Captain America: Civil War is a total triumph; a product of Marvel’s commitment to longform superhero storytelling, as well as just a great movie in its own right. In truth, Civil War can be considered a bounce back of sorts for Marvel and Disney after last year’s somewhat disappointing (though still entertaining) Avengers: Age of Ultron, as it fixes many of the issues that plagued that film. The conflict between Team Cap and Team Iron Man is definitely the most engaging part of Civil War, but this is also a film that isn’t afraid to slow down and allow character moments (many of them having been built up to over the course of multiple films) to be the driving force. While Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Avengers still stand as some of Marvel’s best output, here are 10 reasons why Captain America: Civil War edges both films out ever so slightly and emerges as Marvel’s best film to date.
*This post contains mild SPOILERS for Captain America: Civil War.
10. Best On-Screen Spider-Man
Before Civil War, Spider-Man had started to feel played out in live action. After a decade of mediocre movies, punctuated by 2014’s laughably bad The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it was beginning to look like nothing short of a miracle would save Marvel’s webhead from stagnation. Fortunately, Marvel did the only sensible thing, bringing the character back under their umbrella and finding a way to work him into the plot of Civil War. Tom Holland’s time on screen may be relatively brief, but it proves to be more than enough to cement his place as the best on-screen Spider-Man to date.
Holland captures the joy and exuberance of a young Spidey perfectly and what’s more, his presence doesn’t feel shoehorned in, as he gives Tony Stark a variation on the “With great power…” speech that absolutely rings true. Plus, Spider-Man has never looked this good in action, as the fight choreography and display of Spidey’s various abilities reinforce why he is one of Marvel’s most popular superheroes. Of course, Civil War is much more than an extended trailer for next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, but it sure does a fantastic job of bringing Spider-Man back from the brink of cinematic irrelevance.
9. Conflict Feels Organic
Could Civil War have done a better job of making the divide between Captain America and Iron Man’s ideologies significant enough to have them come to blows with each other? Definitely. But that a film with so many spinning plates still finds the time to not only make the act of these two heroes squaring off with each other not only feel earned, but necessary, is a feat in itself. The reason for this is that Civil War takes its time in getting its characters to the point where they’re willing to physically harm one another. At first, they’re all on the same page, but then verbal disagreements turn to slaps on the wrist, until finally things become so heated that there is no choice but to make things physical. And the best part is that both sides are right in their own way, and by the end of the film, you just want to look away and hope that Iron Man and Captain America can find a way to resolve their differences. That’s a sign of a conflict that feels earned.
8. Doesn’t Feel Bloated
Civil War is absolutely jammed with characters and story beats, and is so dangerously close to unraveling at any moment that it’s a small miracle that it somehow doesn’t. Whether it’s due to the writing, pacing, likability of everyone involved, or some combination of all of that, Civil War doesn’t feel bloated despite featuring over a dozen heroes and almost as many plot lines. Compare that to Age of Ultron, which had fewer characters and yet felt like it was servicing too many masters. It’s a testament to the stellar work of directors Joe and Anthony Russo and writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus that Civil War works as well as it does. While the film is definitely subservient to the will of Marvel Studios and does the necessary set-up for future films, it never feels tacked on. Civil War is just allowed to to be an entertaining superhero film and should be the blueprint going forward for how to incorporate shared universe elements without compromising the creative vision of the film at hand.
7. Best Action Scene
There is no other superhero action scene that rivals the airport battle that takes place a little over halfway through Civil War; not in any Marvel film, not in any DC film, not anywhere. If that sounds like hyperbole, I promise you, it’s not. As good as something like the New York battle in The Avengers is, it’s a bit deflating because the adversaries are mostly just nameless droves of CGI enemies. Civil War’s hero vs. hero airport battle solves this problem by having each combatant actually be someone audiences recognize, which ups the stakes considerably and leads to frequent moments of cool character interactions. Each character uses every trick and ability in their repertoire to try and overcome the opposition, which leads to some absolutely jaw-dropping scenes (Ant-Man, anyone?). This is probably the closest any superhero film has gotten to choreographing a fight scene that feels like it could have been lifted straight off the page of a comic book and it will be a tough one for Marvel to best.
6. Every Character Gets An Arc
Judging by the sheer number of characters in Captain America: Civil War, you would think at least a few of them would feel extraneous or underutilized. While it’s true that some characters definitely get the short shrift (clearly, Marvel really doesn’t like Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, which is understandable), every hero gets an arc of some sort, making their presence feel justified. Obviously Captain America and Iron Man get more to do than the rest, but no character feels forgotten. The newly-introduced Black Panther gets an interesting revenge plot; Black Widow struggles with allegiances to both sides of the conflict; heck, even Scarlet Witch is given time to shine, with an arc about her dangerous powers that puts anything having to do with Superman in Batman v Superman to shame (hey Warner Bros: this is how you handle the issue of civilian casualties in your superhero movie!).
5. It’s Absolutely An Avengers Movie
Although it may bear Captain America’s name in the title, Civil War is absolutely an Avengers film, even if a few key members such as Thor and Hulk sit this one out. In terms of scope and globe-trotting adventure (each location is telegraphed with large on-screen text, a nice detail), Civil War is on par with anything from The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, but it’s also an Avengers movie because it deals with an issue that rips the team apart. It’s fun to see the Avengers function as a competent team, but it’s even better seeing them at each other’s throats. Avengers: Infinity War will likely go far beyond the scale and scope of the human, earthbound conflict on display in Civil War, but the fallout of this film will figure heavily into Infinity War, as the Avengers will have to find a way to work (and trust) each other again.
4. Yet, It Doesn’t Forget About Its Star
As much as Captain America: Civil War expands its plot to include many more characters and conflicts than the previous film, The Winter Soldier, Cap still takes center stage. McFeely and Markus have discussed previously their original plans for ‘Captain America 3’ and you can see the outline of that plan in the very personal story between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes. Bucky, aka the Winter Soldier, is very much the driving force behind this film, as his friendship with Steve underlies most of the plot, including the final confrontation between Cap and Iron Man. Yes, the major divide between Team Cap and Team Iron Man arises out of their differences in opinion on how the Avengers should be managed going forward, but it’s refreshing to see Marvel find a way to make everything come back to Cap and Bucky in the end (and Falcon; the Bucky and Falcon third wheel moments are absolutely hilarious and need to make a return in future installments).
3. Deep Themes
Like most studios that churn out blockbuster movies, Marvel receives a ton of criticism for making popcorn flicks that entertain audiences without engaging them on an intellectual level. Captain America: Civil War definitely doesn’t lack in spectacle, but it’s also not a movie that rewards those who like to turn their brains off at the door. Civil War engages with some hard-hitting themes about the duty of superheroes to the public and what happens when that public no longer trusts / fears those same heroes.
Remember how Man of Steel glossed over the fact that Superman’s fight with Zod led to the deaths of thousands of civilians? The main conflict in Civil War arises out of a case of collateral damage that kills about a dozen people, which should give you a good indication how much Marvel is thinking about these types of issues in their storytelling. Sure, Civil War isn’t going to blow your mind with rich dramatic themes, but it also goes a lot deeper than most other films of its ilk and is willing to hold a lens up to its characters and ask some tough questions about the ethics of their actions.
2. Leaves A Rift In The MCU
One of the main criticisms that’s being tossed around is that Civil War doesn’t have “stakes,” as the film ends without any major character death. Although this is a fair criticism, it’s also way too dismissive for a conclusion that absolutely upends the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward. The relationship between Captain America and Iron Man, though not irreparable, is definitely tarnished by the events of Civil War, and overall, there is a significant amount of distrust among the heroes. Additionally, the film concludes ominously with public approval of the Avengers at an all-time low, to the point where all of them feel like vigilantes by the time the credits roll. The truth is that the MCU is very much in a different place at the end of the film compared to where it was at the beginning, and overall, Civil War proves that you can end a film on a low note without resorting to death as a plot device.
1. It Balances Humor With Drama
Although it may seem incongruous (and utterly baffling to fans of Batman v Superman) Civil War is both a very funny movie, and a heavily dramatic, emotional one. The balance between these two seemingly disparate tones is nothing short of impressive, as Civil War makes great strides to inject humor into otherwise serious scenes without the whole thing coming off as cheesy or inauthentic. The belief that superhero films need to be dark in order to tell adult stories is disproved multiple times over throughout Civil War, a film that manages to be darker than pretty much any other Marvel film before it, yet still find a way to throw in a hilarious Star Wars reference in the middle of an otherwise serious battle without it coming off as groan-worthy.
Civil War is a film that recognizes that levity is an important component of storytelling and that grim and dour comic book films could make use of it without compromising their more dramatic elements; an important lesson in light of the overwhelmingly negative response to the overserious Batman v Superman, a film that doesn’t even deserve to be in the same conversation.