The feeling that pervades Captain America: Civil War, the third film in the Captain America series, is one of melancholy. Despite the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, being built on being sillier and livelier than other superhero movies of the time (Iron Man was released the same year as The Dark Knight), this is really the inevitable direction in which it would head. Thirteen films deep, a level of absolute ridiculousness and charm is a bit difficult to maintain without totally losing its impact. That's not to say the darker tone is a new thing for the series-- in fact, the previous Captain America film, The Winter Soldier, was notable for just that-- but the approach made towards storytelling was definitely made in an attempt to better emphasize the sorrow of these characters, utilizing generally faded colors for most settings and spending less time being fun than being thrilling.
The concept of Civil War is just that: civil war. The heroes of the previous films have encountered a new conflict among themselves that has led to a division between two sides, founded less on an inherent danger and more on differing ideologies. After the events of the previous films and an action scene early in the film, civilian casualties as a result of The Avengers' actions have caused increased controversy, and a new policy is in consideration that will illegalize the actions of these superheroes without bureaucratic approval. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, is a supporter of this law, claiming that their recklessness has made them too dangerous to ethically operate without an overseeing third party, and Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, believes the hidden agendas and lack of efficiency of a governing body would restrict their ability to respond to massively destructive cataclysms. It's all too easy to perceive this as purely a political allegory-- the two sides are even color-coded red and blue-- but I believe the intentions behind this division run deeper than that, acting as a downright deconstruction of the superhero genre, as I'm sure the original comic did in its own Civil War arc. The approach to a moral gray zone in which neither side is perceived as more correct than the other directly subverts the notion under which the genre most often acts, as though there are strictly defined good and bad guys with a minimal degree of nuance between them. Though there are overarching threats in Civil War, the main conflict is based entirely around the protagonists of the other films in the series arguing and occasionally getting into a fistfight or two.
Speaking of which, the aspect of Civil War that I believe pushes it above the rest of the MCU up to this point, beyond the meta-narrative and ideologically intriguing thematic level, is the consistently fantastic action sequences. Though most of the films up to this point have been good action films, the fight sequences have always been the least interesting part, always missing a degree of imagination and impact that I consider a necessity of any action scene. However, in Civil War, the less vivid color palette works incredibly, allowing each brightly-colored character to be much more visually distinct. Furthermore, the choreography is generally stellar, taking the concepts of each character and building the fights around them in unique ways, such as Hawkeye's arrows working in tandem with Ant-Man's ability to change size to create a logical extension of Ant-Man's range of motion in a visually active and engaging way. There are enough moving parts to prove the amount of thought that was put into the grandiose action sequences, but few enough that the subjects are clearly defined and the action is easy to follow.
Though I cannot stress enough the level of artistry that Civil War brings to the table, this also the first film in the MCU to make me feel as though the corporate aspect behind it actively holds it back. Though a vast majority of the film focuses on established characters with understandable motives and a degree of audience investment, there are also two brand new people brought into the fight: Spider-Man and Black Panther. These characters are barely established at all, and, though I find it immensely refreshing that a character as widely known as Spider-Man can be in a film without his origin story being relayed yet again as I'm sure a pure Spider-Man film would have done for its start, I can't help but feel as though they only appear for the sake of marketability. Marvel Studios have tried their hardest to make Civil War a big deal, and, however successful they've been, I don't think it was necessary in the slightest. The basic premise of the film already inspired a wealth of discussion and easy advertisement with the idea of asking the fans which side they take. Two new characters just aren't necessary. Every scene involving Spider-Man makes next to no meaningful impact on the story and should have been removed for the sake of alleviating the bloated two-and-a-half hour runtime and giving the movie some much-needed focus. Black Panther, though tied fairly well into the plot of the film, barely does anything that gives his inclusion value.
However, what I said previously still stands. Captain America: Civil War is one of the most all-around great films the MCU has produced so far. It establishes a darker tone, not just by having a darker story, but also by using expressive and emotionally descriptive staging and cinematography to its advantage. It brandishes a surprising amount of legitimate depth and meaning with a degree of subtlety that makes it one of the most well-rounded films so far in the series. It's a thoroughly fantastic film, no matter how depressing the realities of the Hollywood machine are.