Captain America: Civil War, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, is another large action fest, filled with characters upon characters, and a globe-trotting story. Though it isn’t billed as, this does feel like another large Avengers type movie. The difference with this one is that it actually doesn’t feel bloated and overly managed (there weren’t too many cooks in that kitchen). Coherent storytelling and an ensemble cast of varied and interesting characters are what make this film the spectacle it is – and all out action of course – but does Captain America: Civil War fall prey to the same problems that plague so many of these Marvel Superhero extravaganza’s? Let’s get this review going and find out.
The plot in Captain America: Civil War pits Avenger against Avenger. After multiple films where cities have been levelled and people have died, the world is now looking to have checks and restrictions put upon the Avengers. As you’d expect, some aren’t big on the idea of people in suits who have agendas of their own, being able to dictate where and what they can do, while some of them are okay with this. A split happens and one side, led by Captain America – played by Chris Evans – wants to keep their freedoms, while the other side, led by Iron Man (Tony Stark) – played by Robert Downey Jr – believes sanctions need to be put in place. There are also sub-plots that involve characters being framed and moments from history being dragged out of the darkness. All of these inevitably lead to large action sequences where super-powered individuals beat the crap out of each other.
What I found to be one of the best achievements in Captain America: Civil War was how coherent and understandable it all was. The Russo’s are certainly a talented pair, and their ability to manage such a big film, filled with countless characters and storylines is certainly an achievement. Unlike other recent superhero films (Batman v Superman, Avengers: Age of Ultron) this film doesn’t feel like it is burdening itself with unnecessary plots. The film moves forward at a manageable pace and always keeps its focus.
Perhaps the coherence of this film is such an achievement because there are so many characters, all which require time to develop their place within the film. This isn’t a film that is just Captain America and Iron Man being angry at one another, no. There are characters that we have become familiar with over the course of many films – Falcon, Ant-Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye. Then there are either newer characters who we know very little about or there are characters that we have never spent any time with at all in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Scarlett Witch, Vision, Spider-Man, Black Panther.
Yes, somehow in everything that this film has to do, it still finds time to introduce, set-up and explore new characters – which I must add it does a pretty damn good job at. I know very little about Black Panther, but after this film, I’m certainly interested to learn more about him going forward and see what newness he brings to the bigger picture. Spider-Man, something that I’m sure many a fan-boy was excited to see, gets suitable screen time and is a great infusion of humour into the film. Tom Holland (who is the actor now portraying Spider-Man) has a great demeanour about him, and his quippy antics certainly embody the Spider-Man that many know from the comic books.
While the film does a good job of handing the new blood in the film, it also does a good job of continuing to build upon some now very well established characters. Character like Falcon and The Winter Soldier were pretty forgettable in their previous outings (in my opinion) and in this film I actually grew to like them and what they brought to the powerhouse of a table that they sit at. I’ll say it again, it is an achievement that they were able to have so much to handle and they never really dropped the ball.
But at the heart of it all is the conflict that is growing over the whole film between Captain America and Iron Man. Thankfully and once again, unlike other recent superhero films (this time I’m just directly referencing Batman v Superman) they don’t balls it up and have the showdown be an anti-climactic mess – no one is being stopped in their tracks my the mention of a parents name. When it finally comes down to the two (technically 3 if you count The Winter Soldier) facing off, it feels meaningful and it also had legitimate motivation behind it. A lot of that is also down to the great performances from Robert Downey Jr and Chris Evans. No punches are pulled, and seeing them beat the living hell out of one another is a spectacle in itself. The Russo brothers did not disappoint when it came time to step-up and put the two, toe-to-toe.
But I want to circle back for a moment and talk about the individual performances of the films two biggest names. First off Chris Evans as Captain America – it’s well known now that he embodies the character and continually delivers a good performance. What he is also able to do, and this film highlights it, is lead a film and almost seem to do it effortlessly. This is a character and an actor who have (after a shaky start) now very much found their rhythm with it all. Next to him – or I guess across from him this time – is Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man/Tony Stark. What is interesting about his performance in this film is how different it is from his earlier work. This time around, Tony Stark is not a one man joke machine who breaks any hint of tension with his constant wit. While those moments do still crop up, it’s a much more reserved and emotional Tony Stark that we get this time – and it only increases as certain elements of the plot unfold. I really liked the path that they took and hopefully will continue to take with the character. Seeing where both of these characters are at the end of the film makes for a very interesting story going forward. I am more than relieved that they didn’t wrap it all up in a safe and happy little bow at the end, and instead left some open and dangerous wounds to continue to fester.
The only real character misstep in the film – and it is a misstep that Marvel films continue to make is with the films villain. I seriously have to write a segment with each of my Marvel film reviews about how the villain is left in the background while countless heroes fight for the spotlight. Baron Zemo – played by Daniel Brühl – is the villain this time round, and the film doesn’t really give us much to work with. While he certainly has motivation in the film and I by the end was really interested in his plot to get revenge, it was too late to really save it from being a misstep in the films bigger picture. I would have loved to dive deeper into the things that drove him to do what he does, but once again this is a villain with something interesting in there somewhere but he unfortunately is stuck within a film universe that is not interested in expanding its catalogue of fully realised and possibly compelling villains.
So far I’ve talked quite a bit about the many characters in Civil War and only touched on the overall story in the film a little bit. So let’s get a little more detailed in its analysis. For the most part the story in the film is good. It’s coherent, it doesn’t ever get unnecessarily complicated and it continually keeps you in the loop. Now it isn’t exactly the most stimulating of stories, I was never on the edge of my seat, wondering what could be round the next corner, but for the most part it kept me engaged. If we’re being honest, films like this only really need to deliver something that keeps you engaged enough until the next big action set piece, and this film did that. As with all films of this scale, there are leaps in logic and the always helpful coincidences that on the surface your supposed to just accept – looking any deeper into them will quickly show there mistakes, but hey, that’s for afterwards, when all the explosions and the punching is done, so don’t worry about it. That’s a joke, do worry about it, question everything and don’t let some of the silliness (that is lesser than some other superhero films I must add) ever fool you.
One last point I want to make on the overall story in the film is how it ends up leaving everything. Unlike other Marvel films, where it doesn’t really feel like it deals with the realities or the consequences of its actions, Civil War leaves its universe in a fractured state. A state that going forward is very interesting to see how it plays out. The final act of this film carries a lot of weighty emotion, and if that can carry onto future films involving these characters… well then we may have something of real substance to tune in for.
Joe and Anthony Russo accomplish a lot in Captain America: Civil War and perhaps one of the best things they have brought to their films is action that in my personal opinion is unrivalled in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Captain America: Winter Soldier kicked it all off with some intense close quarter fights and also some well-choreographed large-scale action. Captain America: Civil War continues it and also improves upon it. The action in this film is the usual buzz word situation – exciting, fun, fantastical and a host of other words that marketing people will use to show off how well received their film is. But getting away from those words, Civil War has some really well shot and understandable to follow close-quarter fights. You can see the punches being thrown and you can see them hitting, and unlike the usual situation where there are so many cuts within one fight that you have no idea what’s happening, in Civil War you get a real sense of the power behind the hits and you also see the effects it has on the person who gets hit.
So while the Russo’s nail the up-close and personal action – which I’ll add is very important to nail when you’ve got characters like Captain America, Black Panther, The Winter Soldier, and Black Widow – they also do a great job of handling the bigger stuff. This isn’t a film that plays only on the ground. There are a lot of moving parts (superheroes of varying power) and somehow the Russo brothers are able to find a place for everyone to have their time to shine. Spider-Man for example, moves and fights exactly how you’d expect him too. Seeing him take on both Falcon and Winter Soldier (who I’ll quickly add have an unexpectedly funny relationship) at the same time and deal with their very different offensive strategies is not only well done, but fun to watch. There are countless examples I could give of the varied action working but it would make more sense for me to leave it for you to enjoy yourself – I mean this isn’t exactly a film that’s short on it.
I’ll finish up on talking about the action by saying that the Russo brothers have cracked the code, they now have the blue prints for constructing exciting and engaging action (there’s those buzz words again) in the Marvel Universe. It’s said that the Russo brothers employed the help of the stunt team who worked on the ‘John Wick’ film for Civil War, and if that’s the case, ask for their help again for future Marvel films. I think it’s refreshing to see a film of this size (budget, cast list, locations etc) deliver action that is actually enjoyable to watch. If anything, Civil War has won me over on its excellently executed action alone.
Near the end of Civil War and certainly after it was finished and the credits were rolling (sidebar, the end credit scenes are as always, a waste of time) I had one commanding thought enter my head. The coherence of this film, the great action, the level of emotion between two former friends beating the hell out of each other – what Civil War accomplished is what Batman v Superman should have been. I couldn’t get that thought out of my head. I was a DC kid when I was young, and Batman v Superman was supposed to be a happy time for me in the cinema (it wasn’t, and if you’re interested, you can read my full review of it by clicking this link). Meanwhile a Marvel film exceeded my expectations completely, and for the first time since ‘The Avengers’, got me interested in Marvel films going forward.
Is this film perfect? Definitely not – the film has many problems, but they’re minor in relation to the overall film. With Batman v Superman, the problems outweighed everything else. You almost couldn’t see the film for all the problems in your way. With Captain America: Civil War you can easily see the film and its many enjoyable elements.
So with that all being said, I will be recommending Captain America: Civil War. This is currently the big blockbuster film of the year to beat, and I’ll be interested to see if anything can.
So what did you think of Captain America: Civil War or my review of it? I’d love to know in the comments down below. If you’d like to keep up-to-date on the rest of my ramblings, you could either follow this blog directly, or follow me over on Twitter – @GavinsTurtle (helpful little link for you there). So last but of course not least have a great week and I hope you enjoy some good cinema.