Why is this a "Captain America" movie? Why couldn't Marvel just call this "Avengers: Civil War" or "Marvel: Civil War"? This movie is just as much about Tony Stark as it is about Captain America, and the entire ensemble (minus a Hulk and plus a Spider-Man and Black Panther) is present.
Speaking of Spider-Man, let's get this out of the way right from the start. His presence felt like completely contrived fan service and the tonal shift that he brings kind of hurts the movie. He's pulled out of nowhere for no good reason so that he can participate in the big, fun battle royale; and then he's sent home when it's over and has absolutely no relevance to the movie's plot or themes. Tony Stark has no idea that Cap has recruited Ant Man, and I'm not even sure if he was aware that Hawkeye had broken Scarlet Witch out of the compound yet. Shouldn't Iron Man, War Machine, Black Widow, Black Panther, and Vision have been enough to take down Captain America, Falcon, and Bucky? Did he really think he needed to recruit an innocent, un-involved person and put him at risk?
That being said, this is the best combination of Spider-Man and Peter Parker that has been presented in live-action film to date. I do miss the New York accent of Andrew Garfield and the picture-perfect spider-suit from Amazing Spider-Man 2 (though I like the colors in Civil War better), and I think that the Sam Raimi films had the best supporting cast (outside of McGuire, Dunst, and Franco), but virtually everything about Civil War's Spider-Man was great.
Despite the lack of a New York accent, this is probably the best film of portrayal of Peter Parker and Spider-Man.
Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand
So how does the rest of the movie do?
It kind of reminds me of Serenity (the film follow-up to the series Firefly). Both the Firefly series and the preceeding Marvel films have all been very light-hearted, fun, and energetic. They've been full of charismatic, witty characters, genuine emotion, and exciting action. But Serenity and Civil War are much more brooding. The characters don't really get along, they all seem tired, there's less wit, and much of their charisma is lost. Even characters that we may have loved before now seem somewhat dull and might not be very fun to watch.
The action is still great, the characters are still fine, and there's still some humor and wit in the dialogue. But it feels like the soul that Marvel has built up for its universe has been sucked out. The darker themes of the plot aren't even necessarily the problem here. After all, I loved Winter Soldier (and really regret that I never wrote a review of it), and that movie had a darker edge to it. But it also deviated from the established formula and showed creativity and cleverness that the other Marvel movies didn't have. It felt more like a James Bond or Jason Bourne spy-thriller than the typical Marvel comic book movie, and that was great! Similarly, Ant Man (which I also regret not reviewing) felt more like a criminal heist movie, which was also great! Both felt unique enough that they transcended the tropes and McGuffins that they relied upon.
The characters have less energy and charisma about them.
Civil War, on the other hand, falls back on many of the formulaic tropes that the Marvel films were based on. It's another revenge and McGuffin plot. The McGuffin just happens to be a person this time around, and the entire second half of the movie could have been avoided if the characters would have just let each other talk. It's this formulaic model that conflicts with the dour tone and actually leads to large chunks of the movie actually feeling boring. And much like Age of Ultron before it, this movie feels a bit too bloated for its own good. I'd much rather have seen more screen time and development for Black Panther, and no Spider-Man at all.
Inevitable comparisons to Dawn of Justice
Another thing that hurts this movie is that we've already seen it before. In fact, we already saw a similar comic book summer blockbuster this year: Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice. Both movies have virtually identical plots, themes, and even villains.
The need for oversight actually felt more believable in Batman v Superman because of Superman's negligence in preventing collateral damage and civilian deaths that lead to so much negative criticism of Man of Steel. Superman's appearance on earth was the catalyst of Zod coming to earth as well. All the damage was a direct result of Superman being on earth! There's a legitimate case for villainous perceptions of that character, and Batman v Superman did an excellent job of presenting that.
The Marvel movies (including the third-party films like Amazing Spider-Man) have always made a point of showing the heroes going out of their way to protect civilians and reduce collateral damage - even if it means letting the villain escape. There is no case for negligence on the part of the Avengers in these movies. I could maybe see the U.N. going after the Hulk, but the Hulk isn't with the Avengers right now, and he's actually exiled himself specifically because he knows he's a danger and poses a risk of collateral damage. So again, no case for negligence. If Captain America had been distracted, and a bomb killed everyone in that market, that would have been one thing. But Scarlet Witch tries to contain and dissipate the explosion; she just fails to do so. This is the same as a bomb-disposal agent failing to disarm a bomb. Would the U.N. really want to have to convene to hold a vote to allow the Avengers to intervene when the aliens invaded New York in the first movie? It's one thing to impose accountability on the heroes; it's something completely different to make them need to ask for approval to act.
The Marvel movies have always made a bigger deal about showing the heroes protecting civilians.
So I actually feel like Batman v Superman handled its subject matter better because at least in that movie, I bought into the idea of Superman needing to be reigned in. He's an individual, accountable to no one, with his own desires and motivations that are completely hidden from the public. The Avengers, on the other hand, are a diverse group (most of whose identity are known to the public), and they can act as checks and balances on each other. The actions of the Avengers (as a unit) have just seemed so universally necessary in the preceding films that it was just hard for me to accept there being any controversy about them in this universe. The ideological issues are basically shoved under the rug before they have a chance to really go anywhere, since the actual conflict revolves around Captain America trying to keep the U.N. from capturing Bucky.
I also threw my hands up at the reason for Iron Man and Captain America to fight at the end. It was almost as bad as the resolution to Batman and Superman's fight at the end of that movie. Though the fight itself was actually the stand-out action scene of the movie.
To this movie's credit, it does succeed much better at an emotional level than Batman v Superman did. Instead of having to rely on Bruce Wayne to show us all the horrific side effects of Superman's actions, and some dull political talk, Civil War actually puts names and faces on the people who are affected by the Avengers' failures. Scarlet Witch's horror and grief at having vaporized an entire floor of an office building and everyone in it was sold much better than Superman's supposed guilt and grief in the ruins of the Senate building. We like these characters a lot more because we're more familiar with them. We've seen them be heroes, and we've seen the good that they can do. So it's actually meaningful when (and a little bit dramatically ironic) when the world turns against them, and when they turn against each other and some get framed as "criminals". This contrasts sharply with the emotional undertones of Batman v Superman because between Man of Steel and BvS, Superman just isn't presented as being very likable. It's hard to sympathize with his conflict against the public because he hasn't had a film in which he truly realizes the ideal of the super hero fighting for good. We feel bad that our Avengers team has to break up; we aren't sad for Superman at the end of Dawn of Justice.
I bought into the emotions of the characters much more than in Batman v Superman.
But that's really the only thing that I can say that this movie really succeeds at in comparison to Dawn of Justice. Oh sure, this one isn't as dark and dour; it's more fun to watch. But I didn't mind the darkness and dourness of Dawn of Justice. That tone was appropriate for the themes and character drama of that movie. These two movies really do have so much in common! The setup is virtually the same. The politics is virtually the same. Even the villains share a lot in common, except that Luthor in Dawn of Justice actually had some depth and personality and some screen presence. If Civil War is better than Dawn of Justice, it's only barely better.
That isn't to say that both movies are terrible. I actually liked Dawn of Justice a lot more than the rest of the internet seemed to. I didn't think it was nearly as bad as people made it out to seem. But I also feel like Civil War isn't nearly as good as others make it seem. Dawn of Justice is maybe a C+, and Civil War is maybe a B-.
A resounding "meh"
Civil War is a small step-up from Age of Ultron, but it's also a large step back from Winter Soldier and Ant Man. It's an indication that Marvel might finally be starting to collapse under its own weight. And seriously, comic book movie fatigue is starting to weigh pretty heavily on me in general. And we've still got X-Men: Apocalypse, Suicide Squad, and Doctor Strange to sit through this year too. It's going to be hard for me to muster up any excitement to go see that stand-alone Ben Affleck Batman movie or the Tom Holland Spider-Man movie, even though both seem very promising.