It is almost incredible to think of the tapestry of media that has been woven with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU, for short). Starting with the initial seeds of the first Iron Man film, Marvel decided to take on a bold proposition: to take the shared universe nature of their superhero comic books and craft a collection of films like it. Their gamble has paid off, thanks to the quality craftsmanship that has been put into their films. Their movies capture the spirit of their characters with well-crafted writing, while also delivering on the sort of thrills that audiences want to see with their superheroes. Now, the first films for its heroes are something grand, but from there comes the opportunity for growth. Taking those first building blocks, these films can then take these heroes and allow them to grow and change in each installment. For instance, Tony Stark has been trying to find a way to take responsibility and make the world a safer world to atone for his weapons manufacturing past. Steve Rogers has been trying to find a place for his “old-fashioned” brand of heroism in the face of grey morality. Their paths now come to a collision, as Marvel shakes up their world with the well-crafted movie Captain America: Civil War.
While the superhero team known as the Avengers have been regarded as heroes, the world has also taken notice of the damage that has arisen in their wake. After their latest mission results in civilian casualties, the governments of the world respond with a proposition: a United Nations panel that would determine when and where the Avengers can operate. Tony Stark stands in support of the proposal, believing that they need some system of check and seeking redemption for the destruction from his past mistakes. Steve Rogers stands against the proposal, believing that the Avengers should have control over their own work and fearing the potential of corrupt manipulation. Tensions are further aggravated when a series of terrorist attacks appear to be caused by Bucky Barnes, Steve Rogers’s best friend and once a brainwashed assassin known as the Winter Soldier. With alliances fragmenting and the Avengers torn, it becomes a race against time as Steve seeks to find the truth behind the attacks while Tony seeks to bring order, even if it means having to lock up the men and women he knew as allies.
This was a really well-done thriller. As its central conflict is between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, the film does an excellent job of portraying neither one as exactly right or wrong. Concerns from both sides of the debate are valid, but both are certain enough in their sides that they refuse to compromise to the other. Tony genuinely does want to help the world and keep the Avengers united, but his methods are heavy-handed and obstructive. Meanwhile, Steve’s concerns about potential corruption are valid worries, but his defense of Bucky comes more from an emotional place rather than a rational one. Their actions and their beliefs are a natural extension of the paths that they have been going along, building over the course of those films and this one to a knock-out clash. In fact, the film never truly wastes a moment of its time. It takes a skillful care in advancing its characters, naturally building on what has happened for them before and using their experiences as a guiding point for how they change and evolve in the face of this divisive issue. This shines as a prime example of the benefit of the shared universe that Marvel has done well in building up. Of course, it is not merely in the connective tissue of the films that this one excels.
It is also a thrilling ride, offering plenty of excitement. The action sequences are well-crafted, doing a good job of high-lighting the skills of its characters with inspired moments. In fact, there is an action sequence at an airport that masterfully captures the sort of superhero spectacle that can come from the comic book page. In addition, the MCU also debuts two strong new addition to its universe: Spider-Man and Black Panther. Spider-Man has long been one of Marvel’s most successful and popular characters, and his appearance in the MCU captures the appeal of the character well. It realizes the wisecracking nature and power of Spider-Man as he demonstrates his skills in battle, but it also showcases the nerdiness of Peter Parker along with his earnest desire to use his great powers responsibly. As for Black Panther, he is a strong force to behold with his own role in the hunt for Bucky. Armed with considerable combat skill, a Vibranium-laced costume, and the resources of his home kingdom of Wakanda, he is played with regal intensity as he seeks to avenge his father’s death in the attacks. Though these two heroes may differ in their temperaments, they hit the ground running and prove to be exemplary of the sort of strongly-written characters that the MCU can bring to the big screen.
The idea of a shared universe of films and media may seem like a dangerous prospect. If pursued simply for profit and not given any serious quality care in its crafting, then the entire thing could fall apart like a house of cards. Marvel, however, has avoided these pitfalls as they build upon the foundation from their comics to create a media universe that is a wonder to behold. Captain America: Civil War is the latest example of that wonder, thanks to strong writing that never wastes a moment of its time along with fun superhero spectacle.