Captain America: Civil War (2016) – Movie Review
Captain America: Civil War
Directed by: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Written by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Sebastian Stan, Scarlett Johansson, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd & Daniel Brühl
Music: Henry Jackman
Release Date: April 29th 2016
Marvel’s “Civil War” comic book event is one of the most iconic and successful mini-series’ in the history of the medium. Released in 2006-2007 and written by Mark Millar, the seven-issue event divided the entire Marvel Comics Universe with Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Steve Rogers (Captain America) leading the opposing sides. Despite its huge success and mainstream appeal, the series has not aged well and requires a massive amount of suspension of disbelief as the main players all act extremely out of character in order for the events of the story to play out the way they do.
However, its huge scale and iconic imagery has definitely left a footprint on comic books and now, 13 movies into Marvel Studios’ epic cinematic universe, they are now adapting the comic book story, making alterations for it to work in the context of their own blockbuster franchise. Despite ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ carrying the Captain America name, it involves almost all key heroes in the Universe and even a few new ones such as Black Panther and Spider-Man making their debut appearance in the MCU. Can Marvel Studios continue their string of hits or will the ambition be too much for even Captain America to bare?
After the events of ‘Marvel Avengers: The Age of Ultron‘, Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America (Evans) is leading a new team of Avengers comprised of Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow (Johansson), Sam Wilson a.k.a. The Falcon (Mackie), Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. The Scarlet Witch (Olsen) and Vision (Bettany). But when one mission in Lagos goes awry and when the fallout from previous incursions over the years becomes apparent, the Avengers are ordered to sign the “Sokovia Accord” which would require them to be run by the government with constant supervision. Rogers opposes this, but Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man (Downey Jr.) supports it which splits the Avengers into two factions. Things are made worse by the assassination of the King of Wakanda by Steve’s old friend, Bucky Barnes a.ka. The Winter Soldier (Stan) with the King’s son T’Challa a.k.a. Black Panther (Boseman) wanting revenge. Though Steve believes Bucky to be innocent and will do whatever it takes to defend him, even if he has to fight fellow Avengers James Rhodes a.k.a. War Machine (Cheadle) and the new inclusion, Peter Parker a.k.a. Spider-Man (Holland).
I know the plot synopsis above looks daunting, but I promise it’s only because of the amount of characters involved.
While ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ takes its name from the Marvel Comics series, it only follows it in the very broad strokes. We have potential legislation that causes a divide between the Avengers with Captain America and Tony Stark leading both sides, Spider-Man gets involved thanks to Tony etc. However, this movie adaptation takes many liberties with the source material to make it fit more with this movie-universe and winds up being superior to its comic-book counterpart in virtually every single way.
Mainly because the inciting incident and the fallout from the events of previous movies such as ‘Marvel Avengers Assemble‘, ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘ and ‘Marvel Avengers: The Age of Ultron‘ feels completely organic and because this movie is taking place comparatively early in the career of the Avengers the escalation makes sense. And while the comic book required many of the Avengers to act massively out of character to progress the story, in ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ both sides have compelling, perfectly reasonable concerns.
After ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘, Steve Rogers knows to not put his entire faith in the government to do the right thing and knows that government legislation will limit their ability to help make the world a safer and better place. However, Tony Stark, feeling immeasurable guilt over the past few years and is trying too-hard to fix his mistakes believes that the Avengers need to be put in check and that they need to answer to somebody. But with Tony Stark, deep down he agrees with Steve that the Avengers should be a private organisation if they want to have the maximum intended effect. Yet 117 countries signed and support the Sokovia Accords (which James Rhodes and Vision point out) so he knows that if the Avengers don’t agree to these terms the best case scenario is that it’ll be forced on them and the worst case scenario is that even more limiting legislation will be forced on them. He’s trying to make the best of a bad situation and while Steve Rogers understands that collateral damage is an unfortunate reality, Tony Stark has seen the fallout of that damage far too many times.
Early on in the movie, Tony Stark, semi-retired as Iron Man (or trying to be), donates a large amount of his money to help young science students get their projects funded so they can make the world better. He wants to prove that you can stop the bad guys as the Avengers, but the real good deeds come from using your power to help others without the need for a battleground. Yet after he gives out this grant, he’s confronted by a grieving woman who lost her son when the Avengers fought Ultron in Sokovia. Despite all he’s trying to do, he has to deal with this damage face-to-face and couple that with his partner Pepper Potts leaving him (Gwyneth Paltrow filmed scenes for this movie but they never made it into the final cut) causes him to find the middle ground between strict legislation or freedom with consequences.
The conflict between Tony and Steve isn’t so much a conflict of ideals. It’s more about one’s unwillingness to compromise as Steve believes his friend Bucky to be free of guilt and that idealism often turns around to bite him in the ass a few times. In Marvel Comics “Amazing Spider-Man #537“, Captain America gives a speech about staying true to your own ideals (a speech which, nowadays, is frequently taken out of context so people can be terrible to each other on Twitter) but in the movie, that speech is slightly altered and its origins come from a different place which represents Steve losing everything he has from his idealistic 1940s origins and his determination to hold onto them regardless of their place and damning everyone else around him, drives him to make irrational decisions.
Both sides are right. Both sides are wrong. The conflict makes sense and the conflict works.
While this movie has almost all key superpowered characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is not an Avengers movie. This is definitely a Captain America movie as his actions primarily drive the narrative, he’s in most of the scenes of the movie and he’s the one to has to learn the lessons and change. However, what makes ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ such a magnificent achievement in regards to storytelling is that there are no less than 12 super-powered or super-enhanced heroes taking up space throughout the film but none of them feel superfluous and almost all of them get some sort of arc or, at the very least, a defining moment to shine.
We get the developing relationship of Wanda and Vision with Wanda feeling extreme guilt about the events of ‘Marvel Avengers: The Age of Ultron‘ as well as wanting to be accepted into this new group. Steve Rogers is forever on her side but she feels like she has to prove herself, yet she feels fear about her unknown, nearly boundless powers. Vision has had time to develop since he was created by Ultron and his growth as a one-year-old has manifested itself into a slightly awkward phase as he begins to feel certain emotions for the first time which conflicts with his coldly logical birth. Hawkeye comes back into the game, forever loving life as an Avenger but still determined to settle down and retire. War Machine, having fought in combat countless times seems to have developed an immortality complex, the directions Black Widow takes over the course of the movie, while predictable make perfect sense and the Winter Soldier is unsure whether or not to even trust himself after all of the people he’s unwittingly killed, especially since he remembers every single one.
As for more recent additions, let’s talk about Scott Lang a.k.a. Ant-Man played by Paul Rudd. He appears mainly as an extra combatant for Captain America’s team in a fight in an airport (more on that later) but despite the obvious visual inventiveness and use of his unique skill-set…Scott Lang is such a phenomenal inclusion in the MCU. He was great in his own stand-alone ‘Ant-Man‘ movie last year, but with ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ we see how he fits into the broader-group role. He’s the every-man, the audience cipher to all of the insane stuff that goes on. He reminds the viewer that characters like Captain America are celebrities in the MCU and that this is a wacky world to live in. Paul Rudd is just exceptional in this role and almost every single line he says lands dead-on. Outside of Tony, Steve, Wanda and Vision, Scott Lang is the MVP of ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ and the fact that he doesn’t even have a plot-specific function makes that fact all the more impressive.
We also have Chadwick Boseman who absolutely kills it as Black Panther, a character who is driven by revenge against the Winter Soldier for the death of his father. Despite his story-arc taking place on the outskirts of the conflict between Steve and Tony, his growth compliments the movie’s over-arching themes about revenge, restraint and what being a hero truly means. It’ll be interesting to see what ‘Creed‘ director Ryan Coogler’s ‘Black Panther‘ movie next year will be about considering that his origin story feels complete in this first appearance, but he’s a great addition to the roster with a great fighting style, a unique badass presence and Boseman has a commanding presence. After seeing Boseman deliver in leading roles in smaller films like ‘42‘ and ‘Get On Up‘ it’s great to see him truly arrive on the blockbuster scene.
And we can’t forget about Tom Holland as Peter Parker a.k.a. Spider-Man who was a last-minute inclusion in the movie yet his role, much like Ant-Man and Black Panther’s is not only organically done but also ties in wonderfully to the themes of the movie despite not being plot-specific. After seeing Columbia Pictures/Sony utterly botch the character with Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” franchise it’s refreshing to see him in the hands of people who totally GET Spider-Man. He’s a young dork who isn’t cool, isn’t a smouldering bad-boy but he’s a good kid from Queens who suffers from survivor’s guilt and wants to do the best he can. There’s a great piece of dissonance by pairing him up with Tony because despite him potentially being a great mentor to Peter, it’s ultimately Steve’s ideology that Peter sides with. Peter doesn’t say “with great power comes great responsibility” but he still holds those ideals. He wants to impress Tony, but he doesn’t really know what he’s fighting for. He also quips a lot in battle, but not in an obnoxious, ‘Deadpool‘-esque way like in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘. In the comics, he often jokes and talks in battle because he’s gripped by a crippling fear and insecurity so he talks to compensate. That comes across in ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ wonderfully and Tom Holland, while not having enough screentime to call him the best incarnation of the character, is in incredibly safe hands with this creative team. It’s a stellar introduction.
It’s tough to talk about the villain of the movie (yes, there’s a villain) with Zemo played by Daniel Brühl. The Zemo here is very different to how he is portrayed in the comics, but it works for this type of story-line where his motivations as to why he wants an Avengers-free world almost paint him as a hero from a certain point of view. His involvement requires a tiny amount of suspension of disbelief since he’s able to co-ordinate events and people months in advance and it may take a while to truly GET what his deal is (the revelations with his character feel akin to the controversial Mandarin twist in ‘Iron Man 3‘) but as the movie goes on and he starts to reveal himself as a very effective new player in the MCU, it’s interesting to see his story play out and I hope we see more of him in the future.
Performance-wise, everyone is terrific across the board and nobody puts a foot wrong here. It’s hard to put into words how great Chris Evans is in this role and despite Robert Downey Jr. being the cornerstone of the MCU’s commercial success, it’s uncanny how much Chris Evans has grown to match him in terms of embodying the star-spangled man and make him truly earnest yet distinctly human. Robert Downey Jr. continues to find new layers to Tony Stark and when it comes to him having to go to some very dark places towards the end, he reminds everyone why he’s a two-time Academy Award nominee and not just the Invincible Armoured Avenger.
But these two characters and their portrayal in this movie is vindication about the entire “shared-universe” experiment that Marvel Studios has been pioneering for the past 8 years. Yes, ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ is a fun, spectacle-ladened blockbuster and a great time at the movies but we care about this conflict because we care about the key-players. We’ve seen Tony Stark grow into a completely different character over the course of 8 years, and Steve Rogers in 6 years and we’ve grown to like them and understand them. Yes, there’s no real definitive beginning or end to a movie like this but that’s because this is an ever-evolving universe of stories with a growing, rotating cast bolstered by impeccable casting and storytelling, kinda like a super-expensive TV series except it takes 6-8 months for a new episode to come out and you watch it in a movie theatre instead of at home or online. So when Tony and Steve come to blows at the end of the movie, with the context of recent events, you just want the two to stop fighting as they beat each other senseless in a heart-in-your-mouth set-piece that is only as effective as it is because we’ve become attached to them. It’s a truly bitter-sweet climax and it’s genuinely heart-wrenching to see portrayed.
On the other hand, the real weaknesses of the MCU were laid out in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘ where the entire crux of that film was built upon a relationship in a prior film that really didn’t have solid foundations (the relationship between Cap and Bucky) so it feels like ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ has to continue to pick up the slack from there. That’s not to say it’s a total flop, but despite it coming out 6 years ago it still feels like the MCU is still trying to pick up the pieces from the foundations of ‘Captain America: The First Avenger‘. We also have a new love interest for Cap with Agent 13 and it feels very out of place and not earned. Also, I’m not saying that there need to be fatalities in these MCU movies for there to be actual stakes (the stakes in ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ feel about as personal and as high as you can get despite the team not having to save the world or stop an all-encompassing threat) but after 13 movies it’s amazing that Quicksilver in ‘Marvel Avengers: The Age of Ultron‘ has been the ONLY fatality. It was starting to stretch credibility in 2014 but now Marvel really needs to start offing a few main-players.
But still, the spectacle is just off the charts in ‘Captain America: Civil War‘. Early on in the movie, we’re presented with one of the best action sequences of the MCU as Captain America helps the Winter Soldier evade capture…and then the movie proceeds to top itself twice more. The Russo Brothers have said they got the help of ‘John Wick‘ directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch for the action scenes on their 2nd Unit Team and that influence is apparent, particularly in the hand-to-hand combat sequences. It’s thrilling, edited perfectly, inventive and a blast to watch. But the airport scene…that’s a show-stopper. It’s worth the price of admission alone as Team Cap and Team Stark battle it out with Stark’s side wanting to bring Cap and his associates into custody. They’re not shooting to kill, but as the fight goes on things just escalate and so many moments in this fight are informed by character. We also get terrific stand-alone action beats like Steve single-handedly stopping a helicopter from taking off.
Production-wise, this is about as polished a blockbuster as you can get with amazing digital work from Industrial Light and Magic. The marriage between green-screen and practical stunt-work creates the best of both worlds. There are a few awkward moments like Spider-Man’s plastic-looking suit and Robert Downey Jr’s and Don Cheadle’s faces awkwardly plopped on top of their mechanical suits (which doesn’t make much sense because the effect has been flawless in 5 previous movies) but when compared to the entirely digital airport fight sequence, the variety of effects, the flawless editing, terrific make-up, excellent (though not distinctive) musical score and ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ has everything you want out of a Summer Blockbuster.
‘Captain America: Civil War‘ delivers spectacularly in every regard it needs to. It’s fun, action-packed, character-driven, intense and delves into deep dark places towards the end which ties the narrative together perfectly. All the actors continue to find new depths in these characters, the Russo Brothers nail the tone, the new inclusions of Black Panther and Spider-Man impress with minor returning players Ant-Man, Scarlet Witch and Vision finding plenty of room to breath in a movie that threatens to be over-stuffed but manages to cross the finish line in spectacular fashion. Whether or not it’s the best Marvel Studios movie remains to be seen but it’s easily the best justification for the shared universe storytelling method that Marvel have pioneered and only Marvel have managed to pull off in the movies thus far. ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ simply would not work without the previous 12 movies but it’s the pinnacle of the genre for exactly that reason.
I give ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ 5 stars out of 5.
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Posted: 13th May 16