Movie Review: Captain America – Civil War

Oh look, another movie pitting superheroes against one another. I wonder how this one will go…

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Starring:
Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Sebastian Stan
Director:
Anthony & Joe Russo (Welcome to Collinwood, Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Rating: M
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The only “complete” Marvel comic book story (if such a thing exists) that I have read to this day is Civil War, a seven-part 2006/07 series that was given to me as a gift a couple of years ago. A positively gigantic event, the series divided literally hundreds of Marvel characters down an explosive ideological line – one side led by Tony Stark/Iron Man, in favour of regulating superhero activity to safeguard against massive collateral damage – the other by Steve Rogers/Captain America, unable to reconcile his desire to do good with the politics he feels would impede true justice. When Kevin Feige announced that Marvel Studios would be doing an adaptation of sorts a couple of years ago, I was skeptical of the project, and I wasn’t alone. How could they possibly do justice to the expansive, universe-shattering story with so few established characters in their stable?

As it turns out, the film version of Civil War, appropriately prefixed as Captain America: Civil War, is such a loose adaptation of that comic that the argument is moot. Sure, there are nods to the structure of the original, but what the movie actually turns out to be is primarily a story about Captain America (the still-amazing Chris Evans) and the closest relationships in his life, and on that front, it succeeds spectacularly. It also has some pretty cool supporting characters, and almost all of them add to the sheer fun of the spectacle. Though Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a more focused film, returning directors Joe and Anthony Russo have now proved that they can handle much bigger casts with aplomb, resulting in a sequel that is almost as good as its predecessor, and noticeably fresher than Avengers: Age of Ultron.

As is customary with tentpole movies like this, there is some recommended prior viewing if you want to understand everything that’s going on between our conflicted heroes. Age of Ultron and Ant-Man get a few callbacks and, unsurprisingly, there are a lot of references to The Winter Soldier – most notably the central role that the returning Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier – once again played with nuance by Sebastian Stan – takes in Cap’s emotional arc. Steve Rogers’ devotion to his old and embittered friend keeps him on the opposite side of Robert Downey Jr‘s Stark and his pals just as much as the politics do, for better or worse, and if you haven’t seen Winter Soldier their relationship might not make as much sense as it otherwise does. Ditto Cap’s history with Brock Rumlow a.k.a Crossbones, and another, more favourable relationship in his life – one that I won’t spoil here.

Speaking of spoilers, there have been an awful lot of teasers and trailers for Captain America: Civil War, but unlike the recent Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there remains a significant suite of memorable character moments throughout the movie that have been untarnished by marketing, and that’s really quite refreshing at the moment. When you have as many superheroes on your poster as Captain America: Civil War, it’s crucial that you don’t waste screen time with any of them, and this movie certainly does not do that.

Much has been made of the newest celluloid version of Spider-Man – an actual teenager this time, played by Tom Holland – and he’s great during his extended cameo in the story, throwing around one-liners to accompany his webs all while fanboying over the more established superheroes around him. He might even be your new favourite screen version of Spider-Man, he might not. But the bottom line is that, to Civil War‘s great credit, the glee of seeing him swing around does not overshadow the fun to be had watching everyone else do battle.

The long-awaited debut of Chadwick Boseman‘s Black Panther is fantastic, as the 42 actor oozes a confident, royal presence out of the suit and exhibits a unique, cat-like and extremely destructive fighting style in it. Comic book fans will dig the nods to Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision’s (an amusing Paul Bettany) relationship, while the return of the wisecracking Paul Rudd as Ant-Man works just as well as you’d expect within such a cauldron of rapid zingers. Perhaps most surprising, for me at least, is how memorable Anthony Mackie‘s Falcon proves to be. With an upgraded suit and suite of gadgets, as well as an enjoyable natural rivalry with Bucky, Falcon might just be my favourite thing about the movie. All of this good character material comes to a head in the electric airport battle sequence that has been so hyped up in the trailers – and from start to finish, it’s insane fun.

It’s almost enough to make you forget how morose the central theme of the movie really is, and how unusually serious Tony Stark is this time around. He essentially plays the role of relatable antagonist in the plot, but he isn’t the true villain – that job belongs to Daniel Bruhl‘s shadowy version of Helmut Zemo. Unfortunately, despite how talented the Rush/Inglorious Basterds actor is and how cool his introductory scenes are, he ultimately joins the long list of unremarkable Marvel screen bad guys for a number of disappointing reasons I won’t go into here. It takes a bit of the shine off Civil War‘s emotionally stressful final act.

However, Captain America: Civil War is too good to be dragged down by such things. It’s the biggest dose of crowd-pleasing fun to hit the Marvel Cinematic Universe since The Avengers, and though it may not be as taut and well-made as The Winter Soldier, the sheer volume of memorable character moments and battle sequences – especially in the airport – ensure it’s appeal is arguably wider. And crucially, it’s directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, the pair who will bring us The Avengers: Infinity War Part I & IIProspects are good.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Falcon, Panther and Spidey are scene-stealers, strong character moments, hefty serving of banter, fantastic action
Bad:
Yet another underwhelming Marvel villain
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4.5 VsI N C R E D I B L E

 

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