Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. in Captain America: Civil War (Zade Rosenthal/Marvel)
It hardly takes any psychic power to predict that Captain America: Civil War is going to be one of the biggest hits of the year. The previous two films were enormous hits, as were both of The Avengers films that featured Chris Evans as the World War II super soldier vanquishing evil in modern times.
Yet despite the possibility of superhero fatigue after the various Iron Man movies, Thors, the surprise hits with Deadpool and Ant-Man, not to mention several generations worth of Batman, Superman and nearly as much for the X-Men, there are at least a few indications that Captain America: Civil War may be a step above what everyone expects from the glut of superhero films that seems to have no end in sight. Here are five reasons why Captain America might stand out from the pack.
5) Marvel is such a well-oiled machine that even their substandard product is usually pretty good. Of the various films Marvel has released since the first Iron Man was a hit in 2008, most of them have received at the very least positive reviews. Even the two films that received the worst reviews of them, the sequels to Iron Man and Thor, still received mostly positive reviews. Marvel, in general, makes films that offer audiences exactly what they expect, and sometimes offer more. At their worst, Marvel’s movies are still perfectly acceptable mainstream entertainment. At their best, as the Captain America films generally are, Marvel’s movies are sometimes far better.
4) The cast of Captain America: Civil War continues to diversify the Marvel universe. Comic-book movies, with the exception of X-Men, tend to be largely colorless affairs. This should be expected for source material that was written 75 years ago, but the America in which the films are set is a more diverse nation. Captain America: Civil War continues the progress it made with The Winter Soldier, beefing up the role for Anthony Mackie, in his fourth outing in the Marvel Universe, and adding Chadwick Boseman, taking a break from the mimicry of playing both Jackie Robinson and James Brown, alongside Marvel stalwart Don Cheadle. Samuel L. Jackson sits out this installment, but having starred in 75 percent of Hollywood’s major releases over the past 25 years, he is entitled to at least a bit of a break.
3) Captain America: Civil War promises the movie that The Avengers should have been. Both of The Avengers movies were enormous hits, but they often veered into lightweight entertainment. Despite the ostensibly high stakes – the fate of the world was at stake in both of them, after all – the stakes were often rather low. The characters did a great job of sparring with one another, but they were more Joss Whedon products than anything, where the bickering demonstrated Whedon’s knack for sharp dialogue rather than real character conflict. The plot of Captain America: Civil War promises actual fulfillment of the conflict between the virtuous Captain and the greater moral flexibility of Iron Man. Much like Batman v. Superman, it’s clear that neither party will vanquish the other, since studios would never allow one franchise to extinguish another, but the conflict seems more organic than the one between the two DC heavyweights.
2) Robert Downey Jr. may be more interesting as an antagonist than as the hero. Several factors converged to make Robert Downey Jr. the face of the Marvel Universe. Iron Man was the first major film to kick off the studio’s trends, it coincided with the actor’s comeback in Tropic Thunder that same summer and, with the exception of Samuel L. Jackson’s supporting role, Downey is the veteran of the crew. Yet when one looks back at Downey’s 30-year career as a major star, he has had precious few opportunities to play the villain. Captain America: Civil War might not quite be the traditional villain in the same way that Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight or Tom Hiddleston in The Avengers were, but he still serves as the antagonist, a role that suits Downey, whose fast-talking wit and smart-aleck persona seem perfectly suited to clash with the hero. Iron Man proved that Downey makes an interesting hero, but seeing him as the villain may be even more rewarding.
1) As Captain America, Chris Evans makes a better Superman than anyone who has played the actual character since Christopher Reeve. There has not been a wholly successful film incarnation of Superman since Superman 2 over 35 years ago, largely because none of the adaptations have been able to capture the particular charms of the character, a superhero best defined not by his powers but by his upstanding moral code. Evans does the best at capturing this particular appeal. Despite the leading-man looks, Evans captures the humor in the World War II soldier’s uptight, do-gooder persona. Captain America is, after all, a genetically-modified geek from the FDR era. He is, like Clark Kent, a deeply unhip person, and Evans is adept at navigating the humor of the character. The various portrayals of Captain America have done a superb job making the Captain charming, as if the mind of Abe Simpson were placed in the body of a Men’s Fitness cover model. If Captain America: Civil War continues to successfully navigate the character, it will prove that Captain America has supplanted his Krypton counterpart as the country’s most charming awkward superhero.
Captain America: Civil War is in theaters May 6.