Well that was more like it.

If you had told me years ago that the Captain America film series would be the strongest of the MCU bunch, I would’ve scoffed. Captain America was campy patriotism, a star-spangled man out of time, not a wonderfully written and nuanced protagonist in a major movie franchise! The camp and naivete of the Captain is still there, but it is handled realistically through a character who we’ve seen grow and adapt to his new world on film in an honest way.

Civil War

The Captain movies have only gotten better over time, which cannot necessarily be said for any of his Avengers compatriots or even for their team ups. Avengers : Age of Ultron, for example, was a fair enough film, but was still bloated and overstuffed and didn’t hit the same successful notes as its predecessor.

In a way Captain America : Civil War might as well have been Avengers 3. Thor and the Hulk are absent (which is remarked upon several times), but the rest of the lineup is present, along with new additions in Spiderman (v. 3) and the Black Panther. However, the tone and setting of the movie (not to mention the title) distinguishes it as a Captain Film. We have Cap’s links to the past, an earthly setting and threat (unlike Thor), strong ties to government agencies and missions (unlike Iron Man) and a conflict that is big picture, but not yet world shattering (unlike the Avengers). It is overall a more serious film, though not without its fair share of Marvel brand humor. It is also, unsurprisingly, not a film that can be viewed in a bubble.

The MCU builds upon itself, both within its plotline and its characterizations. We’ve seen Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and the rest of the bunch fight and banter their way through half a dozen films or more. Experienced viewers can recognize the histories that these characters have with one another and how they have growth and changed over time. Civil War makes use of those relationships, and of the reactions from past cinematic events to advance its plot. The devastating actions of Avengers 2 are front and center, the camaraderie between old World War II buddies drives the action, and ethics and ideologies divide former friends to the point of war.

Civil War addresses major dilemmas in this super-powered world- who controls the Avengers? Who decides when are where they are needed? Who holds them accountable? It is from those questions that lines are drawn. Iron Man, guilty over Sokovia and other incidents, agrees to U.N. oversight and regulation. Captain America, believing that governments are themselves flawed and should not be relied upon to control the Avengers, refuses to sign the Accords. The fact that his childhood best friend is also wanted by the very writers of the Accords also has something to do with it.

Throughout the film the other Avengers assemble, choosing sides based on their own agendas, ideologies, fears, or feelings of guilt. Friends can no longer pull punches with one another, and the world cannot just go back to the way it once was. By the end it made be very curious to see how Infinity War will handle the incidents within Civil War. There has been a major change in Avenger dynamics, and the MCU as a whole will reverberate from it.

One new dynamic is the addition of three new Avengers to the line up. We’ve seen Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man before, quipping his way through a standalone film, but in Civil War we see his (delightfully fanboy-ish) introduction to the rest of the super team. While Ant-Man had some great contributions, it was the two completely new Avengers who really stole the show. Chadwick Boseman is riveting as the Black Panther- a king to one of the most technologically advanced, yet reclusive countries on the planet. If I could buy tickets for that standalone film already, I would. Tom Holland, as the third cinematic Spiderman, was also a standout. I’m not a huge fan of that character in general, but was pleasantly surprised with this youthful, nerdy, appropriate portrayal. It helps the the web slinger is actually being played by a real teenager!

Captain AmericaCivil War is an action packed adventure that, despite a massive cast, remains focused on the characters- their fears, issues, and philosophies. It pulls together the MCU stories that came before it and sets up an appropriate conflict that pushes the Avengers in new directions. Rather than feeling Marvel fatigue, I left this film feeling invigorated and ready to see where these familiar heroes go next.