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Civil War 1By Chris Roll
Captain America – Civil War (2016) gives the audience exactly what its title promises: Marvel’s stable of superheroes fighting one another in glorious fashion over opposing ideologies. And spearheading each side? Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans) and Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.).
Of course, it’s hardly a surprise that those two would clash. They nearly came to blows within minutes of meeting each other in 2012’s dream team superhero blockbuster The Avengers. Back then, Rogers found Stark to be impulsive, spoiled and obnoxious and Stark resented the idea that Rogers didn’t “earn” his powers, while Iron Man was literally a self-made superhero. Nevertheless, they were able to put aside their differences and work together as a team . . . until now.
After a routine mission ends in unexpected tragedy, the Avengers are called before Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt, reprising his role from 2008’s The Incredible Hulk), who informs them that given the amount of collateral damage their actions have inadvertently caused over the years, there will now be legal consequences. The Avengers are expected to officially register as a task force answering to the United Nations; each member can either sign the Sokovia Accords (named for the country that served as a battleground in last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron), retire or continue to run unchecked and be treated as criminals.
Stark, overwhelmed with guilt over his part in the casualties, immediately professes support for the accords and the need for accountability. Rogers, on the other hand, believes the Avengers should continue to operate as an independent organization, not beholden to any government entity. And because each has an ego the size of the Hulk on a bad day, there is no room for rational discussion. Captain America walks away from the Avengers, and Iron Man becomes the public face of support for the accords.
When the time comes for the Avengers to sign (or not to sign) the accords, matters are complicated further when a terrorist attack kills T’Chaka, king of the African nation Wakanda (which, incidentally, is the country that produces vibranium, the impact-absorbing metal that Captain America’s shield is made from). His son, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), swears bloody revenge on the man responsible, who video surveillance shows to be Captain America’s best friend-turned-brainwashed assassin Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), a.k.a. the Winter Soldier. The Avengers are tasked to bring Barnes in, but Rogers decides to track him down himself. Convinced of Barnes’ innocence, he defends him from the Avengers, officially cementing his status as an outlaw. Meanwhile, a ruthless ex-mercenary named Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl, of Inglourious Basterds fame) is working behind the scenes to obtain the details of a very specific mission the Winter Soldier undertook 25 years prior.
It is at this point Rogers and Stark begin recruiting allies to their respective sides.
Rogers gathers wisecracking archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the tormented and stir-crazy Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), the high-flying Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and newcomer Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, whose easygoing enthusiasm is a treat).
Stark, left with perennial ally War Machine (Don Cheadle), mysterious android the Vision (Paul Bettany, who does a superb job of conveying his character’s desire to act more human) and super-spy the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), seeks out Spider-Man (Tom Holland).
Spider-Man’s film appearances up to this point have been a bit of a mixed bag. The first two Spider-Man films, starring Tobey Maguire and directed by Sam Raimi, were amazing (pun intended); the third, due to interference from studio executives, was not. The franchise was rebooted in 2012 with Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man, which was so-so, and then destroyed by the abysmal 2014 sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But Holland absolutely nails the role, giving longtime comic fans the Spider-Man they’ve wanted to see all along. He’s awkward, he’s funny, he’s sweet, he’s nerdy and he is bursting with excitement to be swinging into action alongside the heroes he’s grown up admiring. He gets some great moments during the big group fight scene, and definitely leaves the audience wanting to see more.
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That fight scene, by the way, is fantastic, especially when T’Challa joins the party as the Black Panther, a vibranium-suited bruiser with razor-sharp claws. He’s powerful, vicious and graceful all at once, and he is possessed of a singular motivation: to rip Bucky to shreds. And his ultimate character arc in the film is one of the most satisfying of any superhero film.
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Not everyone walks away from that fight, but all paths eventually lead to a final confrontation between Captain America and Iron Man at a long-forgotten Soviet base — the only question, of course, is whether they will meet as friends or enemies, and who will be left standing at the end. This is where Zemo makes his final move, and the secret he reveals, though predictable, is an emotional gut-punch.
Ultimately, Captain America – Civil War is the film Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice should have been. It takes established characters with clear motivations and gives them a fairly plausible reason to abandon their prior friendship and start beating each other senseless. More importantly, directors Anthony and Joe Russo are willing to not just inject but fully integrate humor into the otherwise serious film, whereas the jokes in Batman vs. Superman felt forced. The inevitable Stan Lee cameo is a wonderful example of this, getting a hearty laugh at a point in the film where the future seems very bleak indeed.
Could most of Captain America’s and Iron Man’s grievances have been aired over a long talk and a cup of coffee? Probably. But it wouldn’t have been as much fun to watch.

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