Apr 292016
 
Captain America Civil War International poster
Title: Captain America: Civil War
Director: Anthony Russo,
Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans,
Robert Downey Jr.,
Scarlett Johansson,
Sebastian Stan,
Anthony Mackie
Genre: Superhero, Action,
Runtime: 2 Hours 27 mins
Music: Henry Jackman
Studio: Marvel Studios,
Walt Disney
Certificate: US: PG-13
UK: 12A
Release Date: US: May 06 2016
UK: Apr 29 2016
See If You Like: Captain America: The Winter Soldier,
The Avengers,

The real war here is between spectacle and plot

Much has been hyped up of the latest offering from the Marvel Studios Cinematic Universe with the third Captain America film adapting the fairly recent fan favourite Civil War storyline and having nearly all their established heroes with some new challengers coming along to boot. After the lukewarm second Avengers outing, this is an undoubtedly important film for Marvel in a post-DC challenge landscape which passes with flying colours – yet not all of the colours are bright enough.

After one slightly bungled saving the world task (where collateral damage claims too many innocent lives), the United Nations are about to throw the book at the Avengers team of superheroes over the lack of responsibility over their  use of powers in these world-shaking events, unless they comply with the Sokovia Accords; legislation by an international governing body to monitor and police the growing number of superhumans popping up over recent years.

The team is divided over the Accords; Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., The Judge) supports oversight  because of his guilt over creating the murderous Ultron android, whilst Steve Rogers / Captain America (Chris Evans, Playing It Cool) has become wary of government influence after it was revealed that security taskforce S.H.I.E.L.D. had been infiltrated  by terrorist group Hydra. The pair gather fellow Avengers to their point of view before the signing of the act. After a tragic bombing, more players become involved in this inevitable hero clash, whilst Steve has to deal with the sudden re-emergence of long-lost best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan, The Martian), better known as the amnesiac cyborg-arm ex-Soviet super spy The Winter Soldier.

Straight off the bat, the stakes have been raised for one of these ‘solo’ MCU films; innocent people are dead from incidents which may or may not be the fault of the superhero community through their actions – those with powers need to be kept in check due to their responsibility. A wonderful new challenge to pose to our heroes far and away from ‘here’s a villain – punch ’em’ set-ups of old, Captain America: Civil War is an instant breath of fresh air that stands out in the ever expanding comic book movie market.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War L to R: Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016

You could easily rename this a proper Avengers film and be done with it mind; given that all but two of the warriors appear in this one. Frankly for all the reports and interviews in the build up to this release saying that despite the big heroes all gathering this would be still a Captain America film… it’s not. Sure we see it from Cap’s viewpoint but the conflict of interest over the issue of superhero supervision is balanced so people can interpret for themselves who they can side with fairly. If it wasn’t for the ‘find the Winter Soldier’ part of the plot, Captain America: Civil War is a way more even film that even the creators gave it credit for. That’s not a bad thing at all, especially since this comes across way better than the middling Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

Despite that, the spectacle involved in here is frankly off the charts and is not by any means diminished with some of the most spellbinding, no-holds-barred, hot hero-on-hero super action  you can get your hands on. It’s friend versus friend, colleague verses colleague and frenemy vs. frenemy. Seeing all the relationships Marvel Studios have brought to the table get chucked into the fire for our enjoyment is a gutsy move, especially with the ramifications brought to the table by the credits roll. Breaking down the Avengers as we know them is a big move to make but it’s for the best as it is something very different from your usual origin story that we tend to get from the superhero genre. The world building is wonderful, and the first wholly African superhero appearing on-screen is an achievement as Marvel continues to smash down walls at an impressive rate.

New additions to this start to Phase 3 of the MCU raise interest considerably. Getting the spider sized elephant in the room out of the way, the handling of teen Tom Holland’s (In The Heart Of The Sea) Peter Parker / Spider-Man is pretty much perfect. He’s excellently balanced as one of the more comedic heroes thrust from his sheltered life into this big superhero scrap as an X-Factor, with plenty of witty banter between the other heroes, cool Spidey acrobatics and a nice dollop of “You got heart kid, you’ll go far” when he inevitably gets unstuck. It has managed to do the impossible and raise interest in that solo Sony-Marvel joint project we’ll get soon with the alluring set-up of Stark in a father/mentor role being intriguing enough to come back for. Though a bigger success was the debut of Black Panther – played by Chadwick Boseman (Gods Of Egypt) – as this mysterious and serious player who can do more than hold his own against the established heroes and sets out to prove that Wakandan justice is the best kind of justice. Panther also gets the best line in the whole film when he reacts to being introduced to a new hero. Glorious.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War Black Panther/T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016Seeing Paul Rudd’s (They Came Together) Scott Lang / Ant-Man’s funny-man act play up against the established hero establishment is a nice touch, and fairplay to giving a big moment to him for the hardcore comics fan. With an odd amount of negative critical reception to his character of Helmut Zemo, Daniel Brühl (Burnt) actually played a blinder in a compelling role lacking in screentime but high on driven determination and sympathetic human tragedy.

You’d think that your favourite people would get lost in the mix with the new bells and whistles but surprisingly not. In a post-Avengers: Age Of Ultron world of expanding scope, the tightly packed script offers plenty of nice character moments and developments. Clint Barton / Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner; Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) & Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Scarlett  Johansson; The Jungle Book) have a great exchange during the big team-on-team smackdown, with Renner nearly stealing the damn film in his performance of the bollocking of Tony Stark being cut short. The house arrest of powerful wild card Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen; the recently released I Saw The Light) leads to some cute moments and the start of a relationship with The Vision (Paul Bettany; Legend). Heck, Cap movie returnee Emily VanCamp (The Girl In The Book) – as Sharon Carter – gets a lovely character moment with Rogers that’s been in the making for a few films.

With so much terrific characterisation and enhancing moments, there is a balance that needs to be in play throughout. This is due to the matter of hands of friendships being damaged thanks to the nature of the film. The levels of comedic moments and fun with the serious did not appear to be a problem with the Captain America: The Winter Soldier movie for the directorial team of the Russo Brothers (CommunityArrested Development), but sadly their second time on the Marvel merry-go-round does not yield that perfect balance again. It should have been expected that with more wise cracking characters it was going to go overboard, and we definitely get some “woe is our role” melodramatic scenes, but by the time the super serious moments arrive at the end, you only walk away from Cap 3 talking about the funny parts.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War L to R: War Machine/James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016

Whilst the characters themselves have superb individual moments and scenes that stay long in the memory, there were one or two moments where you’re left dissatisfied. Mainly due to the side Iron Man assembles going totally against what the Sokovia Accords legislation are meant to uphold. It’s meant to keep an eye on super powered beings and possibly hold them to account for misuse of powers. Well, The Vision certainly wasn’t properly trained in that final shot of the airport super scrap. Black Widow would have to be held to task for her dumping all of S.H.I.E.L.D. & Hydra’s files at the end of the last Cap movie, since that is the event that sets Zemo on his merry way. It’s not just Shellhead’s side that suffers though; you can be forgiven at points for thinking that Cap is purely pulling dick moves against pretty much everyone for the sake of his friendship with Bucky.

At least the direction from the Russo Brothers is still top notch. All the action and fight sequences are crisp and clear with the Brothers getting some terrific ideas in combat and power displays. From the big superhero battles down to the more simpler beating on some goons, the setpieces are truly memorable and sublime. They manage to beat that Daredevil Season 2 stairwell fight from earlier in the year by doing a better, more complex version. Considering their hands are tied by the Marvel machine and how they want their films to come across, the Russos deliver on getting every single character a memorable moment or chance to shine in the runtime. Heck, most directors would scream their head off if they had to find a spot for Spider-Man to turn up during production, which they manage to do satisfactory (there is some obvious technical niggles but forgivable given circumstances). Getting an impressive ‘page-to-screen’ near total performance from this expansive cast is not to be sniffed at either (although it would have been worthwhile to have a word with Martin Freeman – Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – over that awful American accent). Whilst they already have a deal in place for helming future Avengers films, fans need not worry about what the Russos will bring to the table with a similar style shown here.

CA:CW‘s biggest problem though, is how there’s simply two rather basic plots between the conflict of the superheroes’ ideologies and Cap trying to clear the name of Bucky, with some noticeable force to get them to interwine. With plenty of smoke and mirrors in play here, you’ll be forgiven for not noticing how quickly the heroes debating what side of the Accords they stand on gets forgotten about before we start getting into the scrapping. Okay that is what we want to see, but we have seen superhero films deliver a delicious dollop of thought provoking thematic exploration recently and we don’t get enough here, given the stakes and theme of governance brought into play. Hell, pretty much everyone has decided straight away whose side they’re on anyway with no mystery or debate occurring.

captainamericacivilwar04Worse, that money-shot (and admittedly mesmerising) final fight between Cap and Iron Man with the Winter Soldier hanging about is let down by the seemingly thrown in at the last minute final reveal which only serves to give a grinding gear change of motivation and character relation. It’s unnecessary and doesn’t do a great deal to enhance characters. With how events play out and how the Winter Soldier comes across, he’s still a threat to Tony’s side on the clash anyway so bringing him in would be the smart thing to do. The superhero spectacle here is an incredible achievement of comic book filmmaking and it is up there with Donner’s Superman, Nolan’s Batman trilogy and Whedon’s first Avengers film – it’s just the plot doesn’t reach those heights either.

Walking out of Captain America: Civil War you’ll realise how close this came to being right-up there with the truly iconic superhero films. The moral debate is there, but any doubt whether our heroes believe in what they’re fighting for is non-existent. The spectacle sits atop king of the mountain (and in itself is a perfect 10/10 experience) but the lack of plot cohesion between the two proper storylines and consistency to drive it along dilutes. The Marvel Studios machine is still well oiled & productive but the pressures to top itself constantly feel like it’s catching up now. Still, considering the stakes involved, this is easily one of the best superhero films Marvel Studios have come up with and is a considerable measuring stick going forward.

Terry Lewis@lewisonlife

VerdictRatings 08
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