Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Sebastian Stan
After several past incidents involving the Avengers has led to considerable collateral damage, there is increasing pressure from Governments across the world to install a system of accountability. Though Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) agrees to this, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Evans) does not, leading to a huge divide between the entire group. After an incident involving Rogers’ former best friend Bucky Barnes (Stan), allegiances, loyalties and ideologies are increasingly tested as tensions between the two deeply divided groups rise.
So you wait for two big superhero battles to come along and two come along within a month of one another; so after Batman Vs Superman was the disappointing mess that many of us unfortunately predicted it would be, it is no spoiler to say that the plot to Civil War is essentially Captain America Vs Iron Man. Well, while the former had just the plot of the actual film to develop its characters (could have been enough still, but it made a mess of it), Civil War has a fair few previous films to use as a head start.
Of course, complacency should still be avoided as it would have still been very easy to make Civil War an over-bloated mess, especially considering the amount of characters it actually stars, but in a year where have many new instalments of big-name franchises, Civil War certainly sets a high standard for those to follow this coming blockbuster season. Though not up to the standard of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and it has its flaws, Captain America: Civil War is for me the best Marvel film yet (well, of the self-produced Marvel Studios ones).
The fact that everyone from the Avengers films so far except Thor and Hulk turn up (plus a couple of notable additions) would perhaps suggest this should be an Avengers film and not a Captain America film, and admittedly there are valid arguments for both claims. However, the obvious slightly cynical marketing problem of this being too close to other Avengers films aside, it does justify itself as a Captain America film. He is in some ways the least complex of the Marvel characters, but with every film he has appeared in his character has developed well as one really worth routing for. He could have easily been portrayed as a two-dimensional annoying goody two-shoes (as Tony Stark says in the trailer; “sometimes I want to punch you in your perfect teeth”), but as the films have gone on he has emerged as a deeply principled character, and this allows his decisions that drive the plot in Civil War to be fully justified.
Likewise, with many of the incidents of previous films being essentially his fault, Tony Stark’s stance is also justified, therefore making the ensuing spat between them engaging viewing. The film could have certainly provoked a more in depth examination of some of the themes it flirts with such as hero vs vigilante, vengeance, loyalty and how much collateral damage is too much damage to justify, but to do this would have only lengthened the running time and could have been at the expensive of the necessary set pieces. I personally would happily sacrifice action set pieces for intelligent examination of themes, but I doubt the suits producing these films feel that way!
Unfortunately the other countless characters do feel like they are there to make up the numbers just to be included in the film’s big set piece that can then be used in the trailers. It is of course great to see them all in there, and every actor does a solid job and the likes of Spiderman, Falcon, Hawkeye and Ant Man get some great lines that are genuinely funny, but their inclusion at times feels like a distraction from what is actually a very personal story for Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. However Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther is introduced very effectively and surprisingly has a genuine character arc successfully incorporated into the narrative.
It is of course no spoiler to mention that the film’s big set piece is a fight in an airport between everyone, and it of course provides all the money shots for the marketing and the trailers. It is admittedly great fun and very well put together, indeed the entire film is well put together proving that the franchise is in safe hands with directors Anthony and Joe Russo. However, there is undoubtedly an inherent lack of danger during the whole sequence, for all the great fun that it is, it does ultimately feel like a slapstick playground brawl rather than a fight to the death.
However, where Civil War differs from many of its predecessors is that its final third is by far its best part. Many previous instalments lack memorable antagonists and so the final big battle sequence felt like it was there for the sake of it and lacked any real sense of danger or threat. Well Civil War gets that whole moment out of the way with the mid-narrative airport punch up and allows for a more plot-heavy and personal, character driven final third. This is not only driven by the films antagonist, Daniel Brühl’s Zemo, but has very personal connotations for all of the other characters involved (I won’t say who). It makes the film’s climax far more engaging and does actually provide a genuine sense of danger and uncertainty (which is particularly lacking from so many of the Marvel films so far), and also a couple of surprising plot twists which are intelligently thought out and developed by screenwriters Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely.
The performances too are excellent; Chris Evans has only got better as Steve Rogers and depicting the virtues and moral principles of his character. As said before, his character is easy to get wrong due to fact he is in some ways not as conflicted or complex as other superheroes, but Evans makes the stances he takes and decisions he makes feel justified. More impressive is Robert Downey Jr.; it is universally accepted just how much he made Tony Stark such a memorable character, but here we see another side to his character, and Downey Jr. delivers a performance that perfectly encapsulates the deep emotional and personal conflicts that Tony Stark experiences throughout the narrative. We still of course get the zinger one-liners, which is of course part of Tony Stark’s inner defence mechanism, and it is the fact the character of Tony Stark can be deeply sarcastic and hilarious and then suddenly a deeply conflicted and sympathetic character is true testament to Robert Downey Jr.
Daniel Brühl is also excellent as Zemo, bringing genuine menace to a character that the narrative develops slowly with the utmost effectiveness. I know many of the purists are not too keen on how this film depicts Zemo, but in my opinion he is one of the more memorable antagonists of the whole franchise. Meanwhile Sebastian Stan is excellent as Bucky Barnes/ The Winter Soldier and depicts the characters inner conflict superbly. In fact, all performances are good, with Anthony Mackie and Tom Holland’s Spiderman getting most of the best one-liners and Chadwick Boseman delivering a superb and understated performance as T’Challa / Black Panther. As said before, many character do feel like they are there to make up the numbers and just contribute to the money shots, trailer moments and a generic, expensive looking fight scene and of course there is never going to be enough of Paul Rudd’s Ant-man, while the likes of Paul Bettany’s bizarre jumper wearing Vision, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch and Don Cheadle’s War Machine really do feel at the narrative’s mercy and just there to please the producers. Meanwhile Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow has yet to justify her existence in any film other than to just simply make up the numbers or be a convenient and contrived plot device. At least Jeremy Renner gets some funny one-liners!
Personally I would have preferred that Captain America: Civil War had taken the more personal approach of its excellent final third for its entire narrative and examined some of the interesting themes it merely hints at with more scrutiny and depth. The first two thirds, though always entertaining, are a little too busy for their own good, with too much going on and very little actual focus. However once the big battel sequence is over it gives way to a far more measured, focussed and engaging narrative.
If the entire film took the personal stance of its final third, then Civil War may well have possibly emerged as the best super hero film of all time. However the suits in charge would never allow such a thing, and so instead we have contrivances, too many characters and money shots for the first two thirds, but one hell of a final third. However, overall there is no denying that Captain America: Civil War delivers a high standard of blockbuster thrills, comedy, drama and ultimately, catharsis.
Though, thanks to an over-crammed first two thirds, certainly not the emotional, personal and unforgettable character-driven film it could have potentially been; Captain America: Civil War is still a predominantly successful balance of blockbuster thrills and action, combined with genuine emotional engagement.