhat justifiable considering recent reports claim that Civil War is going over extremely well with test audiences…so well in fact that it’s actually testing better than any Marvel film to date. As reported by Birth Movies Death’s Devin Faraci, Civil War is doing just as well or even better than The Winter Soldier did with test audiences, which was previously the best-testing Marvel movie. That same report also hints that the film’s third act doesn’t hold anything back, further supporting the prediction that Marvel will kill off at least one major character over the course of the film. Are test audience reactions a guarantee of a film’s quality? Not necessarily, but given the correlation between how The Winter Solider tested in the past and its overwhelmingly positive critical reception, it seems unlikely that Civil War will be anything other than another rousing triumph for Marvel.