Captain America: Civil War Review

Captain America: Civil War
Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo
Written by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Mark Millar (comic)
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Paul Bettany, Daniel Bruhl


Before The Avengers hit theatres back in 2012, many questioned whether you could bring so many different superheroes together in one film and have it feel both cohesive and coherent. Then the movie ended up delivering in a big way and in the wake of its success it almost seemed foolish to have doubted the proposition in the first place. After all, decades of comics had proven that these characters work together in print… why would the big screen be any different?

But such thoughts underestimate just how important Joss Whedon was to the success of The Avengers. Say what you will about him as a director, but as a writer he brought a crucial understanding of these characters and the team dynamic. He made a difficult balancing act look easy. Captain America: Civil War, on the other hand, does not feel quite so effortless. Although it may seem to be the equivalent of The Avengers 3, it ultimately falls victim to many of the problems we’ve been dreading all along: it’s bloated, uneven and fails to tell a satisfying story.

The movie picks up one year after the events of The Avengers: Age of Ultron with the world still reeling from the destruction in Sokovia. Add to this another mishap involving Scarlet Witch that leads to the loss of innocent lives and suddenly the United Nations steps in to mandate some form of oversight for The Avengers. Iron Man is in support of it but Captain America refuses to sign up, making him a fugitive. At the same time, someone is trying to reactivate The Winter Soldier and turn him against The Avengers.

I was a big fan of what Anthony and Joe Russo did with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and initially this movie lays out the same sense of intrigue and street level action. If the last Captain America movie was inspired by Three Days of the Condor, this one seems to be borrowing more from the Bourne films. There is an early action sequence in a crowded Nigerian marketplace and a decent motorcycle chase as well. Big, bold city names highlight the globetrotting element of the film and serve as a way to break up chapters of the story. There is also some solid character work in some of the more quiet scenes including a funeral.

However, once the battle lines are drawn and the supporting cast begins to fill out, things start to get a bit messy. The introduction of the new Spider-Man is the point where the movie starts to go off the rails and suddenly becomes more concerned about expanding the Marvel universe and providing fantasy superhero matchups rather than staying true to the story at hand. The big airport fight sequence is full of moments that are designed to make fans stand up and cheer but the action is chaotic and hard to follow. (Disclaimer: I sat along at the far side of a theatre in a 3D screening, which might have affected my viewing somewhat.) The combat also lacks any real tension with the heroes actually taking the time to acknowledge that they really aren’t trying to hurt each other.


Admittedly, this is the point where the movie feels most like The Avengers and it is free to let these different personalities and abilities bounce off of each other. Unfortunately, the writing just isn’t strong enough to balance them all and it is unable to maintain a consistent tone throughout. Characters like Ant-Man and Spider-Man don’t feel like they belong in this movie, which is the first time I’ve felt this kind of tonal awkwardness in a Marvel movie. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was able to maintain a grittier feel while also injecting some comic relief. This movie goes too far into jokey blockbuster land and when it tries to pivot back to something more serious, it ends up falling flat.

Although he is being positioned as a major selling point of the film, I just wasn’t a fan of Tom Holland as Spider-Man. From his squeaky voice to his idolizing of Tony Stark, nearly everything about this version of Spidey seems to have been created as a punchline (the same goes for Marisa Tomei as Aunt May). To be fair, both he and Black Panther are being introduced in the midst of a bigger story that doesn’t allow for them to be fleshed out very well. I really have no opinion on Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther because it feels like he was just another new addition to the roster because that’s what these movies are supposed to do. He didn’t make much of an impression, although I don’t think it’s his fault. I would have much rather seen Hulk and Thor in this movie, but I suppose their powers would have caused bigger problems from a story standpoint.

There are some comparisons to be made between this movie and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which also foregoes the typical hero vs. villain structure for an internal conflict. This movie definitely gives a much better justification for the heroes to go head to head and it delivers a better climactic showdown. However, the other big problem is that it feels like Marvel has completely given up on trying to tell complete stories. They have fully embraced the serialized nature of the movie franchise, resulting in a story that feels unresolved, simply leaving things open for continuation in the next installment.

At 2 hours and 26 minutes, Captain America: Civil War is the longest Marvel movie yet and it really feels like they tried to cram too much in. It’s unfortunate that a movie so directly based on an interesting comic book story arc ends up failing in the storytelling department. The rich thematic elements of the comic seem to have been jettisoned in favour of personal plot twists. There are some decent supporting performances that get lost in the mix, including Daniel Bruhl as Baron Zemo and Sebastian Stan, who finally made me care about the tortured soul that is The Winter Soldier. Ultimately, Captain America: Civil War should give Marvel devotees what they want, but it relies on cheap surface level thrills to deliver an otherwise forgettable episode of the world’s most expensive TV series. — Sean

SCORE: 2.5 stars

  • Indianamcclain

    This is the first review of Civil War that I agree with 100%. That first scene with Spider-Man was so awkward, and brought the entire film to a standstill.

    But I’m also seeing the glowing reception that this film is getting, with some people claiming that this is the best superhero film ever made. Is this really all it takes to get that title now? Sean is right in that this doesn’t feel like a complete film, why are audiences settling for this? It was a fun time but it’s not in the same class as Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, X2, or even Days of Future Past.

  • Lior

    Almost every single Marvel film that came out in recent years has been immediately hailed as “the best superhero film ever made” and shot up to the increasingly irrelevant top 250 film list on IMDB. I remember when Avengers: Age of Ultron came out and was hailed as the best superhero film ever made. I watched it recently. Not even close. I am not saying that just to be a contrarian, but Marvel has managed to create a hardcore fan base that will treat any semi-entertaining new film as the Second Coming. And Sean is right in that it’s just become a glorified TV show, only in the cinema. Now you need to do homework and figure out what came before what and watch all chapters in the correct order to get the full experience.

  • Indianamcclain

    To quote Tarantino “It’s tv in public”.

  • Corey Pierce

    Winter Soldier came out and it wasnt really horrible but I did not get the love. Ultron came out and it was a step further down, and Civil War is another even further down. I miss the standalone stories and the times where these characters could still grow. They’ve grown as far as Marvel wants and now it’s really boring to watch them tread water.

  • PalinEffect

    Thank you, Sean, for pulling me, somewhat, back from the brink. Just mega-boring and – despite Marvel’s dubious self-promoted profile – uber-serious. And that while being connected 0% to any aspect of reality. Watching them try to convince us of Stark’s attack of conscience stemming from the end of that stupid Ultron movie – and realizing that’s what they were going to leverage the whole movie on – had me sitting in that packed theatre praying for alien abduction. And, for the record, it was the opening crowd at the Cinerama Dome and it was a fucking morgue. A few laughs – laughs, mind you – during the big action scene, which should have been rife with tension and drama. Then everyone half-ass-edly pretending they loved it afterwards like it was their children’s recitals. Fuck these movies but – way more specifically – the drones of limped-dick motherfuckers still pretending to like them. Thank you

  • Tommy

    ‘rich thematic elements of the comic’ Have you read Civil War? It’s very stupid.

  • Corey Pierce

    Sean and I were at the same advance screening (I saw him walk by just before showtime) and I’m sure he can attest it played to mostly silence save some laughs during the battle, and rather polite, tepid applause as it finished.

  • Sean

    I don’t think it’s a masterpiece by any stretch but at least it has some ideas being thrown around. The movie seems to strip that stuff down even more.

  • Sean

    Yeah, the airport sequence was the only thing that really got a response. It felt like people were waiting to laugh at any little joke and still there wasn’t much for them. And to be clear, I would have been okay with a less comedic Marvel movie if they actually did something with it.

  • Tommy

    I guess it’s their fault for using the title when it’s hardly an adaptation at all. A tussle in an airport where there’s obviously no intention of causing any harm to each other isn’t quite a ‘War’ on the scale the comic had it. There should have been a robot clone Thor kill Paul Rudd.

  • Stinker

    For what it is, not when compared to “smaller” movies, it is good. A save movie, with all the advantages and bad sides of this kind of movie. Like it, and the Civil War comic is not much better, so let´s enjoy it. And everyone can say it´s not a marvel BvS.

  • Henry

    A distinctly average by the numbers Marvel film. The highpoint was the cameo as the MIT principal. And I still don’t get the sense that Spider-Man is actually attaching to anything when he’s swinging about

  • Nobody

    I went to one of the Thursday night showings filled with teenagers and college kids and there was a much different reaction – loud laughter at almost every joke, applause, comments of the “Oh shit!” variety and gasps during the action scenes. Johansson’s generic martial arts choreography at the beginning even got a response. I didn’t share that enthusiasm, but I walked out with the impression that this movie will be generating spectacular word of mouth over the weekend.

  • Flo Lieb

    Right on the money, Sean!

  • ah

    Sean, I’m glad you didn’t succumb to the over-hype all Marvel films seem to get – the critics have it at 91% on rotten tomatoes which is a joke. Apparently it has “the courage to explore thought provoking themes” – that will be the same themes that critics trashed in BvS! I enjoyed it way more than Ultron, which was terrible, and I thought the action scenes were done well but there really is no depth to the characters or the story so it just feels like an empty experience. Not to mention the horrible Empire Strikes Back reference that Spiderman makes which was vomit-inducing – how can films still get away with doing Star Wars references? “That old film” – oh look how young Spiderman is! Excuse me while I sick up again! All the Marvel films look the same. Whatever negative comments people have about BvS, which I loved, it’s clearly a Zac Snyder film and his vision, and I think that deserves way more credit than it got whether you like the film or not.

  • Indianamcclain

    From what I can tell the praise comes from 2 things. This movie does BvS story slightly better, and at least it gives Cap, and Iron Man motivations for their actions. But to me the second reason seems to be that these Marvel fans want the opportunity to say “Marvel does it again” or “Spider-Man’s home”. It’s a joke. People were pissed off with Venom having limited screen time in Spider-Man 3, but seem to be completely fine with this film doing the same thing to Spider-Man himself?

    Also, maybe it’s just me but there were moments where it really felt like Robert Downey Jr was overacting. And he was given some really stupid lines to say like “give me back my Rhodey.

    For the most part I thought it was a fun time, but there are problems with it that people are just glossing over so that they can say this the best superhero film ever made.

  • RockJoker

    I’m very glad to see Sean not jumping on this bandwagon of Civil War praise that is going on the web. This film is even messier than Age of Ultron in terms of introducing new characters and their place in a whole story. 80% of this movie is talking about very very very “serious” things. But the second you stop and think that all of this is said by Iron Man and Captn Merica you immediately disconnect. This so such a Russo brothers movie. I didn’t like Winter Soldier, and this is a very similar film.

  • Jameson

    For a movie hyped as being the gamechanger for Marvel, all the stakes felt so low. They even acknowledged they’re pulling punches and not trying to hurt each other. These films are completely void of any real drama.

  • no one important

    The reason why these films don’t work is because there are never any real threats. Marvel have so many Super heroes but are too afraid to kill any off. I thought that silver iron man guy was dead.. They even had the customary bell toll sound signifying death, but he was ok.. No worries. They need to go all game of thrones on this universe.

    It reminds me of a film called PREDATOR. It’s a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenneger from the eighties that, according to Letterboxd, none of the Film Junk crew have seen. Now if Dutch’s (AS) entire team made it through to the end of the film it would be a pretty boring affair indeed, but…. Kinda spoilerish… They don’t all make it and the movie is totally awesome for it. You guys should check it out. Its on Blu ray. I’d recommend the 3D Ultimate Hunter Limited Edition Trophy Version, although I think the packaging might conflict with your Blu ray manifesto.

  • Cinephallus

    Civil War? More like Civil Skirmish.

    Entertaining, but ultimately disappointing.

  • Larry Morgan

    For the first hour and a half this was my favorite “blockbuster” ever. The way they were shooting action scenes was awesome. Then it lulled a little setting up the third act, which was decent. But overall great. Amazed at how they can make people with dumb powers end up looking pretty cool.

  • Sean

    I can confirm that we have seen Predator.

  • Nick Poliskey

    Completely agree. I was TOTALLY on board this movie until of the death fake-outs.

  • Nick Poliskey

    I certainly liked it, but it is really only maybe 10% better than BvS.

  • Anthony

    Sean – and by extension most of the commenters – I respect your opinion, but disagree with it heavily. Good to see you stick to your guns and not succumb to the pressure of possibly jerking this movie off, it’s just that your guns are wrong in this case.

  • Anthony

    What you’re doing is assuming that it’s the same people saying that each successive Marvel film is the best ever. It’s possible (and probably even likely) that the individuals saying that Winter Soldier was the best comic book film still think that way. Same with people that said that about Age of Ultron. Just because a lot of reviews say the same thing about different movies doesn’t mean it’s the same people saying that and changing their minds with every film.

  • Was it a pre-watch?

  • I’d prefer that to his public masturbation.

  • Anthony

    “People were pissed off with Venom having limited screen time in Spider-Man 3, but seem to be completely fine with this film doing the same thing to Spider-Man himself?”

    Uhhh, bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison there, wouldn’t you say? One was billed as the main antagonist throughout the movie, while one is basically a supporting character in a storyline involving two other main protagonists.

  • ReelJunkie

    I have to disagree with your review heavily. To me this was easily my favorite Marvel film since GotG. The way they pitted Captain America’s moral standing against Tony Stark’s was really well defined and for the first time I genuinely felt invested and felt like there was something bigger at stake. All the previous Marvel movies seriously lack in that department, with their paint by the numbers villains.

    The way they dealt with the idea of superheroes being accountable wasn’t too heavy handed or serious for its own good. They didn’t go the Watmen or BvS route. They struck a good balance between addressing it and at the same time injecting some good humor to show the audience that at the end of the day this conversation is about superheroes.

  • Looking at RT user scores, most Marvel releases score in the 90s, the lowest being The Incredible Hulk at 71%, so I can see how it would look like constant praise. Metacritic and other scores are more tempered though.

  • Mahoney

    Shouldn’t you stop trolling and get a new episode out? :)

  • You try wrangling a Gillham and see how far you get.

  • HurricaneNelly

    I had to double check and see who wrote this review. Sounds like something Jay would write up. Sorry Jay, I mean Sean, I have to disagree. This movie was a blast and a lot more interesting then BvS snooze fest.. A lot of comic book hate on this site..

  • Andrija

    The comic at least has robot Thor killing an irrelevant character.

  • Flo Lieb

    Indeed, show some good humor when you’re addressing the death of hundreds of civilians for which you’re accountable for.

  • Flo Lieb

    The Winter Soldier title would’ve fit way better here than in Cap 2.

  • ReelJunkie

    I can’t recall a moment when the humor in the movie was out of place like you are suggesting.

  • schizopolis

    Bravo, Sean! Film Junk is the intelligent outlier with this movie, when the film criticism and podcasting world needed it the most.

  • Not too bad, but when you put too much Heroes “all in one”, you are going too make a big confusion! Who is too Strong? Who is good? Who is bad? Anyway, if you wanna see a film just to have a fun day, to enjoy yourself, watch it!