Marvel is officially the Coca-Cola of movie franchises. By this, I mean they have mastered a secret formula that many have tried and will try to replicate but will never get right. Only Marvel knows exactly what it takes to get it just right that it seems so simple, and yet is so intricately perfect. And after 13 (13!) movies in eight years, they have given us their master concoction, the exact film they needed to deliver to prove they can deliver the goods and yet still manage to surprise and innovate their own brand. Yes, my friends, Captain America: Civil War is the Cherry Coke of Marvel movies, and it’s delicious after the very last drop.
What made Civil War so delectable so early was the stern focus on accountability. After years of Hulk-smashing stuff, the Avengers are finally being held responsible for everything they broke like…cities and such. This comes after a mission goes horribly wrong when Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) accidentally blows up a few floors of a business building. She and Captain America (Chris Evans) look on in horror as debris and fire reign down. See, the realization of what these heroes are capable of—and how their actions affect them—are not hinted at like the “film” Batman vs Superman, but really forces the characters to take long hard look at themselves near windows, off into the distance.
This struck particularly hard when they were finally called in to take responsibility for their actions, as video footage replayed the destruction they’ve caused over the years. Although these shots of collapsing buildings have been seen in previous films the weight of the tragedy hits harder now upon reflection. I could feel my heart sink to the bottom of my chest. I mean, I was also a little gassy that evening, so that might’ve had something to do it with. I felt good—not great—but good. Either way, I like to think it was the impact of the scene itself.
The heroes then faced a choice that will end up dividing them ideologically and physically: register under the Sokovia Accords and report as a government entity, or retire their spandex. At the forefront of these two paths were the always well-groomed quip machine Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and the Michelangelo painting come to life, Steve Rogers/Captain America. Stark, after suffering years of PTSD—starting back in the first Iron Man—and personal guilt believes its time the team answers for their mistakes. Downey Jr. gives us his best Stark yet, one who is still a joy to watch but is vastly more driven and passionate, dealing with so much pain and finally seeing a way to make things right. Meanwhile Rogers feels that though not everyone can be saved, the work they’ve done is justified and their autonomy and freedoms are key to keeping the world safe. Uh-oh, it’s time to throw down.
And down throw they do. After several incidents involving the Winter Solider (Sebastian Stan) a.k.a Bucky Barnes a.k.a Steve Rogers’ best friend, Rogers strove adamantly to continue doing what he must to keep his friend and the world safe, no matter what. Meanwhile, Stark viewed this growing rebellion as a threat to the team and their place in the world. Both men wanted so bad to do what they think right, thus the team is divided into factions.
This to me is what’s so fascinating about the writing from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFreely: they have, so seamlessly, written the mass amount of heroes with enough depth to showcase the fact each one of them believes they’re doing what’s right and nothing more. While at the same time, the drama and chaos between the teams forces them and the audience to pick a side based on moral conviction even though, for everyone involved, being a part of what needs to be done is so heartbreaking. They don’t want to fight, and you don’t them to (okay, maybe a bit), but it needs to be done. There’s a great philosophical dilemma within the framework and it’s the equally enticing characters and their actions that make it so engaging to watch. It really is a blockbuster drama, and the drama makes so much logical sense in the scheme of how the characters have been developed that when it comes time to bust some blocks you buy that a man can shrink into the size of an ant and that Paul Bettany is cool.
But it is still a blockbuster, so someone’s gotta bust some heads. And each character busted every other character’s heads in an epic series of geekgasim set pieces. Of course, the cream of the crop belongs to a certain airport sequence in which every Marvel hero we’ve seen so far (sans Thor and Hulk) collided like armies from Lord of the Rings. This battle of gods literally had me gasping for air. I was on the edge of my seat— a fancy recliner chair—feeling what little weight I possess straining the gears. I was in my pajamas, curled in a ball, holding onto the tips of my shoes squealing like a child watching Saturday morning cartoons—gassy from late-night pizza. There’s a certain magic in the childish behavior, reacting so hard to the hilarity of Paul Rudd as Ant-Man mucking about with Iron Man, on top of the breathtaking drama behind it all. It also proves you don’t need alien/robot armies to pose a threat; just the heroes themselves—unique, monolithic beings clashing.
As for action the directors Joe and Anthony Russo have improved on their craft since Winter Soldier. Sure big, CGI scenes can only be shot so many ways, but where they succeed are the environments they play in. Whether they were small scale fights, or the airport scene the brothers move from moment to moment with acuity and logical progression. I never felt lost among the chaos, knowing exactly where everyone was and why they were fighting. Most impressive were many wide shots and longer takes with far more brutality than previous films gave certain fights a modern Bond film style. The kicks are harder and the punches have more meaning behind them. The world seems more dangerous and mature, and the brothers made the head-butting reflect that. Yet they still make it to where it’s too much fun for any “grown” man like me to have.
Speaking of fun, que the new Spider-Man and Black Panther. Though the former only has a good 20 minutes of screen time, the clever writing of Markus and McFreely with the focused directing of the Russos nestle him logically and entertainingly. Not only is he played to perfection by newcomer Tom Holland, fitting in with his hysterical interplay with the cast, he was also given a hefty amount of soul. Spider-Man embodied so purely the young kid (perhaps in all of us) who only wants to help and do the right thing. He’s not vengeful, has no ulterior motive—he’s just a kid who was so grateful to help his hero Iron Man. Who needs the prom when you have The Avengers (which is exactly what I said to my friends when they went to prom and I didn’t)?
Then there’s Panther (Chadwick Boseman) who works as a great contrast to Spidey. He’s indeed very revenger-driven towards Bucky who he blames for his father’s death, but whereas Spidey was goofy and innocent, Panther is animalistic, angry, unmerciful but also dashing and charming. Like Holland, Boseman is a grand addition to the Marvel cannon, proving the studio knows how to cast their movies just as well as make them. They should put Spidey and Panther in a 80s style sitcom called Cat and the Bug. One wants to avenge the brutal death of his father, and the other can’t seem to get a date to the dance. What will happen next?
Those were the new standouts in the universe. The most controversial character, however, will undoubtedly be the villain, Zemo (Daniel Bruhl). Now by controversial I don’t mean they put him in black face and had him say nothing but “dyno-mite!” He simply played a role few people are expecting him to play. See, the heroes can’t fight on clash of ideals alone. This isn’t a scuffle at a Donald Trump rally. They are too close to fight over something as political motives. They need a driving force in the shadows to capitalize on their tension. Enter Zemo, acting as the blacksmith who strikes the metal while it’s red hot, creating a burst of sparks and chaos.
His actions—which directly involve Cap and Bucky—drove them down deeper into the maze, a path Stark saw as dangerous, causing their conflict to boil over. A classic case of divide and conquer. Now you can disagree with Zemo’s presence, and maybe some will find his methods too confusing. And it’s true—it’s a lot to take in. But once everything comes together, building up to a shocking twist leading to the most emotionally charged finale of the franchise, it becomes clear how necessary his actions were. Still, some (dissenting hipsters with handlebar mustaches and comic book loyalists) may succumb to the “muchness” of it all, and in a fit of unthoughtful, irrational confusion/rage may throw around the words “dumb,” and “useless,” but think about it; what would the movie be like if he weren’t there at all? It would be a very different movie, and I quite love it exactly how it is.
You just have to remember that, like any great script, everything someone does elicits a response from everyone else—deepening their interactions and the plot—and Zemo contributes to that very well. Everyone’s actions make sense; you just have to be patient enough to think it through. This may be hard with all the amazing action, terrific acting and quip-making, which is enough for anyone even if the story doesn’t matter to them. And in so many ways it doesn’t matter, because the sheer epicness of the punching alone makes this movie so damn great.
That’s what’s so perfect about this movie: It rewards those who care about these characters and how they interact, but also satisfies the blockbuster-blood-lust for action and humor of the least demanding of audiences. On top of that it forces those who watch to put themselves in the heroes’ shoes and ask themselves: what would I do to do the right thing? Only a diehard cynic wouldn’t have fun at this summer flick. Like the most delicious of nectars it’s too damn good to hate able to transport you to when the world was bright and Donald Trump was just an ass on a TV show. Slave boy, slave boy! Bring me more cans of this godly concoction!