Why ‘Captain America: Civil War’ Could Be Marvel’s Greatest Triumph

Captain America: Civil War just might be the crowning achievement for Marvel Studios, a company that dared to build a cross-character cinematic universe when such a thing was unheard of.

The film is sure to be a highly critically-acclaimed success. More importantly, it demonstrates that the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn’t just about getting a bunch of popular comic characters together and dazzling audiences with CGI-based special effects. With Captain America: Civil War, these superheroes are finally made to feel the full weight of their part of the global destruction that continually happens on their watch.

Never before has a superhero film gone to such lengths to hold its heroes’ feet to the flames for the explosions and chaos; what audiences know as “action and explosions” are world-changing consequences for fictional characters. Sure, the audience is entertained, but as Civil War attempts to prove, there are real people who are hurt and killed, lose their homes and jobs, and who don’t feel safe in a world filled with costumed superheroes — even if those superheroes’ hearts are in the right place.

This concept is part of what forms the rift between Captain America and Iron Man. The other part is Cap’s connection to the Winter Soldier (aka Bucky Barnes), his best friend. As we’ve already seen, Barnes attempts to kill Tony Stark, so we can only assume that his perceived dangerousness is also going to play a huge role in the conflict between Avengers members appearing in the film.

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Speaking of which, although many people complained about Civil War being “Avengers 2.5,” the reality is a true cinematic universe has no use for standalone films where other characters are referenced but don’t play a role. It’s easy to argue that Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3 both suffered to some degree for that very reason. Such a dangerous, world-threatening event and only Thor or Iron Man is involved? It becomes harder to justify those sort of movies. At least the presence of the Hulk in Thor: Ragnarok (and Falcon’s crucial cameo in Ant-Man) demonstrates that Marvel Studios has learned its lesson.

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The good news for Captain America: Civil War is that it’s still very much his film, with “Civil War” placing the necessary emphasis on his falling out with other Avengers. Even better news is that the movie is in the hands of directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Marcus McFeely. This group of men has already demonstrated their storytelling abilities at a very substantial level. Instead of making it about who’s wrong — something already done with other superhero conflicts we’ve seen — they tear audience members apart with the knowledge that both characters are right in their own way.

Letting both Captain America and Iron Man be correct while being so divided creates painful tension; this will no doubt give serious emotional weight to the conflict. To be able to convey that emotional depth credibly while getting audiences invested in the characters and story is a credit to Marvel’s patience.

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I feel horrible for Warner Bros. and DC in that I suspect that Captain America: Civil War is going demonstrate just how hard they dropped the ball with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

There’s a saying in writing: You should never be afraid to “kill your darlings.” What this means (at least in this context) is a writer or storyteller shouldn’t be afraid to remove something or someone from a story if it means the story progresses. Not to be confused with just killing off a character for shock value, to “kill your darling” is to demonstrate the strength to let go and thereby achieve maximum impact.

Warner Bros. performed a fake out at the end of Batman v Superman where we’re led to believe that Superman is dead. That’s not even a spoiler because the advertisement for the Justice League: Part 1 features a prominently displayed Superman. Not only that, but there were hints in the same movie that an alive-and-well Superman could wreak havoc at some point in the future. That’s hard to do if you’re dead and buried, right?

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That issue is one of the main reasons I’m so disappointed in Warner Bros. and with the DC Extended Universe. In its hurry to “catch up” to Marvel, the DCEU took the shortest shortcut available and wasted Batman v Superman. They wasted the opportunity to build connections between their characters with a solid “Phase 1” build up to the Justice League movie. They wasted the chance to plant the seeds for future fall-outs. Most unforgivably, the film wasted two solid storylines that could have been (and should have been) separate movies!

DC fans who are blindly angry at critics of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice may be silenced forever at the end of Captain America: Civil War when they are forced to take a look at what a near decade of universe-building can achieve in the hands of truly capable directors and writers. My hope would for them to then decide to keep their money in their pockets while demanding better from Warner Bros. and DC.

Movie fans (comic book readers and non-comic book readers alike) have requested such of Marvel, and rather than take it personally, the studio has listened. Had they not, we wouldn’t have Captain America: Civil War.

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Captain America: Civil War is a triumph in that it demonstrates why one should never write off the comic book movie genre or assume that movies with comic book heroes can’t have serious discussions or emotional depth. I’m not talking about “forced” seriousness, faux grittiness, and bland color themes to convey how “non-comic-bookish” it is.

I mean leaning hard on good writing and directing instead of mere pretentiousness.

[Image via Marvel Studios]