Non Spoilery stuff
Civil War is good and worth seeing. Is it better than Winter Soldier? No. Not even close but the movie was more Captain America 3 than Avengers 2.5 than I expected. Directors, the Russo brothers, were able to compress A LOT into that two and a half hours and the movie does suffer for it. (Officially 146 minutes but you do have to stay until the very end for stingers.) If there was no Marvel Universe agenda and they were just doing Cap 3 it would probably be a very tight, well written, great movie. But as it is, the film is still very good and I would doubt Marvel would favor great films with no set ups for future films than good films with set ups. It’s a money thing.
If you’re worried about being lost you really only need to have seen Winter Soldier and be peripherally aware of the other heroes to see Civil War. Though Avengers: Ultron would also be a good primer, mostly for characters, if you could fit it in.
Civil War picks up as a sequel to Winter Soldier. Captain America (Chris Evans) is after Rumlow (Frank Grillo) with Avengers Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen,) Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and things go awry when Scarlet Witch is unable to throw a bomb far enough away in time and causes 11 deaths. She feels bad but this is the last straw for the world after previous disasters in New York and Sekovia. The UN to puts together the Sekovia Accords where the Avengers would be answerable to the UN making them potential political pawns. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is down with the deal but Cap isn’t. The signing of the Accords takes place in Germany where the Wakandan President is assassinated by the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) bringing about a worldwide manhunt for him. That’s the set up.
There are hints of some serious questions posed, none of which really get answered. Should super heroes be accountable for their actions and to what degree? I mean if people die as a villain rampages through town should the heroes who stop that villain be responsible for the deaths? If heroes don’t try to stop a villain and civilians die, is it still the heroes’ fault? If a government orders heroes to do something the heroes feel is wrong but they still do it, who’s responsible then? If… you get the idea. Thematically this is what the comic was about but they really didn’t answer anything either opting, as they did in the movie, to fight things out.
A lot of things have to go perfectly for various schemes and storylines to work — it’s one of the flaws of the plot. If one thing goes slightly awry there is no story. But fortunately everything goes exactly as it must. There are also a lot of characters introduced. For the superheroes there’s Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland.) For the non-powered, there’s Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and Zemo (Daniel Brühl,) a Colonel — not a Baron. Zemo’s convoluted plot is one of revenge and when it is broken down, the main story is a simple one which ties in well with the overall themes presented.
As much as everyone talks about how great Spider-Man was, I was thrilled by the Vision. His casual wear stylings continually made me think he was going to head out to the suburbs and create his own android family. (That’s a little inside joke for comic readers, but it really did. And deep down inside I giggled. Every. Time. I. Saw. Him.) Spider-Man was good as the mouthy, wise-cracking kid but I was quite surprised with new Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) who keeps getting younger with each film reboot.
I ‘m not sure I like Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch though the problem may be more with me than her. Or perhaps with Marvel comics. Scarlet Witch, much like many women in comics, was never really defined well as a personality. Much like super-models at least used to be, people just had an image of beauty and (sub?) consciously assigned whatever personality they wanted. The origins of the movie Scarlet Witch deviates from Marvel history but that may be due to Fox owning Mutants. Elizabeth’s Witch isn’t necessarily the Witch I have in my head but we can give it some time.
What about the other characters? Cap has been well defined as has Iron Man and the actors do a good job of portraying them. Winter Soldier is a wash as he’s a very recent character and his story was very good and (at least the stuff I’ve read) by one writer. Black Widow is one of the few Marvel women who has a reasonably consistent past that jives with her film incarnation. I don’t have enough of a history with the Scott Lang Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) to have a view on how well he was portrayed in this or his solo film. Black Panther has always been a noble African Prince and he came across as that here.
There are two stingers: one mid credits and one at the very end. Both have some significance but neither are vital to the film.