In2008 with Iron Man Marvel studios took what many considered to be their second string heroes and started an ambitious project; a shared cinematic universe of superhero films. (Some call it a first, the shared universe film set, but Universal did the same, though not by initial design, with their classic horror films.) The successes of the project have remade the movie-going business and continue to this day with the release of MCU movie # 13, Captain America: Civil War.
It is amazing that this film, so deeply indebted to the storytelling that proceeded it, is so truly marvelous. Carrying on with the character of Steve Rodgers AKA Captain America after Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron, CA;CW though studded with massive battle set pieces, is ultimately a story about the small character beats, choices, and conflicts that drive people and teams apart.
The world is reacting to the presence of enhanced individuals and the enhanced threats to safety and security that they represent. While on the surface those appear to be the issues dividing the Avengers, what is really driving them are their own psychological needs and problems. This is a far better way of telling a story that simply a big bad with a big bad plan. Make no mistake. there is a villain in this piece, but unlike Loki, Ultron, the Red Skull, or Hydra, the threat is not about global destruction but about the personal costs and choices in such a universe.
There is a third act reveal that I should have seen coming but I was so suckered into the characters and their lives that the filmmakers managed a blindside that made me actually gasp out loud. No really, in full on cliché mode my hand went to my lips and I gasped. It was so obvious, so perfect, and so devastating.
Another area where this could have failed spectacularly is the sheer number of characters. With a cast of speaking roles so large it would have been far too easy for most of the characters to lose their sense of individuality and become nothing more than plot points and exposition. That did not happen, the writers, the directors, and the actor all utilized their briefs amounts of screen time to imply and inform the audience as to who these people are. It is amazing.
The new additions to the MCU, Spider-Man and The Black Panther, are handled well and with slowing or stopping the film to explain them Everything feels natural and organic. I even approve of the reinterpretation of Aunt May.
I think, but I can not be sure, that a person coming in cold to the film, having seen none of the other, would still enjoy and understand it, but I also wonder how long can that be maintained. At what point does the weight of cinematic history make any one movie incomprehensible to a novice viewer to the MCU?
Only time will tell, but it isn’t here.
This film is good. Go see it. In theaters.