MCU Retrospective: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Daniel Brühl

The Overview
Political involvement in the Avengers’ affairs causes a rift between Captain America and Iron Man. (Source: IMDb)

The Review
Arguably Civil War is more of an Avengers film than a Captain America film. It is certainly a better Avengers film than Age of Ultron, and it is easily one of the strongest offerings in the MCU. It is a film which feels like it has been so well-earned; testament to the world-building that took place in the 8 years prior to this. 

Civil War is packed with huge payoffs for a lot of the previous films. The bubbling tensions between Stark and Cap have been evident since they first met in The Avengers, and their pasts are linked due to Tony’s father, Howard Stark. The past comes back to haunt both of the heroes in Civil War as the tensions become full blown animosity and the heroes square off against each other in spectacular fashion.

The two “battles” that form the centre of this film will be what I focus on mostly for this retrospective look at the film, but I first wanted to give credit to how well this film handles having such a huge cast. With so much going on and new and old faces having important parts to play, it could’ve ended up being a total mess, but it feels focused and streamlined and despite all the different pieces, it remains centred on Captain America’s moral quandary and everything else that results around this. It was perhaps a little flippant to call this an Avengers film, it is a Captain America film after all, and he is certainly the most important person in this film. That being said, this is easily the finest performance from Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, and he has a huge amount of emotional weight to carry in this film. Being the person on the other side of Cap in his own film is not easy, but through his performance, the audience is able to feel empathy with him and see where he is coming from, making their duel pack even more of a punch. 

Having now seen them in their own adventures, it is easy to forget that this was the first time we were introduced to this version of Spider-Man, and Black Panther as well. The latter slots in particularly easily, with the MCU’s previous mentions of Wakanda providing us with just enough context for this character, and the death of T’Challa’s father providing a key motive in him wanting to join the fight. Spider-Man is definitely a scene-stealer in the airport battle (more on that to come), but his introduction does leave slightly more questions, particularly regarding how Stark knows of him in the first place. Stark and Parker’s relationship in subsequent films however is one of the most surprisingly lovely, so I can forgive the very slight clunkiness of Spidey’s first foray into the MCU!

The “villain problem” is definitely not a problem in Civil War and Daniel Brühl’s Zemo is one of the most intriguing, different and excellent villains in the whole of the MCU. Whilst it would be tempting to just leave out the villain and have the rift between the Avengers occur through their natural disagreements, I think the film is stronger for having a named villain, and Zemo is ultimately the puppet master that I believe is essential to making the film work. Through him, there is a lot of payoff from the previous films. Because of the events of The Winter Soldier when classified S.H.I.E.L.D and HYDRA are leaked, Zemo is able to discover a mysterious red book, which has the key to unlocking the terrifying potential of the Winter Soldier and others like him. After experiencing personal tragedy following the events of Sokovia as seen in Age of Ultron, Zemo has very tangible reasons for wanting to get revenge on the Avengers and see them held accountable for what they have done. Knowing he is just an ordinary man who does not possess the power to fight them himself, Zemo instead uses the power of his wits and cunning to orchestrate a plan that involves using Bucky as the scapegoat to use against the Avengers and ultimately tear them apart. The old saying “united we stand, divided we fall” is essentially the basis for his plan, and well, it works! 

The “war” of the title is seen in two very distinct battle scenes and it is worth looking at both of these retrospectively. The first is the airport fight scene, involving all the key players that we have met so far on two sides, Team Cap and Team Iron Man. Kudos to the Marvel marketing team for running with this idea outside of the film as well! Encouraging the audience to “pick a side” not only sparked much debate, but also gave fans the chance to defend their favourites, and really feel involved in the battle seen on screen. This scene is exceptionally good fun and is essentially all of my nerdy dreams come true. Just seeing all these heroes on screen together, the various sparring matches, the quips and everything else is sheer joy. Like the Battle of New York, it is a scene I can watch in total isolation and thoroughly enjoy every time. It is well choregraphed, well written, and each person gets their “moment”, which is admirable considering how many characters there are involved!

The second battle is very different however. It comes after the shocking reveal that the Winter Soldier murdered Stark’s parents, and just when it seems Stark may be ready to call a truce, his emotions take over (the “he killed my mom” line still slays me) and the fight starts once again. With Tony intent on killing Bucky, and Steve ready to defend Bucky “to the end of the line”, the battle is intense, gritty, personal and full of emotion. It is just the three characters, in a bleak bunker and with all the emotion tied into it, it’s actually hard to watch in places. We care about all three of these characters and seeing them go at each other like this is actually really tough.

Civil War arrives at the perfect time in the MCU. It comes at a time when we know, love, and care about all of these characters, but it also comes at a time when this rift makes sense. There’s only so much world-saving and alien ass-kicking the heroes can endure before they start to experience the very real and human consequences of their actions. It’s only a matter of time before the past catches up with the characters and the cracks start to show. Now in the Endgame, it is so worthwhile to go back to Civil War. Seeing them back on the same side again, united against Thanos when we have seen them at absolute breaking point just gives everything so much more emotional weight. Fact is, these are more than just superhero films, and Civil War is certainly one that shows that.

The Rating

MCU Ranked
As I am planning to rewatch all of the MCU films, I will rank the films as I go and update on each review. 

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – ★★★★
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – ★★★★
  3. Captain America: Civil War (2016) – ★★
  4. The Avengers (2012) – ★★★★½
  5. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – 
  6. Iron Man (2008) – 
  7. Ant-Man (2015) – 
  8. Thor (2011) – 
  9. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – ½
  10. Iron Man 3 (2013) –  
  11. Thor: The Dark World (2013) – ½
  12. Iron Man 2 (2010) – ½ 
  13. The Incredible Hulk (2008) – 

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