Comics on Film: Why 'Captain America: Civil War' Is a Comic Book Crossover Come to Life

Comics on Film: Why 'Captain America: Civil War' Is a Comic Book Crossover Come to Life

May 06, 2016

Captain America: Civil War is a comic book crossover come to life, and I mean that in the best sense of the phrase.

When Marvel Comics began the tradition of the summer company crossover event with Secret Wars in 1984, bringing virtually the entirety of the company’s superheroes under the umbrella of one major story, few could’ve conceived what that tradition would lead to in the years and decades to come within the comic book medium alone. Beyond that, it’s likely that no one could’ve imagined just how a story like that – with so many disparate characters, situations, and individual stories – could ever be conceived of in a medium like live-action film.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo were given the unenviable task of making the practical realities of this film take shape, and what they’ve done – alongside the surprisingly tight screenplay from returning writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely – is create a Marvel cinematic extravaganza that seems even bigger than the two mammoth Avengers films that preceded it. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment, though, comes from the film’s ability to breathe, and to focus on some quieter character moments before upending the table once again with an action spectacle.

Much of the weight that the action has comes from its sense of grounded realism (to a point, of course). A great deal of these scenes – or, at the very least, an atypical amount for a modern blockbuster – were constructed practically, with real tumbling slabs of concrete and exploding cars being employed in place of the more conventional green screen and CGI methods. That helps to give Civil War a surprisingly organic feeling to the proceedings, as opposed to some other summer fare which can seem far more processed and synthetic than it probably should.

This is all further anchored with capable and, in some places, captivating performances by both new and returning players. Chris Evans brings the same earnest dedication to Steve Rogers/Captain America that we’ve become used to, balancing idealism and pragmatism with some hard realities that Steve has to face in this film. Robert Downey, Jr. gives, arguably, his most serious spin to Tony Stark that we’ve seen since he introduced us to this cinematic incarnation of the character eight years ago, and it’s a welcome pivot, but still delightfully familiar. Sebastian Stan is given much more dramatic material to work with this time around, giving Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier a sense of regretful angst without making him mopey.

Elizabeth Olson, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Paul Bettany, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, and William Hurt also all apply the same familiar dedication to the roles they’ve played so well in previous installments, but the real standouts are the characters that are joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time. Chadwick Boseman brings a strange but truthful flavor of brutal regality to his turn as T’Challa/Black Panther, embodying a character that is as dangerous as he is wise. Daniel Brühl’s turn as Helmut Zemo is surprisingly well-nuanced, making you feel for him while also simultaneously making you hope he gets punched in the face. Never once did the characters of the film seem to clash in any distracting or overriding way with conceptions of who these heroes and villains are in the source material. The biggest departure here seems to be with Zemo, but the choices make sense in the context of the film's story and the needs of the MCU.

And, of course, it pleases me to no end to say that we could very well have the definitive cinematic Spider-Man in the form of Tom Holland. It says a lot about the young actor that he can match wits with Robert Downey, Jr., and his very promising (and, dare I say spectacular) turn in Civil War is a very good omen for things to come from the Webhead. His inclusion did feel a bit tacked on, but hey: that's one hell of a tack.

If anything has the potential to get away from a viewer, it could possibly be the somewhat erroneous title. This is less a Captain America film and much more of an MCU-wide film, but it also likely doesn’t really qualify as an Avengers film, either. It feels like a different class from Marvel Studios altogether, but simply releasing a film called Marvel’s Civil War may not have made sense from a marketing perspective. While The Winter Soldier still likely stands as the best Captain America solo film, Civil War feels like it measures up positively against both Avengers films, and gives them a run for their money as the best crossover film that the studio has thus far produced.

Beyond all of that, Captain America: Civil War did something that it absolutely needed to do above all else: portray the titular conflict evenly and in a relatable manner on both sides, which was a task that even the comic book series this film took its name from failed to do as well as this movie did.

This spells some great things to come for the superheroic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and likely stands with the best of the entire series of MCU films thus far. So, the choice is clear: choose a side, and go to War.


Chris Clow is a geek. He is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, as well as a freelance contributor to The Huffington Post and Batman-On-Film.com, as well as host of the Comics on Consoles podcast. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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