With the Marvel Cinematic Universe showing no signs of slowing down, Captain America: Civil War is the latest addition to the franchise. The question is – is it any good?
Whilst it doesn’t reach the high standards set by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War is an enjoyable entry.
“This job… we try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes that doesn’t mean everybody, but you don’t give up.” – Steve Rogers
My opening statement might feel like I’m doing this film a disservice, especially when Civil War has been labelled ‘The best Marvel movie yet.’
I still hold a strong belief that The Winter Soldier remains the best Marvel film because it was self-contained, standing on its own merits without feeling like a set up for another film. But I guess that’s just the nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe now – the more they expand along with the characters they introduce (or re-introduce), every film will feel that weight of expectation and tease.
Civil War suffers in that respect. The longer the film went on, it went from being a Captain America film to Avengers 2.1. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, just an observation.
I’ve seen a few reviews online and it seems customary to slyly dig at Batman v Superman. Well sorry to disappoint you but this review won’t head that way which I will explain why.
The argument is pointless. Civil War was always going to be head and shoulders better than Batman v Superman and that’s down to two factors. One – Marvel’s experience, given how this is their thirteenth film since 2008 in comparison to DC’s two. Two – whilst it’s not perfect and can lead to inconsistencies and formulaic structures, the familiarity and build up of the characters means that each film serves as an insight. This combination ultimately and positively pays off in Civil War.
But ironically (which some may overlook), Batman v Superman and Civil War tackle the exact same theme and plot points based on accountability. It’s just that Civil War executes the ideology better.
If you want an accurate and real measurable comparison for Civil War, then Batman v Superman is not the answer. You need to compare this film to Avengers: Age of Ultron. As mentioned before, Civil War is essentially an Avengers movie but also a better executed version of Age of Ultron. The more I think about it, with exception of the introduction of Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Age of Ultron doesn’t hold up well, essentially becoming nothing more than just a filler. Building off the success of The Winter Soldier, The Russo Brothers deliver a Marvel film with an actual consequence to the Avengers’ actions. Given the history between Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), there is an emotional pay-off adding to the choices they made in becoming Avengers in the first place.
Essentially, Captain America: Civil War is what Avengers 2 should have been.
So what makes Civil War stand out, especially in comparison to Age of Ultron? Civil War is Marvel’s attempt to make a tonally darker yet serious film that mirrors real world politics about accountability and responsibility. With exception of a few moments, there’s not many jokes or quips, keeping it to a minimum. The jokes were a constant issue and distraction in Age of Ultron. Following in the same direction as The Winter Solider, Civil War continues to explore the morality of war in a grounded fashion. In other words don’t expect Thor or Hulk to show up.
The division in the Avengers comes in the form of the Sokovia Accord (a change from the Superhero Registration Act in the comics), a document backed by the UN and issued by Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), The Avengers must be kept in check, bounded by limitations to reduce the damage and danger to innocent people. The first half of the film is a trip down memory lane guilt trip for the team followed by each member of the Avengers weighing up their choices in signing the agreement or not.
For Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, their choices are impacted by personal experiences. Tony’s relationship with Pepper is on the rocks and despite trying to do good, when he’s confronted by a woman who lost her son in Sokovia, his decision to sign is a no-brainer and tries desperately to get the rest of the team to follow suit. For Steve, his choice not to sign comes from his belief to help people and when bureaucracy threatens to take away that freedom, the ability to do that job comes into question. When The Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is blamed for a terror attack, Steve finds more justification in his reasons not to support the Sokovia Accord.
The clever thing about Civil War is that it never lectures you on which side is right. It presents both sides of the argument, leaving the audience with the ultimate decision. But with every decision there is a cost and that can take in the shape of Bucky’s mental torture as he tries to reconcile with his previous life and actions or Thaddeus Ross locking the Avengers up for their criminal activities, keeping them “safe” from the world.
In the villain department, I still feel Marvel lacks a character that really tests the Avengers. Whilst not perfect, Zemo (Daniel Brühl) does feel like an impactful upgrade in what we’ve seen in the past and wished the film delved more into his background instead of coming off as a simple plot device. Zemo essentially does the same thing Ultron tried to do but actually accomplishes it by driving a real emotional division in the Avengers by fighting each other, something that Age of Ultron lacked in terms of payoff.
In essence, Civil War doesn’t have a “villain” – it’s more about the choices that Captain America and Iron Man make. When the battle lines are drawn, the team recruitment begins and thus becomes an Avengers film.
“You have a metal arm? That is AWESOME, dude!” – Spider-Man
Besides the brilliance of Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. who seamlessly fulfil their roles, the real standouts from Civil War belong to Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland).
Black Panther – hell yes! It’s great to see this character given the big screen treatment but most importantly, his appearance in Civil War is more than just a cameo. His reasons for the fight go beyond the “which side are you on?” argument. He’s not interested in their internal battle. His motives are all about justice and he stands on his own, providing another dynamic to the story.
Spider-Man on the other-hand is a cameo but a very enjoyable one. Instead of an origin story we get hints to the back story, based on his interaction with Tony Stark who recruits him. The gripes about the previous Spider-Man films start to fade away. Peter Parker is not the loser, down on his luck nerd like Toby Maguire was or the cocky emo kid that Andrew Garfield played (which annoyed me). This iteration showcases Peter Parker as the awkward yet smart nerd. When he shows up as Spider-Man, the quips are not over the top or forced – he reacts like a normal teenager would if you were surrounded by other superheroes. From the brief glimpses there’s a better balance for the character which I’m happy about.
Along with Black Panther, I’m excited and very interested to see their respective individual movies.
Civil War is also blessed with other character appearances such as Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision, Scarlett Witch and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). The good thing about the film is that everybody gets their moment. It’s not an appearance for appearance sake and the film makes a real effort to showcase their opinion on where they stand on the Sokovia Accord. The downside of that is it adds to the runtime. It was not to say that I was bored, but because it veers off to other characters to establish them, the attention is taken away from Captain America. In a way Civil War suffers the same problem with Age of Ultron. With so many characters on-screen, the film can start to feel a bit overcrowded.
The action scenes are another positive highlight from Civil War. At times it can be breathless but with the tight cuts in the editing between punches, the other downside is that you don’t really get to see the action as the film mostly utilises the shaky cam approach from the Bourne films. Plus the fights do go on for a while and there’s only so much punching and kicking before it starts to feel slightly repetitive.
To end this review on a positive note, Captain America: Civil War is a good film and truly believe that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in good hands with The Russo Brothers. In both Winter Soldier and Civil War, their expert handling of the characters keeps you interested and most importantly, caring about their actions. Whilst Captain America and Iron Man’s future was concluded in an open-ended fashion, it will be interesting to see where their relationship will evolve to next by the time Infinity Wars comes around.
Civil War is a much more meaningful film and maybe in hindsight, they could have gone from Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man and skipped straight into Civil War.