Captain America: Civil War is here to deconstruct the traditional “three-act” structure of a superhero movie: In the first act the hero meets the villain, in the second the hero fights the villain and in the third the hero defeats the villain.
Instead of emphasizing the conflict between good and evil, the film looks at the devastation that the “heroes” have caused during their fights. In the wake of an incident where Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) accidentally destroys part of a building and kills innocent people, the team of superheroes known as the Avengers is faced with increased government supervision.
“The movie is not a celebration of the superhero squad, but a condemnation,” film reporter Julia Alexander wrote in her review for Polygon.com.
Filmmakers Joe and Anthony Russo, brothers who collaborated to direct Civil War, took pains to make their film as realistic as a superhero film could be. They didn’t shy away from the messy moral quagmires that come with war and bloodshed. Even when superheroes save the day, “there is collateral damage,” actor Jeremy Renner explains in an interview with The Guardian. Renner, who plays the arrow-slinging superhero Hawkeye, believes it’s necessary for films to engage with hard-to-swallow realities. “Otherwise, it’s a cartoon,” he says.
That sense of realism also extends beyond the battlefield, to the characters themselves. The film explores the complexity of the superheroes’ emotions: the guilt that comes with the damage they’ve caused, the affection they feel for friends and families, and the sacrifices they have to make.
Finding the time to communicate each character’s emotional struggles can be a challenge in a film as jam-packed as Civil War. The Russo brothers have, quite literally, a whole army of superheroes to introduce. Take Spider-Man as an example: He is one of the most eagerly awaited additions to the superhero team. But Joe Russo wasn’t about to let his story get lost in the crowd. After all, Spider-Man was Russo’s favorite superhero as a kid.
“We took a very personal approach to the character,” Joe Russo told ComicBook.com. “We had thought back to the things that excited us about him as a character when we were younger, and one of the most important components of that was that he’s a high schooler burdened with incredible powers and responsibility. That really differentiates him from every other character in the Marvel universe.”