Right out the gate, what made me the most psyched for Captain America: Civil War was the notion that we’d finally see a stand-alone movie in Marvel’s Avengers franchise that stars more than just one Avenger. Even after they formed the team, every time an Avenger has gotten their own solo film they’ve had to deal with all their problems alone, no matter how dire they are and how much sense it’d make if they were to help each other out. In Civil War, numerous other Avengers universe characters besides those of the Captain America films appear, and it is quite the show!
The big selling point for this one was naturally the feud between Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans) and Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), but also the fact that Spider-Man would appear, this time played by Tom Holland. Me, I was only glad that one of these films would finally acknowledge the messy job these world-saving heroes oftentimes do.
After the happenings of Avengers 2, the eponymous superhero squad and the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization have been losing man kind’s trust. Due to the problems they’ve caused in their attempts to “protect the planet” – including the collateral damage of Sokovia, the States, and Wakanda plus the creation of Ultron – the U.S. government gets involved and aims to regulate their activity, as per a series of Accords that several world leaders are willing to sign. Opposed to this contract is Rogers, who has a sinister scheme to investigate, and unexpectedly in support of it is Stark, mostly out of remorse for what he knows he’s done. This creates two different factions within the Avengers gang, each consisting of faces both new and familiar.
On Rogers’ side are his good friend The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), the mighty Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye the bowman (Jeremy Renner), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), evidently on good terms with Falcon after their last battle, and soon the recently cured Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), the man whom Rogers was BFF’s with back in the 40’s before he got turned into a brainwashed death machine by Hydra. Stark’s supporters, meanwhile, are James “War Machine” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), an uncertain Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), the ludicrously powerful Vision (Paul Bettany), and Wakanda’s own superhero The Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), a favorite amongst Marvel fanboys. I won’t say where Spidey stands – the previews say enough anyhow – but I will promise that things go down between these two teams.
It’s surprisingly emotional to see some of these friends turn to enemies and the Russo brothers do a great job of making both sides appear rational and justified in their thinking. It all feels real (certainly not as forced as in this one other big-budget superhero quarrel from earlier this spring) and the reviews reflect as much. Some critics are convinced Rogers’ position is obviously right. An equal amount are confident it’s Stark’s.
There are participants left to mention. Daniel Brühl plays the nefarious Baron Zemo, a chessmaster with remarkably deep and undestandable motivation; William Hurt reprises his role as Ross from the 2008 Hulk movie; Martin Freeman is a sadistic government employee; Jim Rash gets a delightful cameo (bringing to mind the Community episodes the Russos have directed); Frank Grillo returns as that random merc from Captain America 2 (now in the mask of Crossbones) and Emily VanCamp appears as Sharon, a relative of Steve’s 1940’s sweetheart/the founder of S.H.I.E.L.D., Peggy Carter. I’ve no comment on Sharon’s relationship with Steve in this movie.
Having followed this franchise for a long time and knowing all the characters well, I had no trouble keeping up with Civil War. I dunno how easy a time other viewers will have with such a titanic cast, but at least MOST of them have been introduced elsewhere in some manner to non-comic book fans. It’s not like this is the first movie in which we see all of these people; Batman v Superman it surely ain’t!
Had the film been more true to the original Civil War comics, there would have been even more Marvel heroes going at it. Most of them are either busy being in TV shows right now (Daredevil; Punisher; Jessica Jones…), owned by other film studios (the X-Men; the Fantastic Four) or occupied with upcoming MCU plots such as Thor 3 (Hulk). Just as well; I’ve heard that being true to the source material would have increased the film’s chances of sucking in this instance.
In any case, Captain America is rightly the center of the story and in my opinion has only gotten more rounded and likable since his first outing in 2011. His falling out with Tony is also made succesfully dramatic, despite the two having spent most of their preceeding adventures together bickering and being on different pages. What makes it work so well, again, is the involvement of other Avengers and the interactions/conflicts they share. Why did you side with Iron Man, Natasha? You and Steve were such a great buddy cop duo in the Winter Soldier film! Why are you and Scarlet Witch on opposing teams, Vision? Haven’t you read what happens to the two of you in the comics?
The visual effects in Civil War are as brilliant as usual (featuring one helluva de-aging job on Robert Downey Jr. and digital backgrounds I never noticed were digital) and the action is directed expertly, but the cinematography and editing can at points be appalling. It also suffers from the same issue as Winter Soldier and bits of Avengers 2, where the action is so eager to reach over-the-top in its spectacle that even characters who possess no superhuman powers are able to survive the most ridiculous things, leaving no incentive for the audience to fear for their safety. I don’t see why a less mighty hero like Falcon can take so many pummelings, including those from Ant-Man.
What I admired most about this film, I think, was its surprisingly mature way of showing these people realize the destruction they brought as they only meant to serve the greater good. It retroactively makes the previous movies darker in a way, as you can no longer cheer for these heroes during the climaxes without thinking about the lives they either failed to save or accidentally took themselves. Unless you thought of that already, I mean.
For a project that had to be out by a specific date (the MCU’s intended Third Phase has been laid out for months) with little time to plan things out, the movie as a whole is laudable. It wasn’t met with the same obstacles as Ant-Man, but I imagine it difficult to make movies well when you have such a precise schedule for when each new film in the franchise needs to be released. I liked Civil War. I loved seeing new and old characters interact in ways both zany and tragic, and I’ll definitely finish the MCU, but wouldn’t you folks say it’s time to calm down a little about superhero movies and crossovers? For the sake of the filmmakers, lest they wear themselves out, and for our own, lest we get tired of these movies before the story can be completed, maybe we should start focusing on making movies rather than churning out blatant set-ups for planned future films in a confusingly vast franchise (even when there obviously won’t be one, as with Fant4stic)?
Civil War, admittedly, works on its own and never feels like a bloated ad for much of anything. It is well-written, its twists and turns are riveting, its themes are thoughtful, and when the conflict between our heroes finally reaches the breaking point, it delivers an unforgettable clash of powers, abilities and snark (which is tonally out-of-place in an otherwise serious film but still). Even so, all these comic-flicks are indeed starting to look and feel very much the same. I remember seeing the first Avengers in 2012 and giving it a 5/5. In a way I don’t regret it (even though I was a 17-year-old fanboy), since it was the start of something never before seen: a cinematic world in which all these preposterous concepts could co-exist and everyone buys it! It’s just that we may have stayed there too long.
The trailer I’ve linked to below spoils the film a touch, but it’s the only one that features Spider-Man. I’m madly curious to hear what my American pals have to say about that morphsuit and weird “squint animation” of his when the movie reaches them. As for Tom Holland, I’m saving those comments for my review of the 2017 Spidey film. Be there!