The Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to be this juggernaut that keeps pumping out successful film after successful film. They’ve been on this upward trajectory for so long that it seems inevitable that they will have to stumble somewhere. Surprisingly and welcomingly so, Captain America: Civil War is not that movie.
There is no denying that surpassing Deadpool from earlier this year will be a hard task for Civil War, but this film is just as ambitious in a bunch of very different and interesting ways.
When it becomes apparent that the work of the Avengers is causing far too much collateral damage, they get reigned in by the United Nations and Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt). Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), still reeling from PTSD, is convinced they need to be “kept in check” and Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) feels like being dictated to by the Government will not allow them the choice to determine the right or wrong moves.
Tensions between the two grow after an explosion at the UN which looks to be the work of James “Bucky” Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) forces Stark’s hand to arrest him while Rogers goes in to defend his childhood friend/army buddy. However, things go from bad to worse when Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) shows up to not only frame Bucky for the explosion but to possibly unleash a new threat that Rogers and Barnes will need to face together.
Leading up to the release of this film Marvel rolled out the hype machine calling for Team Cap and Team Iron Man. For us as fans, as viewers, as individuals to pick a side. Who do we back? Who do we stand beside? From the beginning we were made to choose. But what I’ll say to you now is that choosing isn’t so easy once you’re faced with the unfolding story. You might begin on one side, and end up supporting another. Or you might flip flop from side to side.
CA:CW takes a very decided step into a morally and ethically-charged zone, a place where there is no black and white but it’s all shades of grey. For a superhero film this is an interesting feel and direction to take. There are politics here, but they are less of the government kind and more of a personal kind.
Director brother duo Anthony and Joe Russo have brought on their screenplay team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely all of whom took part in Captain America: The Winter Soldier to loosely adapt the Marvel comics of the same name into this film. This continuity in the crew has paid dividends with this film because we still feel some of those familiar threads. In particular, the depth and strength of the bond between Rogers and Barnes proves a vital part of the film.
They also opt to build on Stark’s insecurities from previous films, the increasing loss of innocent lives now plagues his conscience and he refuses to stand idly by, particularly after being railroaded by a grieving mother of a victim who was in Sokovia (Alfre Woodard will break your heart in her 2 minutes onscreen).
Interestingly one of the reasons why this film works so well is because so many of us have become invested as fans in the MCU. For fans of the comics there are definite moments that pay homage to iconic comic scenes that will get them excited, but for the rest of us it’s nice to see the filmmakers using earlier films as touchstones. This is not a film that you can come into cold, it pays to have seen the predecessors.
The Russo’s respect that by delivering a film that earns its heart and emotion by pitting your favorites against each other rather than having them go up against a villain as-per the usual superhero story trope. It feels like watching your parents fighting, you don’t want them to because neither of them are right or wrong. Each of our individual characters get a moment or opportunity to show their motivations and reasoning behind why they do what they do. It’s critical for us to care about them otherwise there’s no reason for us to keep watching.
When it comes to the villains, the character of Helmut Zemo is an intriguing one because he is merely there to provide more of a mysterious antagonist feel and it’s not until we reach the closing act that we are told of his motivations. This has both pros and cons; the con is that he doesn’t really feel like a villain at all and Bruhl is limited with what he can deliver, the pro is that it keeps the focus is on the Cap Vs Iron Man side of the story.
Another let down was that of Brock Rumlow/Crossbones (Frank Grillo), a villain who is literally wasted in the first 5 minutes of the film. I was hoping we would have more of him to throw a spanner in the works for Cap.
However, to counter the disappointing villains we have two great new heroes in Prince T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Peter Parker/Spiderman (Tom Holland). The former manages to bring enough gravitas to his character particularly since they attempt to cram an origin story/motivation into what little time we spend with him. The latter is an enormous crowd favorite who with his inability to stop talking manages to instill a sense of excitement for what awaits us with his own solo installment.
There’s also an unusual development and shift in the relationship between Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), which looks like it could become more prominent in forthcoming films. Meanwhile, having Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) show up actually brings some much needed comedic relief to Team Cap as he does his darnedest to fit in.
The action sequences in this film are practically non-stop, and at a few points were causing my eyes to water from the strain of trying to focus on so much movement. That first battle in particular also had some shaky cam going on which didn’t help my cause. All of this cumulative fighting means that the narrative gets dialed back a notch.
To be honest though, the whole reason we want Civil War is for the dust up, so there probably won’t be too many fans upset about that. There is literally no surprise that the massive hero vs hero “airport scene” in the middle of the film is the showcase piece which will leave you cringing in empathetic pain for all those poor stunt doubles – but that final fight between Cap and Winter Soldier against Iron Man will make your heart and soul hurt.
By the very end of the film you are left wondering how can any of them come back from this? It is almost impossible to see any way or means for them to be redeemed as a team or unit like they once were. And don’t forget that real Marvel fans stay to the very end to see both the mid-credit and end credit sequence.
Captain America: Civil War had a lot riding on it. Not only did it have to elevate the ensemble superhero film and try to surpass The Avengers but it also had to round out the Captain America trilogy. The Russo’s and their collective crew have managed to do this and break all our hearts along the way.
Themes of friendship, family, loyalty, trust, accountability, revenge, right VS wrong are littered throughout – but in saying that, you as the individual viewer can take as much or as little of that with you when watching. This film is an explosive blockbuster yet surprisingly steeped in emotion and character drama.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 147 minutes
Captain America: Civil War is screening nationally in Australian cinemas now through Walt Disney Pictures Australia