Phase 3 of Marvel’s mega-franchise has been kicked off in spectacular fashion by quite possibly the best Marvel film to date: Captain America: Civil War.
Captain America: Civil War is the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero film directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, following on from their incredible work on The Winter Soldier. It stars Chris Evans as (of course) Captain America, the current leader of the Avengers who must deal with the consequences of a botched mission as increasing political pressure and the events of previous Marvel movies begin to turn the United Nations against the Avengers. The idea of Government intervention begins to split the Marvel heroes down the middle, with Tony (Robert Downey Jr, praise be unto him) taking a pro-control stance and Cap being firmly against the idea. Sides are taken and the two former allies come to blows as the mysterious Zemo manipulates events from the shadows.
Nerdier than your typical Civil War
Seeing one of Marvel’s best and most popular story arcs being adapted to screen is enough to bring a nerdy tear to my eye. It certainly doesn’t have the scale and scope of the comic, but even so still manages to stay true to the same ideas, conflicts and overall aspects that made it great in the first place. Its thought-provoking, intelligent, relevant and incredibly emotionally charged. Solving the typical Marvel complaint of having a poor villain by instead having the heroes oppose one another brings in a level of emotional stakes never seen in the MCU before. And for anyone who’s grown up watching and loving these characters, seeing them come to blows is quite the emotional experience.
The story itself is equally up to the standard of the comic. Feeling like a direct sequel to both Age of Ultron and Winter Soldier, Civil War weaves a destructive path through the Marvel Universe, with all the carnage centred on one figure – Bucky. Perhaps to earn the Captain America in the title, the Russo Brothers have gone out of their way to interweave James Buchanan Barnes into every aspect of the film, without him ever feeling shoe-horned in. Instead it creates an impressive through-line and adds another emotional element in the form of Cap’s attachment to him. Equally so is how impressively the Russo’s weave a complex story without it ever feeling confusing or convoluted, which is quite a feat. The Russo’s also seem acutely aware of the typical Marvel film structure, hence allowing Civil War to forge new ground for itself in terms of plot structure. However, this is both a negative and a positive. The positive is that it makes Civil War feel distinct in the current Marvel slate, but it also weakens the pacing of the final act and the end. The climax of the film occurs about 30 minutes before the actual end, and the movie never quite manages to reach those heights again leading into its final moments. Granted, it still has an emotionally resonant ending, but plot and stakes-wise, its a bit of a non-event.
Spider-Man! Oh, and some other people
Ok, now I can get to the part of the film I was most excited about: SPIDER-MAN!! Holy hell, as a long time Spidey fan I can honestly say I’ve been waiting for this live-action interpretation basically my entire life. Tom Holland is just perfect. He’s young, he quips, has a sense of humour, he’s incredibly acrobatic – as good as the original Spider-man trilogy was, Tobey Maguire never came close to this perfect a Spidey. Its just incredible, and I had a massive goofy grin plastered on my face for every minute of the 20 he’s given on screen.
Now that’s out of the way, the other characters are all handled extremely well also. Considering how massive this cast is, its incredible how well the Russo’s manage to give a moment or two to basically every character. Let’s just list off all the supporting characters quickly: Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch (much better than in Ultron), Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow (awesome as always), Anthony Mackie’s Falcon (great), Don Cheadle’s War Machine (pretty solid), Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye (so cool), Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man (hilarious), Paul Bettany’s Vision (god-like) and finally Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter (surprisingly great). Its the best cast Marvel has to offer, and the balancing of characters is unparalleled even in comparison to The Avengers’ itself.
And now to the leads. What more can you say about RDJ’s Iron Man that hasn’t already been said. He embodies the character as always, even taking this new serious Tony Stark and running with it flawlessly. Chris Evans’ Cap is equally as impressive as usual. This guy is Captain America, pure and simple. Sebastian Stan’s Bucky is great as the core of the film, maintaining the presence and menace from Winter Soldier while beginning to introduce elements of the Bucky we knew from The First Avenger. The fourth pillar of the film’s cast, Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther is the biggest wild card of the group, but manages to make a solid impression very quickly. Granted his character motivation does seem a bit rushed, but aside from a shaky introduction he brings all the grace, ferocity and grandeur needed to bring the King of Wakanda to life.
Another cast member worth mentioning is Daniel Brühl’s Zemo. As Marvel villains go, this guy is definitely one of the better ones. He’s calculating, driven and intelligent, with an interesting origin and motivation to boot. His plan does edge on the ridiculously convoluted side however, which does weaken the character and plot to a degree unfortunately. But aside from that, he fares much better than many other Marvel villains do, and in that regard is a success. However, comic fans better be prepared for this version of Zemo to have almost nothing in common with the comics counter-part. And that’s a good thing. It allows him to strike out as a relatively new character with (hopefully) room to progress towards his mantle as Baron in the future.
A massive strength the Russo’s have carried over from The Winter Soldier is the action. Incredible, incredible action. While Winter Soldier seemed to draw more from the Bourne’s shaky-cam close-quarters, much of Civil War’s action is on a completely different scale. Its more coherent and epic, yet still manages to maintain that intensity and grittiness. Each set piece stands out in Civil War in its own way – from the ridiculously fast tunnel chase, to the opening Avengers sequence and so on. But regardless, the real star of the show (and the climax of the film) is absolutely the airport fight sequence. Hands-down the greatest fight sequence in a comic film ever, this super set-piece is one jaw-dropping nerd moment after another. Spider-Man grabbing Cap’s shield, Ant-Man riding on Hawkeye’s arrow, Spidey talking smack with Falcon, Hawkeye duking it out with Black Panther, argh, the list just keeps going. Its thrilling, coherent, lengthy and is filled to the brim with fan service. its basically worth the price of admission alone.
And a new phase begins
After the extremely disappointing Batman V Superman, Civil War exists as an example of a blockbuster superhero clash done right. Its thoughtful, emotionally compelling, isn’t afraid to take risks, and has a bloody perfect Spider-Man. What more do you need to start the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
General Audiences: Must-see
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended
True Believers (Marvel): Must-see
Blockbuster: Highly Recommended