Captain America: Civil War review: How does it impact Infinity War?

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Credit: Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures; from Captain America: Civil War (2016)

What worked?

When it comes to modern action film-making, the Russo Brothers are at the top of their game. Their prowess on Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) is what guaranteed their contract with Marvel Studios to direct another Captain America sequel. Sure enough, their skill and craft on Winter Soldier transferred over to Captain America: Civil War and then some. Each set-piece, from the opening attack by Crossbones (Frank Grillo) in Lagos to a pursuit across Bucharest’s  Messedamm Underpass, has clarity, precision, and perfect pacing.

Yet it’s the brawl at the Leipzig/Halle airport that’s the film’s true highlight. It’s one thing for The Avengers (2012) having six different superheroes on-screen fighting an alien invasion like. It’s quite another having twelve different superheroes fighting among one another, each with their own distinctive look, personality, powers, moves and–most important of all–reason for being there. If Winter Soldier earned the Russo Brothers Civil War, then Civil War earned them Avengers: Infinity War.

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Of course the action wouldn’t work as well as it does if we didn’t care about each of these characters. Watching the previous installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe does help, but even if you haven’t, you still understand where each person is coming from. Despite a script that juggles nearly twenty different roles, each one of them has their moment in the spotlight. There’s not a single wasted part (save one) or needless cameo appearance. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFreely deserve as much credit as the Russo Brothers for that alone.

Moreover, Civil War is as much Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) story as it is Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans). This is logical considering both are on opposite sides of the movie’s ideological divide. What’s smart is that film doesn’t vilify Tony or favor Steve. Each have valid reasons for supporting or opposing the “Sokovia Accords” based on who they are and their own personal guilt. This isn’t a story of heroes vs. villains; it’s a story of two good, principled, but flawed men forced into becoming enemies despite their friendship. It makes for great drama, and results in some of the best performances in Evans and Downey’s careers.

Speaking of acting, the newcomers are great, too. Chadwick Boseman makes for a perfect (and badass) T’Challa/Black Panther. Daniel Brühl is a surprisingly sympathetic and Machiavellian Helmut Zemo. And of course, Tom Holland as the new Peter Parker/Spider-Man is an absolute delight.

Finally, while I’m sure some will see the final act twist coming (especially if they’ve watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier) it’s still effective and quite shocking. I’ll talk more about it when we discuss how Civil War will impact Avengers: Infinity War. For now, I will say that what makes it great isn’t just the potential ramifications moving forward, but how it stemmed entirely from character-driven storytelling. It’s a small, but powerful, example of why Civil War stands as one of the best of the Marvel Studios movies.