CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (Disney)
Dir. Anthony & Joe Russo, Script. Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt & Daniel Bruhl
Plot: There’s a little bit of a tiff involving United Nations rulings to curtail the Avengers, with the ex-army man refusing and the billionaire playboy accepting.
And in the blue corner…while many of us movie fans hoped that the release of Captain America: Civil War, practically a new Avengers movie when you look at the cast list, would be Marvel’s heavyweight response to DC’s emergent challenger, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, we were let down slightly by the new kid on the block. The fact is, Batman v Superman‘s disastrous reception by pretty much everyone (myself included) left Marvel, for so long the dominant force at the box office, an open goal at which to aim. And so, instead of being left to debate which movie is better, I think its no surprise what the outcome of this clash of the comic-book titans actually is.
Yes, Civil War is better than Batman v Superman, although watching paint dry is better, as well as being shorter and much more logically structured. But, looking at the third Captain America film’s stellar Rotten Tomatoes score, I can’t help but feel a little alienated. It’s not that I think its a bad film – Civil War is a terrific thriller that actually manages to balance its monumentally overstuffed cast list for the most part, while also focusing on its central story in a way that felt genuine and well thought out. But at the same time, there’s still remnants of the issues that plagued Avengers: Age of Ultron, and while most of them have been ironed out, the remaining creases do stick out.
In all honesty, I find writing Marvel reviews more difficult than any other review, because I’m almost forced and obligated to review it in terms of the previous movies (and countless future movies) of the MCU. So I’m going to start there, because Civil War definitely shakes the state of play up a bit. There are a lot of new characters being introduced, and those fresh faces are probably the best part of the film – Chadwick Boseman is very well cast as Black Panther, giving the character a great deal of gravitas, and new Spider-Man Tom Holland is possibly an even better find. Holland is kind of like Maguire and Garfield squared, with their best bits merged into one. His scenes are definitely the funniest in the film, and I think Marvel have set up their solo Spider-Man movie terrifically with Holland’s relatively brief appearance.
But of course, the main story is between Rogers and Stark – if you look back through the MCU, the tension between these two has always been there, simmering underneath, even from their first introductions to each other. The circumstances by which the film makes Marvel’s crown jewels end up at loggerheads are good ones, keeping with the tone of The Winter Soldier and its focus on the consequences of the Avengers’ very existence. The Russo Brothers, returning directors from The Winter Soldier, also make their fights feel very raw, and the plot device they use to cause that ending collision is a perfect choice, and it makes that fight feel all the more important. The plot has a lot going on, and in the opening it did feel a little rudderless, with set pieces happening without advancing the plot all that much, although writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do resolve this, and stuff a lot of good comedy in there as well.
The Russo’s do another very good job on this movie, although I feel like the tone they go for is a little inconsistent. There’s a clash throughout between the darker, more cerebral tone of The Winter Soldier, and the Whedon-style tone of the Avengers movies, and the shifts between them are very noticeable. As good as the comedic moments are in Civil War, they feel like pauses for the far better movie going on. A case in point is the airport fight, teased prominently in the marketing, that while being technically dazzling and highly inventive, feels really quite off. To my mind, it seems to only be there to create an excuse for the film’s lesser characters to make an appearance, and simultaneously to create an excuse to not have to focus on them anymore. The action and visuals are gorgeous, but at times there can be a little too much Bourne-style shaky cam as well.
The returning Marvel players are more-than-acceptably played, and there’s a lot of them, so I’m going to try and get through them all: Chris Evans is getting better by the film, with his Steve Rogers having a massive amount of depth; same goes for Downey Jr, who tunes down the brashness a notch for a more reserved look at Stark’s internal psyche. Scarlett Johansson sells her internal conflict well, but it does feel like Black Widow has been short-changed in the film somewhat; Sebastian Stan also has his conflicts, but does a good job in both of Bucky Barnes’s mental states. Anthony Mackie doesn’t do all that much; Don Cheadle is Stark’s dogsbody in every way; Elizabeth Olsen’s accent continues to be distracting (although she’s understatedly strong as Scarlet Witch has her predicaments throughout); Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is again seemingly included because ‘Why not?’ and Paul Bettany, in the role of a being so powerful he can fly, turn invisible and survive anything, all while having an Infinity Stone in his head, is asked to stay at home and learn how to cook Sokovian dishes. Yes, you heard that right – Tony Stark has the support of the VISION, and he left him at home to tend to the plants or shit like that.
There is a villain in all of this as well, Zemo (played pretty straight by Daniel Bruhl), who didn’t really do a massive deal, and felt a bit like he was thrown in there without due diligence being paid to his motives or personality. Production-wise, the overall look of the film is really nice, with Trent Opaloch’s cinematography really making the most of Civil War‘s varied locales; the editing is really propulsive as well, and keeps the pace going. And before you ask me, Stan Lee does make his obligatory cameo – not a classic, I must admit. To wrap this all up in a bow, Civil War has won the battle between Marvel and DC, with what is a very good thriller and a decent watch, especially when you consider it holds your interest for near enough the same amount of time Batman v Superman numbed everyone else’s. It’s not Marvel’s best film: it’s probably not even the best Captain America movie – The Winter Soldier just feels a bit tighter and has a bit more narrative heft for me. But Marvel aren’t fazed by their new challengers, and for the moment, Civil War keeps them trucking along very nicely indeed.
BEST WATCHED: It’s an event film – cinemas were invented for films like this.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe will return in around six months time to add the concept of magic and parallel worlds into Marvel’s increasingly complex mix. Doctor Strange arguably possesses one of Marvel’s best cast lists ever, with Oscar nominee and high-functioning sociopath Benedict Cumberbatch taking the role of the comic book sorcerer. Chiwetel Ejiofor will appear as a villain, Rachel McAdams plays an as-yet-unknown character, and Tilda Swinton is a controversial casting as the so-called ‘Ancient One’. Sinister director Scott Derrickson enters the Marvel fold to direct.