Following upon from the success of Captain America: Winter Soldier is a sequel, once again directed by the Russo brothers, adapting Mark Millar’s famous Civil War series to the big screen. The thirteenth feature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, backed by Disney, will this turn out to be the unlucky entry in the highly successful franchise?
Following on from the events of Age of Ultron, after another incident involving the Avengers ends in some high profile collateral damage, the UN demand a form of accountability in the form of the ‘Sokovia Accords’. This would mean the Avengers would only be allowed to intercede in international matters when called upon by a supervising committee. The Avengers are left split by this with one side agreeing with Captain America, siding against the accords, and one group siding with Iron Man, who wishes to follow the demands of the U.N. The issue is complicated further when the signing of the bill is seemingly bombed by The Winter Soldier, Captain America’s brainwashed best friend, resulting in numerous deaths, including the killing of T’Chaka the King of Wakanda.
Much like Batman vs Superman there is a lot of plot to weave through in Civil War, however unlike BvS this film balances its characters with much more success. By no means does everything flow perfectly, but the ideological clash of the characters is kept clear and concise, assisted by us having gotten to know these characters in previous features. Evans and Downey Jnr continue their fine work as the clashing pair, the figureheads of the Marvel Universe, and this feud has been brewing throughout the Avengers series. Recalling so many characters from the MCU could threaten to destabilise the movie, but as we have met so many of the characters before their importance in the story is flexible, with invested characters taking the foreground. For example Ant-Man appears in the film, in little more than an extended cameo, he has little grasp of the larger situation but his fleeting appearance is highly entertaining. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is one of the new additions to the gigantic ensemble and although Boseman does have a charismatic presence there is so much going on in Civil War that we never really get to connect with him. Although it must be admitted that getting to see more of the character in his own feature, under the direction of Ryan Coogler, is an intriguing prospect. The much hyped appearance of Spiderman within the MCU has been one of the most talked about aspects of Civil War and it is a pleasure to report that Tom Holland did a fantastic job as everyone’s favourite wall crawler, capturing the youthful enthusiasm that makes the character so popular. Credit goes not just to the actor, but also to the writers/directors for funnelling fresh creative life into a character going through his third incarnation in only fourteen years. Having referenced the writing it would be ill of me not to discuss the work of Christopher Markus & Stephen Mcfeely (Yes that is his real name, and it’s awesome) on their fourth Marvel project. They have written the screenplays for the entire Captain America trilogy, and their ability to translate a character many would have dismissed as ill-fitting for a modern audience, due to the perception of him being dated, has turned Captain America, alongside Iron Man, into the flagship character of the MCU. Marvel have long been accused of under developing their villains, their film’s tend to focus on the protagonists by design, and Daniel Bruhl’s performance is a brief one as Helmut Zemo. However I will say I was impressed by what I did see of the character, and his motivations complement the film’s themes in the larger context. With a cast so large I will give small mentions of praise to the continued impressive displays of Elisabeth Olson, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson and Emily VanCamp. Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier is more of a plot piece than a character and I hope to see him explored beyond simply being a brainwashed weapon in the future so we can see more range, especially if, as expected, he becomes a larger part of the MCU in the future. With a range of action scenes I was impressed by the Russo Brothers use of variety, the earlier fight scenes being very organic, using a handheld camera to amplify the ‘street level’ of the conflict. Later when the two superhero sides showdown the style changes to a much more fixed fluid motion to allow us to enjoy the wide open spectacle of what amounts to an MCU Royal Rumble. Henry Jackman, one of my favourite composers, once again delivers a stirring powerful score and it’s no surprise he was called back on board following his fine work on The Winter Soldier.
With such a massively packed movie I have had to disavow my typical word count just to get close to covering most of the parts of Civil War I wished to discuss. Containing such a monumental amount of content and balancing the narrative, character motivations and plot of the film as well as the Russo’s have is a great accomplishment. That the film is therefore unable to completely satisfy all components that hold it together is a small criticism for such a well-made feature but one that needs to be recognised. There is another nagging issue that I cannot elaborate on as it would take us into spoiler region, something I am unwilling to do so soon from release. Suffice it to say it revolves around another common complaint levied at Marvel films in the past that with each passing feature becomes a slightly more aggrandising concern. For now though Civil War is a feast of what fans of the genre will love best, definitely worth seeing, whichever side you’re on.
Review by Alexander Halsall