2016 has been an amazing year for comic book films and television already! And here we are with another film that shakes things up and makes us wonder what sort of influence it’ll have on the future of the medium… Captain America: Civil War marks the thirteenth Marvel Cinematic Universe film. No matter how you put it, Civil War has a lot to follow.
Many might feel inclined to talk about how bloated a series of films can get by their third installment – the over saturation of characters and subplots ever-thickening, making what may have originated as a straightforward tale into a complex webbing of scenarios and outcomes. Let us not forget the critical and fan response to Sony’s Spider-Man 3, with its dual love interests, split personality protagonist, and simultaneous villain storylines. It becomes tempting to worry if even the most beloved of franchises may lose their edge and slip into the realm of disappointment.
But with the returning duo of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and the Russo brothers, we’re given an expertly-woven third tale. Top to bottom, this film is put together by A-listers with a passion for the source material and a dedication to well-expressed and exciting storytelling.
One thing explosion-laden super-powered blockbusters are often criticized for is lacking heart. However, in this film the DNA of this epic story are the human beings at the heart of the conflict: Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. Friends despite of their differences and brothers in the cosmic battlefield, we see two main protagonists make every attempt to resolve their differences in viewpoint in any way they can that leaves everyone happy.
In a medium known for lazy arguments and overused cliches wielded to drive reasonable people to fisticuffs, this film hits us again and again with compelling motivations and believable pleas to reach a peaceful compromise. Thirteen films worth of understanding a diverse group of people with their own experiences and flaws make for rounds of heated debates, but also frames them in a way that is respectful of the differing opinions. Even in the most heated moments of combat, the Avengers attempt to disarm one another with zero-hour “do we really have to do this” quips and even half-smiled jokes between blows.
Throughout a barrage of incredibly trying catastrophes and ideological impasses, what struck me was the humanity on display. Vision comforting Wanda Maximoff, reeling after a mission gone wrong. Natasha being there for Steve at Peggy Carter’s funeral, even though they’re on different sides of the film’s integral diplomatic issue. Tony reaching out to a young Peter Parker to give him the boost and fatherly figure he never had. T’Challa overcoming grief and sparing the man responsible for killing his father, then providing medical care for Bucky. And at the end of it all, Steve writing a heartfelt letter to Tony, compassionately explaining that even if their differences were unresolvable, he regretted how he’d carried himself, and that if Tony and the Avengers ever needed it, Steve and his team would be there.
During the midst of the film’s biggest battle, Spider-Man naively references The Empire Strikes Back, and at the time he did so to illustrate his battle plan for taking down Scott Lang, at the moment taking the monumental form as Giant Man, but I think the parallels go deeper: the film spends much of its time focused on dour subject matter, impossible odds and the seeming assurance that, no matter the outcome, someone would lose. We watched our heroes mature before our eyes, but not without taking blows and enduring significant growing pains.
The ending is what highlights the comparison for me, when Tony and his battered team reflect while Steve rescues his. Blood has been shed and much remains unresolved, but there’s the unmistakable shine of hope underneath everything: the promise that, no matter the odds, no matter the battle, everyone is on the same team, and they will persevere.