Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Sebastian Stan, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, Elizabeth Olsen, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Paul Bettany, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, William Hurt, Frank Grillo, Tom Holland, Martin Freeman, Daniel Brühl and Stan Lee
Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo
Marvel’s latest offering finds Steve Rogers leading the newly formed team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. But after another incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by a governing body to oversee and direct the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps—one led by Steve Rogers and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Tony Stark’s surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability. Meanwhile an incident involving Captain America’s former partner Bucky a.k.a. The Winter Soldier furthers the divide between the heroes as Zemo, a villain with his own hidden agenda, plots behind the scenes.
There are those out there, in the online world of fans and critics, that discuss the Marvel formula in a derogatory manner. Make a film with some serious undertones, throw in some quips, follow a standard storyline and hey presto!- a Marvel film. While some earlier efforts certainly established that formula it is a criticism that Marvel certainly do not deserve. Antman presented a heist movie that happened to feature superheroes. The forthcoming Dr Strange will open up the Marvel Universe to magic and mysticism. Most importantly, Captain America: The Winter Soldier gave us a political thriller that featured a few men in tights who can lift cars and fly. Yes, certain elements of the formula are and undoubtedly will remain present in Marvel movies but given the success of their films and their ground-breaking establishment of a cinematic universe, can you blame them? At the heart of their movies has always been a layer of fun and entertainment and their latest instalment certainly has that while also giving us a psychological thriller and a conflict that, despite beginning as a difference of political opinion, becomes layered in emotion, friendship and betrayal.
The cast are fantastic with Evans and Downey Jr. leading the opposing sides in possibly their finest performances to date. Both are given moments of nuance and internal conflict to play with which contrasts nicely with the grand storyline and more humorous scenes. Despite the huge cast, every supporting character gets a moment or two to shine and each seems to relish their restricted screen time. These moments vary from comedic support (Paul Rudd’s Antman gets a huge mid-battle image that made every audience member laugh) to more humanising scenes (The Vision’s experiment with cooking, clothing and attempting to portray his feelings to The Scarlet Witch turns a synthetic character into a fully rounded individual).
The new cast members also get their moments to shine as Tom Holland and Chadwick Boseman perfectly capture the essence of their characters. Holland’s introduction finally captures the true spirit of Spider-Man with ramblings and quips mid-fight as the awestruck teenager battles alongside and against his idols, even adding in a Star Wars reference for good measure. Boseman gets more time on screen than many of the supporting players and quickly feels at home in the MCU both in and out of his mask- the way his Black Panther moves and fights is graceful and powerful at the same time. Both characters will be welcomed back for their upcoming solo movies. Finally a special mention must go to Daniel Brühl for an understated yet terrific role as the villain, manipulating events behind the scenes for his own relatively simple motives. Marvel have often struggled with the role of the villain (Tom Hiddleston’s Loki being the exception to the rule on the big screen) however Brühl gives a memorable portrayal during a busy movie.
Remarkably, given the huge cast, the film still feels like a continuation of Captain America’s story first which is a huge victory in storytelling, directing and Evans’ portrayal and also flows fluidly from fight scenes to conversations to character introductions. A knowledge of the previous films certainly helps although the exposition dumps are luckily few and far between as the film makers follow the golden rule of showing and not telling. The action scenes themselves vary in style but are all effective and the major brawl halfway through the film allows for a smaller, more personal final battle. As always, Marvel lay the groundwork for future movies as the status quo shifts once again to keep the universe fresh and evolving yet every set-up, be it the introduction of Spider-Man or the final scenes, flow with the natural progression of the story. Fans will be left wanting more and the next films to involve so many characters, the two-part Avengers: Infinity War, are in safe hands with the Russo brothers.
As mentioned previously, some will mistake the brand of Marvel as a bad thing and will criticise the film for continuing the ‘feel’ of Marvel films however there is more to the movie than a few quips amidst the action. Those quips help contrast the light and dark aspects of the movie while our familiarity with the characters captures emotional investment. The only negative found here is the lack of mortal danger as the heroes battle each other- most aren’t going for the kill and at one point a character is accused of pulling punches. Yet even this negative is turned around and dismissed in two ways- the finale has an enhanced sense of danger and, as a viewer, you simply want to see all of these characters again.
The promotional material has asked us whose side are we on? It’s a testament to the film that the answer isn’t clear cut; indeed the logical choice lies with Iron Man while the heart goes for Captain America. Have we finally been given a perfect superhero movie? Quite possibly. The film is full of entertainment, blending together a wonderful mixture of fun and heart with an intriguing story and plenty of unobtrusive character moments to create what could be this year’s best blockbuster and is another astounding achievement for Marvel and Disney.
Oh and Stan Lee’s cameo is one of his best.