Review: Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War is a spectacular, thought-provoking upgrade for the Marvel universe, and though the action junkie in me wanted a little bit more, I think it’s right up there with the best superhero films so far.

After the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the newest Avengers line-up heads to Nigeria in pursuit of an old enemy; led by Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), and including Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie); Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen); and Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Scarlett Johanssen). When innocent people die in the crossfire, the Avengers face global condemnation, with Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) in favour of the whole group – including the mysterious Vision (Paul Bettany) and James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) – signing accords to agree they will only take action if the UN allows.

A disagreement ensues, naturally, tying in the pursuit of Cap’s best friend/brainwashed assassin Bucky Barnes/the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), while the enigmatic T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) gets involved for his own, personal reasons, and the mysterious Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) schemes behind the scenes. Not to mention Cliff Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) returning to support Cap, and a very young Peter Parker/Spider-man (Tom Holland) getting involved on Stark’s behalf.

Somewhat derisively referred to as Avengers 2.5, I think this film is a real testament to what Marvel is trying to do. The film’s furthering the Captain America storyline from The Winter Soldier, carrying on the larger story behind the whole universe, and also thrashing together returning characters as well as introducing new heroes. All of this it does almost flawlessly, and when you compare it to Batman V Superman – which has a very similar story – the difference is ridiculous.

We like and care about the characters after eight years of a connected universe, so their ideological battle (before the amazing physical battle) makes you wonder who you would side with. Chris Evans has had a hard job being interesting as the upright, 1940s superhero in the modern world, but he finally gets a chance to show some depth, with Cap struggling to balance friendships and values. On the other side of the battle, this was the most interesting Robert Downey Jr appearance so far – very low on comedy and snark, but giving the actor some weighty material to dig into.

Captain_America_Civil_War_posterOf the remainder, the standouts were Bruhl’s villain – a very complicated, malevolent performance from the intense German actor; Boseman’s regal but flinty Black Panther (a solo film in 2018 is sure to be an excellent addition to the series); and Holland’s Spider-man, who very easily banishes memories of Maguire or Garfield with a great, fun and exuberant extended cameo. Sebastian Stan’s Bucky forms a major part of the movie, and the actor gets a more interesting character arc to play, doing well to balance the coldness of a hardened killer with a man out of time disgusted at his actions.

The other Avengers are excellent too, with Johannssen, Renner, Bettany and Olsen all getting their chance to shine. I particularly liked the way the film set up Vision and Wanda’s otherwordliness, and their difficulties in fitting in, while Romanov predictably plays both sides and appears conflicted (not for the first time). On Cap’s side of things, Hawkeye and Ant-Man bring the much-needed laughs, while Mackie’s Falcon is the jealous best friend dealing with competition (there are some great laughs from this) but the most loyal follower. Cheadle’s Rhodes performs the same role on Iron Man’s side, with the character more pivotal than you’d expect.

One reason many might not enjoy iy is that the heroes almost spend more time arguing and justifying their actions than the actions themselves, which threw me for a loop until I adjusted and enjoyed the scenes for their interesting drama. When the action does come, it means something, and while some scenes aren’t as great (a car chase in Romania, for example), others are incredibly good (the airport showdown and the conclusive, devastating conflict). I didn’t think that most of it could compare to The Winter Soldier in action terms, but it becomes a psychological thriller as that film became a conspiracy thriller (a reference to Se7en by one reviewer of Civil War was, I thought, quite apt).

If the two paragraph synopsis didn’t clue you in, Civil War is HUGE. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie outside the Tolkien series with so many protagonists. But somehow, against all the odds, directors Joe and Anthony Russo make the best Avengers film yet, while still making an incredibly good Captain America film at the same time. The directors are responsible for a lot of Arrested Development and Community episodes, which gives you a clue as to why every character in this film feels fleshed out – and their expertise with juggling a large ensemble will set them up well for directing the next two Avengers movies.

Their handling of the action is also mostly clear and not jerky, bar the opening action sequence, which is a bit too Bourne-like. The writing from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is top-notch, heavy themes balanced out with excellently-timed humour, and for once the film didn’t feel weighed down by having to set future movies up. Additionally, an otherwise meandering score from Henry Jackman comes into its own with a bombastic, dramatic main theme that reminded me of the Blade Runner theme, of all things! Finally, the effects on show were on the whole excellent, though obviously the more cosmic the superpower, the shakier the effect… but the way that the Russos film and shoot the fights (with the exception of the first) is both clear and thrilling,

It’s not as perfect as I let the hype make me think it would be (this is a recurring film issue for me, I should stop watching trailers) – the action still comes second to The Winter Soldier – but I really enjoyed and was surprised by how well this layered, cerebral film with SO MANY characters works; and yet remains, in lighter moments and more exuberant touches, a comic book movie.

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