Isn’t it nice when something lives up to expectations? CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is not just as spectacular as we’ve come to expect from a Marvel movie, but it’s a grown-up, layered and very well-told story up there with the studio’s very best.
Following a costly mistake on their latest mission and the simultaneous resurfacing of brainwashed assassin Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), The Avengers are split down the middle as the UN pushes for regulation of the world’s superpowered guardians. Siding with Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) for their freedom or Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) for the world’s safety, our heroes prepare to fight for what they believe just as new players entering the field complicate matters further…
Tony sure is making up for being a bit thick last time. While most might expect to side straight away with Steve/Cap and his quest for freedom from persecution and owning up to your mistakes, Stark makes a pretty good case too. Not only did he so recently create a murderbot (twice) but he and his superfriends have caused a lot of collateral damage during their of world-saving exploits. The difficult choice each hero makes rings true as well, all coming back to what made them who they are and what they have done, good and bad. Cap rebels just as he did in the last movie he headlined, and it’s pleasingly ironic that he’s the one essentially arguing for the very American right to bear arms and Stark, a weapons maker, wants greater regulation. This is just one example of how well the film explores the central argument being by no means cut-and-dry.
This is the best-balanced ensemble released by Marvel since the first AVENGERS. Evans and Downey head up each side of this war of ideology in fine fashion, but Stan remains to tortured heart of this story with his big sad eyes and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon does a lot of the dramatic heavy lifting as well. Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany’s Vision have a lovely little blossoming relationship moment together before things escalate with superpowers shortly afterwards. Having Tom Holland’s new Spider-Man as an excitable nerd in middle of all the chaos works wonderfully, and Chadwick Boseman’s dignified and pained Black Panther bodes really well for his solo outing in a couple of years.
There’s lots of exciting bone-crunchy fight scenes throughout, the opening team excursion in Lagos making most comparable action scenes in movies (even some made by Marvel) look pretty amateurish and inconsequential. Every action sequence serves a purpose to the story, is endlessly creative (Spidey’s fight alone is more inventive and satisfying than most superhero movies in their entirety) and they’re well spread throughout the film. Here you’ll find the most polished fight choreography in any Marvel film so far here, and a lot of effort has gone into designing fun ways for our heroes to combine their powers as a team or counter and nullify each other later on.
The obvious comparison point is BATMAN V SUPERMAN, and here Marvel really does get right pretty much everything DC got wrong. Big, meaty themes are debated eloquently (often midway through battle), every character’s actions have consequences and all the key players are given interesting things to do. One-liners fly as rapidly as repulsor blasts, psychic bolts and vibranium shields (the latter of which Spidey quips “doesn’t follow the laws of physics at all!). Even when they’re getting into the heavyier stuff, Marvel knows there is always room for some levity. My favourite comic moment of the whole film is the sight of Bucky and Falcon crammed in to a tiny car as they impatiently wait for Cap to plan their next move.
I was so pleased that the plot, for all its detours, didn’t rely on a massive conspiracy being revealed midway through as THE WINTER SOLDIER did. For much of the runtime it looks like it’s going that way, but cleverly when the twist comes screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely go big only to bring it back in again and keep it all very personal and far more hard-hitting than any amount of exploding cities could be. The way the film ties up and builds on loose plot threads of Winter Soldier and Ultron retroactively improves those entries too, which is nice.
We probably didn’t need both the return of “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) and the addition of a new politician played by Martin Freeman, Everett Ross (no relation to Thunderbolt) since they both serve essentially the same purpose to the plot. Also, while most gags are welcome, one that is delivered straight after a key moment of hard-hitting drama didn’t feel right.
Come to see the best juggling act in town (or the Russo Brothers as they’re also known) present an almighty scrap between Marvel’s most powerful players that they still own, a feud that actually makes sense. Stay and rewatch Civil War for the in-depth ideological debate, the sterling performances and the exciting, if uncertain possibilities it sets up for Marvel movies in the future. SSP