Before you judge this latest Marvel film, you should ask yourself what you think makes up a good superhero story. Comic book writers and readers have long noticed the difference between titles that offer a more intimate look at a single hero/ine and his/her supporting cast and those that group several together into grander conflicts. Over the last several years, Marvel has offered many of the first type in their origin-story films and in most of the sequels. Now that they have carefully introduced all these characters and we live in a world after Joss Whedon’s Avengers, Marvel can (and feels the pressure to) offer bigger stories that involve a host of these characters.
Although this film cannot capture the magic of Whedon’s character banter, it does have its own moments and offers some of the more expansive superhero smack-downs in the history of superhero films. There are several thoughtful moments too–like the previous Avengers and Captain America movies–that suggest someone needs to police people with power, but here the issues break the superheroes into competing factions. The story does have a villain (Zemo) causing trouble, but most of the story revolves around the fracturing of the relationship between Steve and Tony over what should happen to Bucky (Winter Soldier) for the deaths he caused when he was brain-washed. Thus, it is a darker film, but the writers, directors, and actors have infused a strong measure of humor to help balance the feel and pacing of the film.
Overall, the movie asks us if there is a limit to friendship. What binds the Avengers together in their common cause? Are they friends? It seems that they–and Tony and Steve, in particular–have established friendships. Of course, at this point the discussion could turn on our definitions of friendship, and we could run to philosophical sources like Aristotle’s treatment in the Nicomachean Ethics, but in the film the treatment is more visceral. What would you do if you discovered your friend’s friend killed your parents, even if he was brainwashed at the time? Comic books are not too distant from soap operas in their incorporation of such plots, but Civil War and the performance of the actors does add merit to this discussion. As noted above, it is a darker film, but a worthy addition to Marvel’s lineup.