Captain America: Civil War
US (2016) Dirs. Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
In the Battle of the Comic Book Blockbusters, DC threw the first punch with the messy and incoherent Batman vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice, leaving Marvel to respond with the third film under the Captain America banner Civil War. Essentially this is their fight to lose in the wake of Dawn Of Justice crashing and burning as it did.
Following on from the cameo laden Winter Soldier, one could argue this film is more an Avengers film, since the majority of the group – sans Thor and the Hulk – are featured throughout, with Captain America (Chris Evans) being a key cog in the machine rather than the central focus of the story.
Cap, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) are in Lagos, Nigeria, to prevent a terrorist group led by Crossbones (Frank Grillo) from stealing a biological weapon. During the scuffle, Scarlet Witch deflects a bomb which explodes next to an occupied building, causing many civilian deaths.
Due to this mishap and growing concerns The Avengers are becoming a liability, Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) issues them with a decree to sign, saying they will only work under UN guidelines. After being confronted by the mother of a boy who died during one of his Iron Man adventures, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is keen to sign the pact but Cap is untrusting of governments.
Shortly after in Vienna a UN meeting is disrupted by a terrorist bombing which kills King T’Chaka of Wakanda (John Kani). CCTV footage shows the Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) at the scene of the crime, forcing T-Chaka’s son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) to vow revenge against Bucky adopting his Black Panther persona, while Cap and Falcon try to bring Bucky in themselves against UN orders.
I’m in danger of recapping the entire story here but it is rather involved and constantly moving forward at quite a rate, and we haven’t even introduced the whole cast yet. Along with the superhero cameos, the other featured character is nominal antagonist, Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), a Sokovian colonel who uncovers the secrets of the Winter Soldier’s origins and has plans for Bucky.
Much like Dawn Of Justice the main draw for this film is to see these popular superheroes go at each other. Unlike Batman vs. Superman, Civil War delivers a big time punch-up that lasts more than a few minutes. With the range of powers and weaponry on display this is a spectacle to behold and a huge fun to boot, made even more enjoyable by the additional faces thrown into the mix.
Joining the fray is War Machine (Don Cheadle), the android Vision (Paul Bettany), Ant Man (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and, in his latest incarnation, Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who gets his own introductory scene which also features Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Since Stark and Cap didn’t always get on so well, it is understandable they’d be the head of their respective sides, with some surprise names taking sides.
Credit to screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, this fallout is not contrived or hastily formed, allowing the issue to fester before spiralling out of control with both sides having completely valid reasons for their stance. They even acknowledge during the fight that they are still friends but their current philosophical and moral differences are strong enough for fisticuffs to be the only solution.
It is probably this slow build which will cause some viewers to check their watch as the prolix developments and expositions, along with the pernicious machinations of Zemo do feel like a drag after the action packed opening. The more patient among you will appreciate this steady foundation building and emotional and moral ambiguity which drives the eventually split of the group.
There is certainly a sense of a need for intelligence and depth which was missing from the previous Marvel films in this writer’s opinion, with Tony Stark putting his wise cracking, self assured persona on the shelf in favour of someone with a stained conscience and need for redemption. That doesn’t mean Cap and the others are any less noble but their emotional and personal investment is born from different circumstances.
As the central villain Zemo is certainly cold, calculating and as smart as they come but his motive is sadly clichéd and underwhelming considering the chaos and misery he causes – then again, psychotic villains are barely reasonable. Unless Zemo somehow returns to fight another day, his character is more of a catalyst than a threat, although he holds many cards to keep the Avengers feud alive until the end.
On the visual front Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) push themselves to the limit with their stunning presentation, which is as gloriously over the top as it is intricately detailed and smooth. The highlight is naturally the aforementioned Team Stark vs. Team Cap fight where everyone pulls out the stops; it is just a shame that the camerawork is too jittery and the action is far to frenetic to keep track of what is happening.
Because of the fantastic nature of the superhero concept, we are expected to swallow some ridiculousness, such as Cap being strong enough hold back an airborne helicopter with one hand; or Black Widow escaping the bombing with her hair and make-up untouched; or how Cap and Falcon travel from London to Vienna in what seems like mere minutes despite a one hour time difference and some 800 miles distance!
But this is a superhero film and escapism is the order of the day, which we get in spades. The new additions to the line-up, Black Panther in particular, and the crossover of other Marvel faces help create a fresh spark within the established group dynamic, paving the way for some potentially exciting stand alone adventures.
In conclusion – where Batman vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice failed, Captain America: Civil War triumphs! Your move DC!
P.S – Don’t forget to stay until the very end of the credits…
Rating – ****
Man In Black