Captain America: Civil War Film Review – Something of a Marvel

We should all be sick of superhero movies by now. Captain America: Civil War is the thirteenth movie in Marvel Studio’s sprawling ‘cinematic universe’. Thirteenth. Go back a year and there was the feeling that things were starting to go stale. Despite all it’s spectacle, nothing really happened in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and not everyone was too enamoured with Ant Man (although I quite liked it) as a kind of smaller scale superhero heist movie. Earlier this year, DC moved into Marvel’s multi-superhero movie territory with Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice which received a universal critical panning for all the right reasons collecting disappointing box office receipts. The superhero genre has threatened to die off at several junctures, Steven Spielberg himself has remarked that the genre is one day going to go the way of the Western and lo and behold here comes Captain America: Civil War, which some are calling the best Marvel movie yet.

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Why the hell is nobody kissing right about now?

Civil War and Batman vs Superman are extremely similar in plot. But for everything Dawn of Justice got wrong, Civil War gets right. It’s dense with a plethora of characters, most of which have been set up in the previous twelve movies but despite the over crowdedness there is no scene out of place. It’s dramatic and asks real moral questions about global policing, yet it always maintains Marvel’s lightness of touch, always remaining colourful and extremely funny in places. I will probably always favour Guardians of the Galaxy over all other Marvel movies but I would say that Captain America: Civil War is one of the best written and most dramatic movies the studio have made thus far.

I guess you could say it’s kind of a marvel really.

Civil War is directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, who along with directing the last Captain America movie (2014’s The Winter Soldier) are also famed for creating the pilots for Arrested Development and Community. After Joss Wheldon took the reigns for the first two Avengers movies, it will be the Russo brothers who will be taking control of the next Avengers two parter – The Infinity War.

The Plot

The plot of Civil War begins as a hangover to the heady superhero antics of last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which an evil artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark tried to raise a chunk of earth into the sky and then drop it at a high enough altitude for it to create an asteroid styled extinction event. It also acts as a sequel to Captain America: The Winter Soldier and probably the final movie of the Captain America trilogy. In addition it is a continuation of Ant Man, Iron Man and a setup for the 2018 Black Panther movie.

I suppose one of the potential problems for the casual cinemagoer going into Civil War, is that they need to be clued up about what has previously happened in the last twelve movies. The Marvel movies now require quite a large investment from the viewer, for some, this won’t be an issue and for those who do come into the stream late, they might be more inclined to check out those movies on DVD. It’s quite a fascinating beast when you think about it.

After another routine mission for the avengers leads to the loss of innocent life in the beginning – the Avengers become the focus of speculation on the world stage. The world’s answer is to regulate the Avengers. With no Nick Fury to protect the super team, returning MCU character and Hulk hater Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) steps in as Secretary of State to propose a solution, in which each of the avengers sign a treaty and submit themselves and all their future actions to be first approved by the world’s governments.

Riddled with guilt and self loathing after a run in with a bereaved mother who lost her son in the fallout of the events of Ultron, Tony Stark calls for the avengers to compromise and accept regulation. Unfortunately, Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) is less inclined to sign their treaty, preferring not to be subject of government sanction when the next world threatening event requires the avengers to suit up and save the day.

The decision on whether or not each individual member of the Avengers splits the team down the middle. When the Cap’s old friend/wanted fugitive/not really his fault because/Manchurian candidate, aka The Winter Soldier resurfaces in an incident of global terrorism, the Cap goes to bring in his friend before the authorities shoot him dead. With Cap on the run, it is Iron Man who must track him down, leading to a confrontation in which the remaining Avengers must choose to pick a side.

Indeed, there is nothing civil about civil war.

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When you watch a movie and see a perfect gif worthy shot but when you do an image search you get the incomplete version because you have to wait until the DVD comes out and people actually make it properly.

Density

From the beginning Civil War is a very dense movie, along with the action scenes there are long scenes of talking between characters revolving around difficult moral quandaries showing that no one character is so clearly in the right or wrong. One of the many triumphs of Civil War is how it finds legitimate motivations for each of its many many characters with nothing feeling out of place of under developed. It all plays out on a global stage, with scenes transitioning from location to location via bold declaratory Soderbergh esque titles. It makes all the drama feel more relevant and connected rather than being confined within the US and specifically tailored towards the American mindset.

After Age of Ultron, Robert Downey Jnr was quickly becoming a one note quip machine. In Civil War, however he is going back to the emotionally crippled character of Iron Man 3, the genius billionaire philanthropist who in his private moments suffers from paranoia, post traumatic stress and guilt, not to mention his detachment from Pepper Potts.  In all his attempts to convince his comrades to compromise and sign the government sanctions, there is a sense of desperation. It both hurts him to split the avengers apart but there is a sense of relentlessness in dealing with his guilt that makes him somewhat dangerous. All in all, it makes Stark appear less of a snarky superhero and more of an imperfect being. As with Iron Man 3, this is where the character is at his most interesting.

Chris Evans as Captain America remains as strong and likable as ever. Even though there is a degree of selfishness and cynicism within his character this time round. The rivalry between him and Tony Stark has been slowly burning ever since the Avengers, with the Captain being a soldier first and foremost and seemingly more capable of dealing with the tougher decisions that make other men, like Stark, crumble. The fact that this is a Captain America movie is the only real hint at where the audiences should be placing their allegiances.

Civil War is a movie concerned with characters who cannot let go of the past. When we first meet Tony, it is via a de-aged version of the character reliving the last moments with his parents. It is all presented through this holographic program which Stark has created specifically to help those get over the more traumatic periods of their lives. As Iron Man within the Avengers he learns that he has been responsible indirectly for the death of many innocent people and he can’t get over that. Captain America is of course the living embodiment of the past, cruelly placed out of time away from the people he cares about, he can only really count his links to the past, his sense of home, on one hand. The biggest of which is his friendship with Bucky Barnes.

The Cap’ is morally compromised throughout this movie due to his allegiances with Bucky. One of the biggest hurdles for me following 2014’s The Winter Soldier was being able to connect with Bucky Barnes. In The Winter Soldier he was a gruff villain of the week who didn’t say much or display much emotion in the way that made him worthy of salvation as Captain America seemed to think he was. Civil War acts as the second part to that story, deepening Bucky’s character and explaining the circumstances in which his alter ego is activated, going into the covert world of mind control like the Manchurian Candidate. It paints Bucky as more of a complex character, even though he is still without the charm of the other avengers and it is still largely through Captain America that we see good in him.

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Find the time to appreciate Paul Bettany in purple face rocking this sweater/shirt combo.

The remaining Avengers with exception to Thor and Hulk are all present and accounted for. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow once again exists as Captain America’s voice of reason. Anthony Mackie as Falcon and Don Cheadle as War Machine are the respective sidekicks of Captain America and Iron Man and are both there for all the quips.  Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlett Witch is juxtaposed with Paul Bettany’s Vision as the definitive odd couple. Because of her psychic mind powers she is effectively locked away from the world, as too is Vision a synthetic person still coming to grips with humanity (rocking a great smart casual sweater) but also holding the more sinister android tropes of keeping the Scarlett Witch confined within a compound. Hawkeye once again enters the fray after ending up as one of the best things about Age of Ultron. He returns shooting his bow and arrow around the place and sporting a cool Errol Flynn styled moustache – because what else can you really do with that character.

There are also new characters to introduce, such as Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) who runs straight through the middle as a new hero with super human strength and a suit made out of a material that deflects bullets. Civil War acts as a kind of whirlwind origin story for the Black Panther. He works almost separately from the Avengers and the US for that matter, coming from the fictional country of Wakanda. At first, he appears overly stoic and serious, but on reflection his arc is well established and he is perhaps the one character who ends the civil war in a better place than the rest of the Avengers. It’s exciting to think that this supremely indulgent cinematic universe is going to give this African character his own movie.

Martin Freeman also appears in a strangely small role as a governmental big wig. My imagining is that his character will return in future movies, probably to set up a hilarious in-joke in which he encounters both Tony Stark and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange within the same room, and it will all just be a huge Sherlock joke ending with Martin Freeman doing his trademark sigh into the camera.

With all these characters in play, and I haven’t even touched Daniel Bruhl as Zemo, or Paul Rudd reprising his role as Ant Man which puts all the Ant Man naysayers TO SHAME. this movie should be falling inward on itself, but somehow it remains stable.

Levity

There is nothing civil about civil war. Though this movie is dense there is also a degree of levity that keeps things within the realms of fun.

Late into Civil War’s second act, the film basically becomes a ‘getting the band’ back together styled movement. In one major instance, Civil War must re-introduce a familiar character of the Marvel universe and the result is so gloriously and joyously played it had me squealing like a 6 year old child seeing Superman fly for the first time.

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Steve Ditko represent.

Okay, maybe I’m getting internet hyperbole get the better of me.

This isn’t the first time we have seen Spiderman on film, the character or intellectual property (ew… I just threw up in my mouth) has hit some rough patches over the last couple of years. Thanks largely to a film studio who had already made three solid Spiderman films (shut up Spiderman 3 is great) and then rebooted the series with two more films that earnestly tried to emulate Marvel’s model of franchise establishment. Running before they could even walk and falling flat on it’s face. Sony had big plans for Spiderman with Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, but after the Amazing Spiderman 2 failed to set the box office alight and Sony’s hopes were squandered. And so they went back to Marvel. Spiderman’s inclusion in Civil War is the result of an unprecedented contractual arrangement between Marvel Studios and Sony in attempt to bring the character home. It’s Sony saying we don’t know how to make a spiderman movie and asking Marvel to do it instead.

Tom Holland plays a younger version of Peter Parker this time around, a version who is still at high school and is more concerned with his algebra homework and hiding his spidey vigilantism from his dear, not so old, Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Being a kid, he doesn’t have the world weariness of the older Avengers, nor does he really understand what is happening within this whole civil war thing. He only appears in two main scenes, but the first involves Tony Stark meeting with Parker having already figured out his secret. It’s an earnest scene in which Stark brings the snark, labelling Parker for being a ‘dumpster diver’ yet moving into territory that looks to be situating Stark as a kind of surrogate father to Parker.

Then there is the airport scene. The movie reaches a climax in the much hyped airport sequence, in which the avengers divided fight one another. There is a level of playfulness invested in the sequence that goes back to playground discussions on whether Spiderman could beat Captain America or what would happen if Any Man infiltrated Iron Man’s suit and inner mechanisms. This is played quite tongue in cheek, at no point does it feel like any of the characters are actually going to kill each other. It doesn’t reach the charmless vacuum of Batman vs Superman’s headlining bout. You sort of know that everything is going to work out, so the purposes of the fight is just really to have fun.

MORE DENSITY

As the movie heads into it’s third act however, real stakes are raised for an ending I didn’t really see coming. You think you know where the movie is headed by the time Cap and Bucky head to Siberia. There have been afterall twelve other movies that have followed a very similar formula. Suffice it to say, the carpet is pulled from underneath and what we get is quite an intense ending.

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Who’s your tailor?

But that’s just it, on one hand, Civil War is heaps of superhero fun but there is also enough going on underneath that actually makes it very tense and fascinating. It is not afraid to take it’s characters to complicated places and leave them in doubt with a big question mark over their head. Of course, in the way this franchise plays out, there will always be another movie, and events and characters are literally being set up for the next movie.

I for one, cannot wait to see what happens next. Roll on film fourteen!

Marvel may indeed trip up one of these days, but that day is not today. Previous films like these have almost imploded under the sheer amount of characters and plotlines that need to be juggled, yet Marvel Studios have just took it in their stride and delivered a great big pop corn superhero spectacle. Captain America: Civil War remains very fun but at the same time very weighty with it’s various themes and some absolutely fantastic twists and turns. At the end of the day, the film makers know their characters and what makes them special in the first place

Recommended Viewing: The best superhero movies of all time (according to Charlie)

The Dark Knight [2008]

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy remains the pinnacle of the genre. Perhaps the Citizen Kane or Godfather of Superhero movies.  I can still watch the Dark Knight and find new things to love. Ultimately it’s a film about three characters trying to save a city legitimately as they can. Only one of them dresses as a giant bat.

Spiderman 2 [2004]

Sam Raimi’s first two Spiderman films are carbon copies of Richard Donner’s two Superman movies. You could perhaps watch Spiderman 2 today and laugh at how melodramatic it is, like a teen soap opera. It is overly sentimental in places and Tobey Maguire pulls some really weird faces throughout, but in some ways this is exactly what a movie based on a comic book should be. Romantic, whimsical and colourful. Plus Peter Parker’s inability to shoot webbing from his wrists due to real life stress is basically allegorical of erectile dysfunction. And no other superhero movie has had the balls to touch this subject matter.

Guardians of the Galaxy [2014]

Far from being a forum that talks about movies, the r/movies subreddit it has evolved to become a forum that exclusively talks about comic book movies and the kind of movies adored by an entitled white male audience, who hate anything to do with Melissa McCarthy or any thoughts that may extend beyond the limitations of their demographic. Within this particular discussion, the question posed was the best moment or scene in all of the MCU, in which everybody kept on talking about the corridor or stair well fight scene from the Daredevil TV series, or any of the other big fight scenes. Needless to say, they are all wrong. Violent bastards all. The best scene is from Guardians of the Galaxy, which just so happens to be the best movie in the entire MCU. It’s a scene about how love and friendship conquers all.

 

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