Last month Captain America: Civil War crossed over the $1 billion worldwide box office mark joining Zootopia in the Billion Dollar Club for 2016 and nine other Disney films. Already the most financially successful franchise in movie history, the Marvel Cinematic Universe pushed into the $10 billion total gross range with Civil War’s success. The success of the MCU, and Captain America’s trilogy in particular, is nothing new. We’ve lived in the land of the Superhero box office for years now with no sign of change on the horizon. Civil War was the third comicbook film to be released this year after Deadpool and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and four more will be released this year after it (X-Men: Apocalypse has already hit theaters).
It can be to easy to throw all the superhero movies into one oversized money making box. Of the 19 comicbook films released in the last 3 years (counting upcoming 2016 releases), 14 come from Marvel or DC titles. The rest come from a smattering of other studios mostly with one-off films. But there is a surprising amount of variability in the genre. Part of that comes from studio based schisms with Marvel properties being cut into three studios and DC being produced by another separate studio. What’s even more important is the variability in the characters themselves. No one could confuse Deadpool with Superman or Captain America with Mr. Fantastic.
Those differences came to the forefront this year with Civil War and Batman v Superman. In the earlier film the two DC titans square-off over ideological differences which feel forced in the movie despite looking good on paper. Civil War pulls off this dichotomy much more effectively (for the most part) while simultaneously making the conflict between Captain America and Iron Man much more emotional and impactful.
At times Civil War‘s plot lists back-and-forth but that is excusable given the film’s scope. The Russo brothers do a much better job of keeping the plot from unraveling here than the makers of Avengers: Age of Ultron could. Other comicbook movies suffer from overloading the cast or throwing in too many villains (think of the bad Spider-Man titles). Here the cast is a strength despite their huge numbers. Seeing Ant-Man again was a welcome treat as is getting more background for other Cap-centric characters like Falcon and Bucky. Where the film makes its strongest mark is in the introduction of new characters. Black Panther and Spider-Man steal the show in their brief scenes and paint a bright future for the MCU going forward. Tom Holland has become my favorite on-screen Spider-Man already and I can’t wait to see how Marvel adapts Black Panther’s world to film.
Maybe I’m biased in all this. I willingly confess that I enjoyed the much maligned Batman v Superman despite its many flaws. Even as I worry about the future of the DC Extended Universe, Civil War proves that the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to head in a favorable direction. Phase 3 looks like it’s shaping up to be the most exciting MCU Phase yet with many varied characters getting their debut either in ensemble films or in their own solo titles. Like I said in my Batman V Superman review, keep these comicbook movies coming. No matter how many times they leave a bad taste in my mouth (eg. Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Elektra), I’ll always be ready for more.