Dear Fellow Critics,
If all my years of high school English taught me anything, it’s that a good essay should start off with a loud, emphatic statement that will draw a reader in. So, here we go:
Captain America: Civil War is without a doubt the best movie of 2016.
Civil War? A superhero movie? For best picture? Blasphemy! Shame! Who does this guy think he is? Did he even see Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, or La La Land?
My answer is simple: it doesn’t matter. I didn’t want to choose Civil War as my top pick. I wanted to pick a film that is universally deemed to be worthy. I know the kind of stigma that comes with suggesting a superhero film can be an expression of cinematic art, let alone the best one in a given year. It might seem juvenile, unrefined, and in keeping with a person who hasn’t experienced, nor isn’t capable of understanding, the depth that critically appreciated films usually possess. But that’s what makes my pick so compelling. Every time I sat down to construct a narrative around one of those other movies, my true feelings about Civil War kept getting in the way. The more I pushed them down, the louder they got. So, rather than fight my feelings, I decided to let them out. I decided to do what a critic does best; defend the shit out of my position.
To understand why I chose Captain America: Civil War as my #1 pick, you have to take a look at the cinematic landscape of 2016 as a whole. Much can be said about the caliber of movies that came out in 2016, but there is no doubt that it was the year that comic book adaptations reigned supreme.
From the Merc with a Mouth to the mind-bending theatrics of Doctor Strange, 2016 slapped on a pair of spandex more often than not –six times to be exact. And even though I adore superhero films, even I got fatigues by the rate at which these blockbuster were released. I began to notice that these types of movies weren’t being made for fans anymore, but, rather, for profit, which meant that timelines were rushed and quantity was chosen over quality. I mean, just look at what happened to Suicide Squad.
So what makes Civil War different? It’s just a blockbuster filled with colourful people in colourful outfits. Besides all the cool superpowers, what was so special about it that it warrants this prestigious designation? At the end of the day, aren’t all superhero movies the same?
The difference is that Captain America: Civil War stays true to itself with the sort of light-hearted action we’ve grown to love from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but contrasts it with a deep and emotional story that is a culmination of tensions that were put into motion after the first Iron Man all the way back in 2008.
Was Marvel planning a film adaption of the Civil War storyline eight years in advance? Did they purposely develop Captain America and Iron Man for this very moment? I don’t know. All I know is that when they finally faced off, it didn’t feel unexpected.
At its core, Civil War is a story about political divisiveness. After years of funding and manufacturing top-of-the-line weapons, Tony Stark hits a moral low as he finally sees that no matter how hard he tries to vanquish his demons and make a positive difference in the world, he’s innately reckless and needs to be policed. This is in direct opposition to Steve Rogers’ political leanings; Steve has seen firsthand the type of corruption that comes when a government amasses too much influence; he’s seen absolute power corrupt absolutely. Despite sometimes being reckless in the way he conducts himself and his team, Steve knows the intervention of bureaucrats will only result in more subtle forms of recklessness.
The showdown came about seamlessly. It was like the final domino being added in a long line of dominoes, just waiting to be knocked over. And the fall of those dominoes, when it finally came, was mesmerizing.
That chain of events left me gutted. During the climax that reveals Bucky Barnes culpability in the death of Tony Stark’s parents, I was hit with something that I’ve never been exposed to while watching a superhero movie: profound sadness. To the point where I was dreading that these two beloved characters might actually kill one another. I was emotionally invested and completely caught off guard. I can usually predict the outcome of a comic book film, but I wasn’t expecting the dark and dramatic turn of events that occurs at the end of Civil War. Fighting over politics is one thing, but discovering that the man you’ve fought beside against aliens and sentient robots has been hiding a secret of this magnitude is some Jerry Springer shit that is too raw to ignore.
But Civil War isn't a two-man show. It’s an all-star team-up that brings in even more superheroes than The Avengers. It features supporting characters who have headlined (and will soon headline) their own movies, and, as every critic knows, too many powerful personalities in one movie can break it. But this wasn’t the case with Civil War. The filmmakers were fully aware of the clout that each character possessed, and used them to the best of their abilities. They had confidence in the story they wanted to tell, and didn’t let anyone get in the way of it. The integration of highly-anticipated heroes like Black Panther and Spider-Man was handled with total precision. Everyone had their time to shine, and when it was time to refocus, the supporting cast disappeared into the background. Civil War struck the perfect balance between character and story.
By the time I finished watching Civil War for the first time, I was in a buzz. I didn’t just witness a moving drama, but a hilarious comedy and thrilling action flick, too. I still can’t comprehend how blockbuster spectacle with such a diverse cast could feel so organic, so real. I was beaming with emotion. This isn’t just another addition to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe—it’s a piece of art, a film that transcends its own genre.
And that’s why Captain America: Civil War is without a doubt the best movie of 2016.