Marvel’s ‘Captain America: Civil War’ effortlessly cool, confident

captain-america-civil-war-team-cap1-copy.jpg

This article was originally published for the University of Denver newspaper, the DU Clarion. It has been republished here with permission. The original can be found here.

In “Captain America: Civil War,” after a routine mission goes horribly wrong, the Avengers are faced with worldwide political opposition calling for regulation of their activities. The accords fracture the superhero group into two teams, with the ever principled Captain America (Chris Evans, “Snowpiercer”) leading Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan, “The Martian”), Falcon (Anthony Mackie, “The Hurt Locker”), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, “Godzilla), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, “Anchorman”) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker”) against a guilt-ridden Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., “Sherlock Holmes”) backed by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, “Lucy”), War Machine (Don Cheadle, “Hotel Rwanda”), Vision (Paul Bettany, “A Beautiful Mind”), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, “42”) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland, “The Impossible”).

Despite the lack of the word “Avengers” in the title, this is without a doubt Marvel’s biggest and most ambitious film to date, giving it a whopping two and a half hour runtime to impress moviegoers with everything they could ever want from a superhero film. The film is an extremely entertaining and efficient buffet of great action and even better characters cooked up by a Marvel filmmaking team that knows how to play its best cards. Unlike its dumpster fire DC rival “Batman V. Superman,” the film knows its greatest strengths come from both the fun and complexity of its characters, allowing the story to go to dark, interesting places while never forgetting that people come to superhero films to be entertained.

Speaking of story, it is important to note that “Civil War” offers a radically different take on the standard action plotline, pushing its villain Zemo (Daniel Brühl, “Inglourious Basterds”) into the shadows and allowing most of the action and drama to come from watching the heroes beat each other up, crack jokes and expose their emotional scars. It mostly works, but sometimes it’s a bit distracting to wonder if the film is actually going to go anywhere narratively. The film’s safe and sequel-focused ending, a resolution too often used in Marvel films, doesn’t help that. However, the plot-lite style does also check off some big and important boxes for Marvel. It resourcefully sets up the Black Panther and Spider-Man characters and builds up legitimate excitement about their future solo films.

The classic characters are as entertaining as ever, but it’s these two new players that really steal the show. Boseman is cool as ever as the series’ first major black superhero, while Holland, who was met with a considerable amount of controversy as another young white Peter Parker, actually knocks it out of the park. He may turn out to be the best iteration of the character yet, bringing all the wacky energy and wit that Spider-Man needs and then some.

As for the film’s style, the Russo brothers (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) continue to bring great imagery and pacing to the franchise, creating some of the most memorable sequences in superhero history while allowing the film to breathe. Despite the film’s many subplots and characters, the film never feels confusing or overstuffed, moving collectedly from scene to scene and keeping the audience engaged with every moment, big or small.

“Civil War” is ultimately a huge gamble from Marvel, a potentially messy one at that, but it pays off with cool and charming confidence. It may very well be Marvel’s best yet, is certainly the best blockbuster of the year so far and is a great example of how entertaining movies can be when they remember where they came from.

Ryan Ninesling