In the lead-up to the highly anticipated conclusion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s epic “Infinity Saga”: Avengers: Endgame, we’re taking a look back at the decade-long road it took to get to this point. Captain America: Civil War not only marked the start of Phase 3 of the MCU, but of a new level of storytelling and world-building for the franchise.
Captain America: Civil War had a lot more to accomplish than any movie in the franchise that came before it. It had to be a successful adaptation of a comic book event, set up most of the major Phase 3 storylines, introduce multiple new and potentially headlining characters, present different points of view of a major conflict in a fleshed-out fashion, and serve as the conclusion of the Captain America trilogy.
Somehow, the filmmakers managed to do a world class job with most of these tasks. They took the controversial comic event Civil War and tailored it to fit the MCU storyline, removing the aspects that had some heroes acting out-of-character and winding up with a result that was more a story inspired by the original comic than an adaptation of the story itself. Since they weren’t really bound by the confines of the source material, they managed to check off the “set up Phase 3” item on their to-do list relatively easily. Of course, the new heroes – Black Panther and Spider-Man – were a major part of this, but that’s a discussion for another day (that day being tomorrow).
Much like Captain America and Iron Man in the movie, the final two tasks were at odds with one other. With a conflict as complex as the one in this movie, it was important that both sides were presented as sympathetic but flawed to one degree or another. So everyone needed a decent amount of screentime to explain their position and actions. However, this was a Captain America movie, and the final one at that. Steve Rogers needed a sufficient amount of time for his solo-movie story arc to be completed (especially considering Tony Stark had already had three Iron Man movies to himself).
Ultimately, the movie leaned towards the former issue as a priority, which was probably the best move in the end. Yes, it’s disappointing that Cap never really got to have a third movie all to himself. However, in the grand scheme of the MCU, it was absolutely essential that we understand both sides of the debate on the Sokovia Accords and its effect on the characters (especially with Tony Stark, who had already just been borderline villainized in Avengers: Age of Ultron). While Cap does have some content to finish up his trilogy, the movie bears a closer resemblance to the Avengers movies than The First Avenger or The Winter Soldier.
Captain America: Civil War was the first MCU ensemble movie to hit a certain balance in content and tone that made it feel richer than the majority of the twelve films that came before it. The Avengers was very action-based, with mostly surface-level character development. Age of Ultron had trouble finding a reason to exist besides setting up future installments. Civil War managed to deliver great action and lay the groundwork for the future while also providing drama, humor, breathing room, and meaningful content for each character in the movie. Everyone has a storyline and a reason to be there. And somehow, the pacing is great and the film never feels overstuffed in any way. This movie really took the MCU to a whole new level and was the first time the “shared universe” aspect of the franchise felt like it was finally reaching its true potential.