With 14 films and counting, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) now has more movies than the Star Trek franchise—and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Doctor Strange, the latest chapter in what may be the longest story ever told in cinema, introduces yet another hero to the MCU’s ever growing pantheon and proves there are realms of comic lore yet unexplored. And despite its prolificacy, Marvel hasn’t produced any bad films, though the same cannot be said of other long-running franchises (cough-Star Trek-cough). Doctor Strange is no exception, proving a worthy addition to the MCU.
“What would you call a group of US based, individuals who routinely ignore sovereign borders and inflict their will wherever they choose and who, frankly, seem unconcerned with what they leave behind?”
In real life, the answer to this question might be an entity like the US Congress, along with the executive branch, the Pentagon, or—in Eisenhower’s famous moniker —the ‘Military–Industrial Complex.’ Perhaps in real life, but in this case the question is posed by the fictional Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), and he is referring to the Avengers. Like the recently released Batman v. Superman, Captain America: Civil War questions the role of superheroes through the looking-glass of contemporary political debates; the question can be summed up as to whether the Avengers should use their powers as they see fit, or if their superpowers should be regulated by the world’s governments. However, and unlike its DC rival, Civil War really does deal with and probe this all-too-urgent question. The characters on both sides provide convincing arguments for their respective positions, and as such, it becomes difficult for viewers to simply root for the good guys . As if this dash of moral ambiguity wasn’t enough, the film also manages (seamlessly, for the most part) to introduce two major new characters into the Avengers’ cinematic universe: Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and a young Spiderman (Tom Holland). Finally–and perhaps more importantly for Marvel Comics devotees–Civil War also features a number of brilliantly choreographed superhero combat scenes that are sure to make any die-hard fan exclaim: “What a time to be alive!”
In previous movies, The Avengers have saved the world from every conceivable threat: from invading aliens to megalomaniacal robots. But is isn’t all sunshine and Bifrosts. From the Battle of New York in The Avengers to the Battle of Sokovia in Age of Ultron many innocent civilians have perished. And while these heroes claim to protect humanity, several of the threats the Avengers have “saved” humankind from (such as Ultron) would never have existed if it weren’t for the Avengers’ own actions. When Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) bungles a mission resulting in half a skyscraper being blown to pieces, it’s the last straw. And so the Sokovia Accords are drafted. Supported by 117 countries, the accords would put superpower individuals, namely the Avengers, under the UN’s bureaucratic supervision. A faction of the heroes, led by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), feel that if they “can’t accept limitations, [they]’re no better than the bad guys,” while others, led by Captain America (Chris Evans), believe the accords merely “shift the blame,” and argue that the best qualified people to watch over the Avengers are the Avengers themselves.
If you’re looking for some awesome superhero vs superhero combat, but felt underwhelmed by the five minute fight scene in Batman v Superman, then dear reader you’re in luck. The fight scenes in Civil War are way better. First of all, there are a lot more of them interspersed throughout the movie, and they all feel well motivated and believable, at least to the extent superhero movies can be believable. I’m not someone who enjoys watching characters just punch each other, but the battles in Civil War kept me excited and entertained throughout the length of the feature. And even when the action sags a bit, there’s certainly enough wit and killer lines to keep things from getting dull. We even get to see some characters use powers never before seen on the big screen. The airport battle in particular is best appreciated in IMAX 3D.
But there’s a lot more to Civil War than awesome fight scenes. There are real thought-provoking issues behind the conflict. This isn’t just a film about the role of superheroes in society, though that alone would be deeper than most films in this genre, in fact there are clear parallels to real-world questions. The Avengers’ interventions around the world, doing what they believe is right, “saving” people often without their permission and with civilian casualties could easily be compared to actions of the US Military-Industrial Complex. There is no obvious right or wrong side here. Some, like Captain America, feel that “We try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes that doesn’t mean everybody. But if we can’t find a way to live with that, next time… maybe nobody gets saved.” On the other hand, people like Vision point out that many of their enemies have only arisen in response to their efforts: “Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict… breeds catastrophe.” These are complex issues and Civil War addresses them in a complex manner. This isn’t yet another iteration of the classic conflict between good guys and bad guys. Because we aren’t the bad guys, and we’re not the good guys either. The world just isn’t that simple.
That said, Civil War’s not all serious superhero geopolitics. Humor is expertly weaved through the story and dialogue. Spiderman, in particular, brings a comical tone, and though he is certainly inessential to the film’s plot, Tom Holland delivers an unquestionably enjoyable performance as the well-liked Wall-crawler, and I for one ardently await his return in the upcoming 2017 Spiderman reboot.
It’s true that, in many ways, Civil War feels just like the other Marvel movies. But that doesn’t mean it’s predictable. The plot has several unexpected twists and rather than just serving to surprise the audience these twists develop the characters. At this point the narrative structure of the Marvel movies functions more like a TV series than typical film sequels. Thus, it’s not that surprising, nor necessarily bad, that Civil War feels like many of the other episodes. It even manages to introduce new, intriguing characters and shows us new aspects of the characters we’ve seen before. Crucially, more than any other Marvel movie it dissects real, complex issues in our fraught contemporary world. As the first film in Marvel’s Phase Three, it sets a high standard for the films planned by the studio up to 2019. But if the rest of Phase Three is comparable to Civil War, then at least this reviewer is not likely to experience superhero film fatigue anytime soon.
Remember, this is a Marvel Movie, so stay until the end of the credits.