The MCU – or Marvel Cinematic Universe – started in 2008 with the release of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man and the re-re-invention of Robert Downey Jr. It was carefully crafted to begin a series of films featuring Marvel characters, and create a wide-ranging universe that would allow these characters to interplay with each other in their own films and come together in group efforts. Phase 1 included Iron Man (2008), Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), Captain America (2011), and built towards Joss Whedon’s The Avengers in 2012 which managed to bring all the characters together in a really fun way.
Phase 2 continued with Iron Man 3 (2013), Thor 2 (2013), Captain America 2 (2014), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Avengers 2 (2015), and Ant-Man (2015). The second Avengers again featured many of the heroes working together, but I found myself enjoying several of the more individual movies a little bit more. In particular Guardians of the Galaxy introduced characters I was mostly unfamiliar with, but was done with so much fun and general space badassery by director James Gunn that it swiftly became one of my favorites. I also really loved Ant-Man, which was a super fun tight little heist movie by Peyton Reed. Captain America 2 – the Winter Soldier – was directed by the Russo brothers, who started on episodes of Arrested Development and Community, and really announced themselves as terrific action directors. The movie felt like a 70s espionage movie, introduced Falcon, strengthened Black Widow, and brought back Bucky Barnes as the vicious Winter Soldier. It was an incredible movie that is still one of my favorites.
MCU Phase 3 kicks off with Captain America Civil War, which features so many characters it’s almost Avengers 3. However, it tells a more personal story, it just happens to have a ton of people in it. In the comics, the Civil War storyline took place from 2006 – 2007.
Essentially, the government passes a Superhero Registration Act, designed to have super-powered individuals act under official regulation, like a higher level police unit. Superheroes opposed to the act (Cap and team) find themselves taking a stance against those who support it (Iron Man and team). The X-Men remained neutral – having dealt with a lot of anti-mutant sentiment already, and Mr. Fantastic and Ms. Marvel join Iron Man in support of the government. The pro-registration team becomes more authoritarian, and in the aftermath, Captain America surrenders and is imprisoned. There are lots of other things that happen – but that’s a quick summary for you – this movie uses some themes from the comics, but the main storyline is different.
This is definitely a Captain America movie, and picks up with Cap leading his group of new Avengers from the end of Age of Ultron on a mission to find and stop Crossbones, who is what’s left of Brock Rumlow. You remember him – he was the leader of the strike force in Winter Soldier who betrayed Cap and was revealed to have been Hydra the whole time. Well, he’s leading a ragtag group of mercenaries on what seems to be random terrible missions. He and the other mercenaries are trying to steal a biological weapon from a disease center in Lagos, Nigeria when Cap, Falcon, Black Widow, and Scarlet Witch team up to stop them in an absolutely incredible action sequence. They are pretty much successful, except for the fact that Crossbones attempts to win by blowing up himself and Cap – but Scarlet Witch contains the explosion, and sends it upwards – right into the side of a building, resulting in the deaths of several people – including eleven citizens of the very wealthy, very technologically advanced, very private, and very fictional Wakanda, who were on a peace mission.
Back at the Avengers compound, Scarlet Witch is wallowing in her guilt over the situation when the Secretary of Defense, Thunderbolt Ross (who we haven’t seen since the Incredible Hulk in 2008), comes by to tell them about the Sokovia Accords. Everyone gathers at the Avengers Compound Official Conference Table.
Essentially, the UN is tired of the collateral damage of the Avengers fighting evil, and wants something in place to hold them accountable. The heroes who sign the accords will report to the UN, going only where they are sent, and taking action only when they are allowed. Cap’s not sure that’s the best bet, he knows that even though the Avengers can make mistakes, they are still better off operating on their own. As everyone is arguing, and Vision is quoting math and logic, Cap gets a text that Agent Carter has passed away.
He heads to London for the funeral, where he’s reintroduced to Sharon Carter – Agent 13 who lived across the hall from him in Winter soldier. Everyone else heads to Vienna to sign the accords, where Black Widow gets to chatting with T’Challa, the prince of Wakanda, there to support his father T’Chaka as he pushes for the signing of the accords. While there, a bomb is set off, T’Chaka is killed and the Winter Soldier is the main suspect. T’Challa sets off with vengeance on his mind, and Sharon gets word to Cap that Bucky has been spotted in Romania - probably because Sebastian Stan was born in Romania and speaks it fluently. This leads to the amazing Bucky/Black Panther/Cap/Falcon chase/fight that you’ve seen clips of, and yet – it’s still a downright amazing action sequence.
Inevitably, everybody gets captured, Cap gets chastised by Tony Stark, who is pushing hard for everyone to sign the accords thanks to his guilt over the amount of people killed in Sokovia while fighting Ultron (his fault). Black Panther is still all about killing Bucky, Falcon is about backing up Cap, and Cap is about trying to help Bucky, believing him when he said he didn’t do the bombing. Here, the main villain’s plot starts to really come together, and Bucky gets out, leading to the escape action sequence.
That leads to both sides calling in assistance wherever they can find it for the airport action sequence. Cap’s team is there to basically distract as Cap and Bucky get to a plane to get to Russia, and Iron Man and his team are there to arrest Cap and team. Listen, by now, you’ve heard about the sequence, and I will confirm that it is easily the best fight sequence in any superhero movie to date – but above that, it’s an exceptionally fun fight sequence in any movie. The weight of the emotional aspects of the story never gets lost, but there are enough jokes and fun spots sprinkled in that the entire scene is entertaining and spectacular.
I won’t say much else, because really you do need to see this movie. The Russo Brothers have outdone themselves with this one, and really, the best news to come out of this was that they have been confirmed as the directors of the next two Avengers movies in late 2018, and 2019. It is so much fun, the action is incredible and the performances are wonderful. Spoiler Alert from this point down. You’ve been warned!
- Chris Evans has really seemed to settle in to Captain America’s spangly outfit. I wasn’t sure about casting him at the very beginning, but he has swiftly become my favorite Avenger. Even Evans himself was at first skeptical about signing on for a multi-picture deal, but you can see how much he enjoys the character, and how much fun he brings. He does a beautiful job of making you see how Cap is truly torn about what he feels is right and where Tony states the Avengers should be. And yes, those are really his biceps as Cap prevents a helicopter from taking off by grabbing it. BY GRABBING IT.
- Robert Downey Jr. really does share the top billing in this movie with Evans, but never really steals the show, which is interesting – because it’s very easy for him to do. He’s just so darn charismatic. At no point is either viewpoint depicted as wrong – it’s very easy to understand how both IronMan and Cap choose the sides they are on. RDJ is once again fantastic, fun, action-capable, and really entertaining. And I was once again reminded of just how great an actor he is in this movie. Tony begins the movie racked with guilt, shifts to determined and angry, and at the end becomes completely overwhelmed with grief, despair, and then vengeance and fury. He is so great in this. Plus – bonus points for the CGI-ed younger RDJ that reminds you of what he looked like in Less Than Zero.
- Scarlett Johansson plays Black Widow, and is torn in this movie between her loyalty to Cap and her desire to keep the Avengers together. Keeping in mind her viewpoint at the end of Winter Soldier, it’s interesting that she starts on Team Iron Man in this movie, in support of the government, but after-all – she’s trained as a super-spy, so she will of course try to keep open to all and any information.
- Anthony Mackie plays Falcon, and yes in this one he gets Redwing! Okay, so it’s not a real bird as it is in the comics, but it is a little bird-shaped drone that becomes his eyes and ears at a distance. Also – again, incredible hand to hand fight combat scenes, and the wings are so much more involved in various ways. Mackie again manages to be really fun and hilarious while also being a serious sidekick/friend to Cap.
- Sebastian Stan plays the Winter Soldier, and really, does a great job of trying to fight his way back to being a good guy after spending years brainwashed by Hydra. Some of my favorite scenes were he and Falcon running, fighting, or sitting in a Volkswagon together. They are really great as a pair, especially in the scene where Cap finally gets a kiss from Sharon – and they both look very happy for their boy.
- Don Cheadle plays James Rhodes, or War Machine – and it's no surprise he sides with the government and Iron Man - after all, he’s a soldier through and through. He doesn’t have many scenes, but really does a great job in the ones he has of keeping Stark grounded.
- Jeremy Renner continues to make me like Hawkeye in spite of myself. He starts the movie as telling everyone he’s not involved because he’s ‘retired’ but as soon as Cap needs him, he’s there no questions asked. That makes sense to me, since Cap was the first one to trust him and give him the chance to prove himself after Loki poked around in his head in the Avengers. Renner has been very vocal about wanting Hawkeye to get his own Netflix series, and after this movie I’m in agreement. I particularly loved his chastising of Stark once team Cap is imprisoned in the Raft. Hey! The Raft is in this movie!
- Elizabeth Olsen plays Wanda, the Scarlet Witch, and she is much better in this movie than she was in Ultron – and she wasn’t all that bad in Ultron. You absolutely believe that she is filled with guilt after the explosion in Lagos – she struggles with trying to master her new powers, and prove that she is not a thing to be feared.
- Paul Bettany plays the Vision, who – to everyone’s delight – spends time lounging around the Avengers compound in classy sweater/shirt combos, practicing his cooking for Wanda. And yes – the flirting between he and Wanda is more this time around, and I can’t wait to see where that goes.
- Emily VanCamp plays Agent 13 – or Sharon Carter, and from the moment she shows up at Peggy’s funeral to give the speech that Cap gives to Spiderman in the comics, she helps to remind Cap that he is on the right side, and taking what he believes to be the only course of action. And – spoiler alert – unlike the comics, she does not kill him in this movie. Martin Freeman does show up briefly as Everett Ross – a government stooge?
- Frank Grillo (who still has the best action-movie name ever) plays Crossbones, and is great for the brief time he’s in the movie. Honestly, I don’t think you need any more than what he got – he’s a great cold-open villain.
- Daniel Bruhl plays Zemo – and not the purple-clad Baron Zemo that you’re expecting, but a Sokovian special forces soldier named Helmut Zemo. He brings a very cold determination to the role as he pursues the Winter Soldier with a singular focus. I loved his portrayal of a man who has lost everything, so pours all of himself into what seems to be a really convoluted plan, but proves to be exceptionally effective. I have heard some say that he’s a weak villain, and that his plan has no real point, causing the third act of the movie to peter out. I disagree, I think his plan is very strong because his point is only to drive a wedge between Cap and Stark – and to completely break their trust in one another – which he pretty much does.
- William Hurt is back as Thunderbolt Ross – and it was fun to see him back since we haven’t seen him since the Edward Norton Hulk movie – which I really enjoyed. I am hoping this will bring back Liv Tyler as Betty Ross in further movies that have Hulk, but we’ll see. He’s big time government evil, and plays that well.
- Marisa Tomei plays the youngest version of Aunt May ever – I’m not sure how comfortable I am with that, and all I could think about during her scenes with RDJ was the 90s movie Only You –which is a truly fabulous rom-com and if you haven’t seen it – rent it now.
- Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, AntMan again. He shows up as a recruit for Team Cap when they need back up at the airport fight. He’s so charming, so fun, and provides just the right amount of levity to his team. The excitement that Lang shows when meeting Cap is infectious, and carries all the way through the fight. And yes, that thing that AntMan can do in the comics to become another type of ‘Man’ does happen, and it is beyond awesome.
- Tom Holland is your new Peter Parker, and as much as I would have preferred Miles Morales in this movie, Holland completely won me over. He is easily the best SpiderMan on screen to date, and his Peter is also fabulous. I did giggle as he found a very stumbly way to say “with great power comes great responsibility” when IronMan asks him why he’s become SpiderMan. He is constantly talking and cracking wise during the airport fight, and moves exactly like you want SpiderMan to move. Plus – the eyes – the eyes on the costume move like they always did in the comics and animated series to show when he was reacting to things – and there’s a logical explanation for it! The BEST!
- For me, the very best part of this movie is Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, the Black Panther. He is not nearly as light or fun as the other two scene-stealers, which is good. Black Panther is very serious, spending most of the movie angrily pursuing the man he believes killed his father. I particularly enjoyed his response to Hawkeye when Clint attempted to introduce himself. “I’m Clint.” “I don’t care.” Black Panther has no time for nonsense. His hand to hand combat is astounding, in and out of costume – the suit is astounding – the performance is astounding – everything about him is fantastic. I love that every time he lands, it’s silent, like a cat. I love how he is non-plussed by Falcon’s wit/charm. He’s a king, he’s a warrior, and he’s going to get the man he’s after. Introducing this character as such a badass in this movie is brilliant, because now, people who had no idea who he was, or what he was in the comics will now be really excited for his stand alone movie, which will be out in early 2018.
- And yes, there is at least one member of the Dora Milaje present – she is a bit of a scene-stealer with one line in this movie. So we can assume they will have a larger role in the standalone movie.
In reality, there is no comparison to the other ‘comic’ movie that came out earlier this year, Batman vs. Superman. They are completely different movies from completely different franchises, and each achieves their own goals. However, comparisons are going to be inevitable. I loved this one, and I hated the majority of BvS. That movie was so completely joyless, with only two humorous lines in the entire movie. The fight between the two leads in BvS felt forced, and made almost no sense, because really, they both should have figured out they were being manipulated into hating one another by Lex. Also – Batman should not be manipulated, by anyone. Ever.
By contrast, this movie, while dealing with fairly heavy subject matter, never once sells that subject matter short, but never once falls into ‘joyless’. It remains fun, entertaining, and exceptionally watchable. It’s really long, but moves fast almost the entire time. By contrast to the fight sequence in BvS, which felt forced and was very short – the airport fight sequence in this movie makes sense, and again is one of the best action sequences ever. When the two factions face off, it is easy to believe that these two groups don’t really want to hurt one another - both believe their side is the right side – but they are all still friends. Marvel continues to cast the right people in the right roles – ensuring that each new player fits into the larger universe, gets along with everyone else, and is ready to help make the greater universe better in whatever way possible. This was more than evident when watching the Civil War red carpet footage – everyone from all Marvel properties were there, from this movie, from other movies, from the TV Shows, and from the Netflix Shows. Marvel has taken great care to craft this universe and deliver quality stories within it.
Dr. Strange comes out this fall, and while that’s a character I never really felt a great attachment to, or had a great interest it, I am excited for the movie – because Marvel has proven themselves time and time again.
11 out of 10 - tempted to give it a 12. Yes, that is how my numbers work. I loved it top to bottom. Yes, it was long, and yes, there are a few tiny issues here and there – but honestly, there’s so much good in it, it completely overwhelms the small issues. I can’t wait to go see it again.
Bonus - The Russo Brothers being awesome:
Only You, so charming.