Civil War review: Marvel redefines the superhero genre once again

More so than any other superhero movie, Captain America: Civil War prosecutes the very men and women we're supposed to be grateful for. It demands that these heroes take a look at the devastation they've caused around the world, face their guilt and admit that their existence may be more problematic for humanity than beneficial.

The movie is not a celebration of the superhero squad, but a condemnation. If The Avengers was our introduction to what the team could do to protect their home from otherworldly threats, Civil War is the chilling reminder of the devastation and calamity that also comes with it.

In many ways, Civil War is Marvel's darkest and heaviest movie to date, but that's part of what makes it the studio's best. After close to a decade of watching these heroes come into their own, flying around Earth and transporting themselves to different universes, Civil War is the first truly human movie about a team of superhuman individuals.

Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Steve Rogers/Captain America in Captain America: Civil War (2016). Image: Disney/Marvel Studios

While Civil War does present an actual villain for the team to take down, the biggest battle in the movie is with each other over the level of freedom they have. It's not a question of physically taking that political freedom away, but a moral dilemma over whether they've abused their privileges and whether or not it's time to admit that they might be causing more harm than good to the very population they swore to protect.

To be a superhero, things must be sacrificed. Personal relationships, a chance at a normal life or even just being able to take a vacation. Existing as an extraordinary being means giving up the ordinary aspects of life that many of us take for granted. The tradeoff for living an isolating and burden-filled life that comes with being a superhero is the protection and survival of the place they call home. When they're faced with the reality of the consequences of their actions, however, they begin to question everything they thought they knew. It's that internal struggle that eventually leads to the grand battle between themselves where the movie finds its heart.

Despite the heaviness of the movie, however, the trademark humor and banter between the characters is still very much present throughout the film. Their obvious love for each other, as a family of misfits bound together by their superhuman abilities, just adds to the heartbreaking dissolution of their trust and kinship with each other.

Captain America: Civil War is, without question, the best movie to come out of Marvel Studios in the past eight years, and it's hard to see how they'll top it going forward.

It's all about the sokovia accord

Quasi-based on the 2006 Marvel Comics crossover event of the same name, there's a couple of different story arcs happening in Civil War. There's the continuation of Bucky Barnes' (also known as the Winter Solider) complicated relationship with former best friend, Steve Rogers aka Captain America. There's a new threat being posed to the Avengers, and in turn, the rest of humanity by an unknown villain. But the biggest storyline by far is the battle between Captain America and Iron Man over whether or not to sign the Sokovia Accord.

Similar to the Superhuman Registration Act in Mark Millar's comic, the Sokovia Accord is a legally binding contract that would force the various superheroes around the world to operate as a branch of the United Nations. Instead of being able to fly into any country they like, attempting to take out dangerous men and women, they would need proper clearance from the U.N. as a ways of respecting and honoring the rules of sovereign states.

Captain America: Civil War is, without question, the best movie to come out of Marvel Studios

On one side of the debate over whether to sign the Accord or not is Tony Stark (Iron Man), who after a particularly emotional conversation, argues that having a third-party voice give their take on a dangerous situation could be beneficial. It's a thought echoed by Vision (Paul Bettany), who preaches that in order to gain the respect and trust of normal people, they must work with the agencies that those people have elected.

On the other side is Rogers, who stubbornly refuses to sign the Accord. In his opinion, having their freedom taken away from them would lead to other sections of their lives being compromised, like their right to privacy. In his opinion, signing the Accord is fundamentally wrong and, considering the tangled web his best friend Bucky is caught up in, he and Tony realize they can't agree on what the best option is for the future of their team.

Civil War feels like a political thriller, full of espionage, backstabbing and above all else, rigid drama. Anthony and Joe Russo, the directors behind the film, know how to make something as dull as a team meeting over whether they should sign a contract immensely fascinating and emotionally draining. Every time these team members interact with each other, there's an enormous amount of emotion behind their conversations. While the action hasn't been sacrificed — there is an amazing chase scene that particularly stands out — it's clear that the Russo brothers don't need to rely on it.

Spidey Comes in Swinging

Hands down, however, the best part about Civil War is the integration of Spider-Man.

The movie marks Peter Parker's debut in the Cinematic Universe, and while the character has begun to feel played out, Tom Holland's portrayal may be the best version yet. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield attempted to play a young, nerdy Peter Parker and while they weren't terrible in the roles, there was something inauthentic about their portrayals. Holland, on the other hand, looks and sounds like a teenager. The actor, who's 19 in real life, looks like he's in his freshman year of high school, and there's a sensitive side to his take on the character that Maguire and Garfield never fully captured.

Even more importantly, however, is how great his chemistry is with Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man is the superhero that Parker most resonates with, and as a result, the two of them have the most interaction in the movie. It was crucial that the two were able to pull off the mentorship vibe that Marvel is obviously going for and they surpass all expectation. Holland's Peter Parker feels like the Spider-Man iteration that we've all been waiting for.

Instead, the Russo brothers, who understand how to properly use an ensemble cast as big as the one in Civl War, use the action sequences sparingly. It's clear the focus is on the moral dilemma and ethical drama that's been brewing since the last Captain America movie, Winter Soldier, and on the growing distrust Rogers has for the government. The Captain America series has always felt like the maturest of all the Marvel properties, and Civil War is the defining moment of that maturity. As Marvel starts a new phase in its Cinematic Universe, there's a shift in tone from the films that started it all in 2008. As its fans have grown, so has the studio, and after spending nearly a decade getting to know these characters, Civil War is the near perfect result of what can be accomplished if you can create a universe that people deeply invest themselves in.

This movie couldn't have worked before now, because there wasn't enough reason to care that Tony Stark and Steve Rogers were going to fight over this type of issue. We know these characters now, however, and their grievances with each other, watching them beat each other to a bloody pulp, is overwhelmingly afflicting. The Russo brothers understand how important the family dynamic is to this storyline, and they not only manage to portray that in this film, but use just enough personal banter on top of the intense drama to remind us that regardless of past arguments they've always been a strong unit. As a result, everything that happens between the superhero collective becomes more devastating.

It's still classic Marvel

Despite all the heaviness surrounding the movie, those looking for a classic Marvel experience won't be disappointed. Especially if you're banking on seeing some pretty incredible fight choreography. It's hard to talk about just how fantastic the fight scenes in Civil War are (compared to some of the bigger parts of the Avengers movies) without giving too much away, so I'll try to remain as vague as possible for those who don't want to know too much about it.

Civil War Marvel

The fight scenes in Civil War are broken down into a couple of different sections. There's introductory fights (new character dislikes another character and the two fight), personal fights (Bucky taking on Steve or Tony taking on Steve, for example) and then there are the blockbuster stylized fights, which is essentially the team battles. Each type of fight has its own quirk, but you're never bored by what you're seeing on screen. Sometimes, fight choreography can get repetitive and monotonous. There's only so many ways you can punch someone in the face, after all! But the Russo brothers inject their own personality into each scene, and the fights switch from rapidly placed punches and kicks to slowed down, meticulous blows. In many ways, each sequence feels tailored made for each character, and it's an element of the movie that I particularly enjoyed.

Fans of Millar's original series will also be happy to know that there are panels from the comic that make it into the film, specifically during the fight scenes. While Civil War doesn't follow Millar's book directly, there are certainly similar themes and events that present themselves throughout the movie and it's clear that the Russo brothers dug deep to find ways to honor his story as best as they could.

There's also quite a bit of comedy for a movie that feels pretty morose 90 percent of the time.

Civil War Spider-Man

Bettany, Downey Jr., Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), Tom Holland (Spider-Man) and Anthony Mackie (Falcon) steal the show in that regard and provide the perfect amount of comic relief for a movie this tense. The cathartic moments that appear in the movie, although few and far between considering just how much is happening, usually revolves around these characters and because of that, they are utterly crucial.

The use of comedy as a major incentive to love these characters has always worked for Marvel and I was concerned going into Civil War that the comedic aspects would be sacrificed in order to tackle all the story arcs that had to be included. It's definitely there, though, and despite the movie dealing with pretty serious issues, the guilt of its characters and the questionable future ahead, it remains a fun watch.

Captain America: Civil War is Marvel's best movie, and my only concern is where do they go from here?

This was the Avengers movie that we were all waiting on. This feels like the ultimate ensemble superhero movie and I'm worried that the more they try to pack into two-and-a-half hours, the less we'll get out of it. If Marvel can find a way to replicate this exact formula and use it for the rest of their big flagship films, though, it's a universe I'll never get tired of.

I went into Civil War expecting a run-of-the-mill Marvel movie. I left feeling more excited about the countless possibilities the studio has going forward, and that's something I didn't think I would get back after The Avengers.