‘Captain America: Civil War’ stuns with superhero splendor

Joan Kang/Staff

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The comparison was inevitable. “Captain America: Civil War” is everything that “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” isn’t. As jam-packed with both story and characters as the latter is, Marvel’s version of warring heroes finds a smooth balance, offering what may be the studio’s best effort yet.

“Captain America: Civil War” picks up with the shuffled, post-Ultron Avengers lineup in Nigeria on one of its first missions. But after an accident causes multiple deaths of visiting Wakandans (Wakanda being the fictional African nation from which Black Panther originates), the United Nations cracks down on the Avengers and what it sees as vigilantism, proposing the Sokovia Accords — a treatise meant to govern the superheroes. After encountering the effects of the mass casualties that the destruction of Sokovia in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” caused, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) stands with the proposition. Captain America (Chris Evans), on the other end, sees the Accords as a stripping of choice by men with “agendas,” potentially forcing the Avengers to do things they don’t agree with or preventing them from going places they think they should. The opposing sides create a fissure within the group of heroes, pushing them to battling conflict all while a subsurface evil drives that crack farther apart.

With its heavy traffic of parallel storylines, it may have been easy for “Civil War” to fall into itself out of fragility. But, because of fast and even pacing, the film roars along with a polished stability, never feeling boring or slow. We’re brought from beat to beat with a laser-sharp focus, one that is not only technically admirable, but also creatively ingenious.

The film never feels like “Avengers 2.5.” While it does create a story where everyone is involved and has their own moments of personal conflict, the movie always keeps the heart of the narrative with Cap. He remains the driving emotional force throughout the entirety of the 147 minutes, and the film provides many hooks that lead to our full investment.

And even then, “Civil War” leaps another hurdle toward storytelling achievement by avoiding a biased viewpoint. Based on the premise of the film and some of its trailers, audiences may have been aligned with Captain America, but the film itself is almost entirely objective, presenting nearly equal psychological weight on both sides. This objectivity adds immeasurable depth and intangible benefits to the story’s intrigue, turning many of the verbal and physical disputes into much more fascinating events because of the fact that we can’t entirely choose whom we’re rooting for.

When it does come to the physical disputes in “Civil War,” the Russo brothers, after impressing us with their action choreography in “The Winter Soldier,” rocket themselves into place as some of the best action directors today. Complemented by coherent editing and swooping cinematography, the action of this third Captain America installment not only beats out that of any other Marvel Cinematic Universe entry, but is so intricately, fluidly and exhilaratingly composed that it churns out some of the most memorable and just plain fun fight sequences of any superhero film — especially with an absolutely stunning third-act standoff.

The film also doesn’t fail with the introduction and execution of new characters. Instead of nonsensically shoehorning them in, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely find valuable ways to bring both Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man into the story. And dear lord, do they both give knockout performances. Holland, particularly, nails the heart of a nerdy, anxious and sweet Peter Parker to such a high degree that not only does he make us forget about the fact that two other Spider-Men existed in the past nine years, but he steals each shot he’s in.  

While many of the Marvel films have been deemed as glorified TV productions or as too unserious, “Captain America: Civil War,” in addition to the Russo brothers’ last effort “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” proves that the studio can continuously overcome both tropes. This kickoff to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s third phase highlights the politics of a world with superheroes, investigating the effects and repercussions of fantastical events within a human perspective. In doing so, “Civil War” grounds them within humanity by portraying the mass public and intimately private reception through storytelling methods that only the most gripping dramas use. Even though these are powers we’ll never have, they’re certainly emotions we know well.

“Captain America: Civil War” is opening at UA Berkeley 7 tonight.

Contact Kyle Kizu at[email protected].