Captain America: Civil War

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Sebastian Stan, Daniel Brühl, Frank Grillo, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, William Hurt, Elizabeth Olsen, Don Cheadle, Martin Freeman, Paul Rudd, Paul Bettany, Stan Lee, Marisa Tomei, Leslie Bibb and Tom Holland
In UK Cinemas April 29th, 2016

by Richard Hamer

When a superhero saves the world, who takes responsibility for the collateral damage? DC’s Man of Steel chose to ignore its civilian death toll, though it occurred on a scale so vast it could be considered as a plot hole. In a move of ill-advised narrative convenience, Batman v Superman chose to avoid it altogether, setting its finale on an abandoned island right next to a major metropolitan city. Captain America: Civil War, on the other hand, marks itself the superior blockbuster by choosing to explore the consequences of how the world reacts when caped crusaders accidentally kill ordinary people.

Following a mission gone awry in central Africa, superhero supergroup the Avengers comes under scrutiny: They may save the world time and again, but everywhere they go civilians die, and as a private army essentially answerable to no one, they get to simply walk away. From the ashes of this most recent tragedy come the ‘Sokovia Accords’; an agreement that turns the Avengers over to U.N. Control, from private army to government tool.

The rift this causes in the group is central to Civil War’s political backbone; the conflict between Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America is the backdrop to a potentially interesting exploration of the limits of politically sanctioned violence and the merits (real or imagined) of vigilantism. As more and more superheroes join the fray – including Paul Rudd’s Ant-man and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man (in a debut performance too good to spoil) – it’s once again the world that pays the price.

Civil War has a laudable dedication to its ideas, and a surprisingly strait-laced earnestness it shares with its predecessor Winter Soldier; one that lends it an air of gravitas far in excess of DC’s self-consciously brooding efforts. But, if you spotted a rogue ‘potentially’ in that previous paragraph, that’s because for all its hard work, Civil War comes up short as a convincing political piece.

There is simply way too much going on. With its trans-franchise cast of heroes now swelling into double figures, juggling screen time is Civil War’s greatest struggle. To its credit, it does a far better job than Age of Ultron: Both directorial duo the Russo brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (all Winter Soldier alumni, quickly revealing themselves to be the aces up Marvel’s sleeve), have a much better handle on its bloated cast. Everyone gets just enough screen time to seem plausible, just enough to show off a special move or make a quip.

Yet in the rush to get more superheroes on screen, something is lost. The reasoning for each hero taking sides in the conflict is flimsy and unconvincing, some thrown out in only a couple of lines, some not even in that. And for all the hour-plus set-up in Civil War’s stately 150-minute running time, it’s never made clear why the Sokovia Accords matter; what the actual consequences will be in real terms.

But on a character level, for the central cast at least, it succeeds wonderfully. One can’t underestimate the unique experience that comes from establishing a cinematic universe over this long of a period: We’ve followed Iron Man and Captain America through over seven movies now, and witnessing where the sum of all their adventures has led them is surprisingly affecting. I may not buy into Civil War as a conflict of ideologies, but I can buy into it as a conflict borne of one man’s failed relationships and another’s desire to hold onto the last reminder of a life he can never return to. It helps that both Downey Jr. and Evans have grown into their roles magnificently, delivering performances with enough heart to stand out against all the CG fights and meandering plotting.

And on the level of an action film? As a beer-and-popcorn, over-priced 3D, bona fide Hollywood blockbuster, Civil War is extraordinary. Where Age of Ultron is vast, loud and oddly distant, here the action is surprisingly restrained in scope, yet brilliant in staging. There is something of the Edgar Wright in the wit of its visual imagination, how it handles the strange and unusual combination of combatants with the unbridled joy of a franchise finally set free. Civil War undoubtedly contains, in a single movie, all the best fight scenes in the entire Marvel cinematic canon.

So, it’s a triumph: An overlong triumph, with a reach that exceeds its grasp, but a triumph nonetheless. In their finer moments, Marvel Studios have hit on a formula for the perfect blockbuster; fun and full of action, ultimately lightweight in theme and story, yet – and this is the crucial part – utterly serious about the characters who occupy it. Captain America: Civil War is amongst the finest of these moments.



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