Director | Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Producer | Kevin Feige
Writer | Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Cast | Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jnr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Brühl.
Run Time | 147 mins
Certificate | 12a
**Warning – Spoilers**
Plot | When an Avengers mission goes fatally awry, 117 nations sign-up to The Sokovia Accords. The document establishes an international governing body to act as oversight for all super powered people, effectively nationalising the Avengers. Forced to either sign up or retire, the issue divides the team in half – Tony Stark (Downey Jnr.) advocates for the accords while Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is the lead dissenter. What begins as an ideological stand-off becomes much more physical when The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) resurfaces.
Review | A pleasant surprise from Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was the phenomenally good Captain America: Winter Soldier. The Russo brothers’ interpretation of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay was a near perfect homage to 70s conspiracy fiction. As often happens on the back of such critical success, anticipation for the sequel has been stellar. Could the Russo’s pull it off again?
The short answer is “mostly”.
Great care has been taken to intertwine the events of Age of Ultron and Winter Soldier together to get to where we are in the MCU. This is a place where our heroes are being called into question for the collateral damage that has become almost an intrinsic part of their world spanning escapades.
If the explosive, overtly advertised and inherently political dressing of Civil War feels more like an Avengers plot line, then the main arc takes things in a more personal direction. As much as some corners of the media have been labelling this Avengers 2.5, the crux of this story is very personal – this is about Captain America and Iron Man (and Bucky) in so many ways. So, while the majority of the team are there (the few absentees being reserved for Thor: Ragnarok), this is less Avengers 2.5 and more (as my fellow Geeketeer Mike put it) Captain America vs Iron Man: Dawn of Registration.
The first third or so is patiently paced. Primarily, this time is used to set up the introduction of the Accords, the return of Bucky, and establishing the political positions of the main players. As such, it is a little dry in the humour department and, what action we do get, it is a little simplistic and restrained. Civil War is a slow cooked home dinner, not a fast food quick hit – those without patience may waver a little.
Fortunately, this is not padding but build, and the wait is worth it. As the subplots advance, events come to a head in a two part final act – one for the teams as a whole (as most will have seen in the promotional trailers) and one specifically for Cap’s immediate concerns.
The eventual, inevitable, superhero dust-up is excellently put together. There are some very cool moments, including a nod or two to famous comic book covers (keep any eye out for the Hawkeye/Ant-Man team up). Speaking of Ant-Man, he (and even moreso Spider-Man) inject some adroitly executed wittiness to proceedings.
Ah yes, Spider-Man. One of the most intriguing developments in recent years was the deal Marvel Studios pulled with Sony to get everyone’s favourite web-slinger into the MCU, and into this film. Well, it was certainly worth it. Tom Holland seems to be a fantastic bit of casting, and his extended cameo is excellent. Some have gone so far as to say this is the best twenty minutes of Spider-Man committed to the big screen, and that Holland is the best actor to portray him to date. On the strength of this performance, there will be little argument from us here.
Spider-Man wasn’t the only other newcomer to the franchise. Civil War sees the introduction of Black Panther to the MCU. Panther is T’Challa, a member of Wakandan royalty – here he is brought to life by Chadwick Boseman (Draft Day, 42). T’Challa is a proud man who, as his father T’Chaka puts it, “doesn’t believe in diplomacy”. Little more can be said about Panther and his particular mini-arc without giving away spoilers, so let’s just say that while Panther’s role in the film is narrow in scope, Boseman gets more out of the role than is probably expected. As such, his stand alone film in 2018 (to be directed by Fruitvale Station and Creed helmer Ryan Coogler) has become a much more enticing project.
So far, so good. So, what is holding Civil War back from matching its predecessor? For one, it is little less slickly put together. Winter Soldier’s pacing was spot on and, while Civil War benefits from it’s methodical build, the build itself is less intriguing than what has come before. As mentioned earlier, the few early action scenes we get are simply ‘fine’ rather than anything overly memorable, and the script’s lack of humour or bite doesn’t help alleviate this.
Speaking of the dialogue – Spider-Man, Ant-Man and Falcon’s quips aside – it is mostly workmanlike and could have been so much better. A lot of the back-and-forth between Stark and Rogers repeats the same (or very similar) lines throughout. This is a shame when the source material has more breadth and depth that could have been called upon. There is a scene in the comics where Rogers brings up the fact that he lived in an era where certain groups of people were singled out for being ‘different’, tracked by their Government, made to register etc. This sort of scene could have been used to powerful effect. A missed opportunity.
The MCU is a sprawling thing. Civil War is the thirteenth film in the franchise. A franchise universe that also contains: Agent Carter, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil and Jessica Jones. They will soon be joined by Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Punisher, Damage Control, The Defenders and Cloak and Dagger. With such a rich and talented cast of actors, actresses and characters, it seems a shame that – for Marvel’s big in-fight – little was done to incorporate any of these in the supporting cast, even in a tangential sort of way. Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. will almost certainly address it from their end, but it would have been nice for greater integration.
One aspect receiving mixed response is the use of Daniel Brühl. If you head into the cinema thinking you are getting a big bad to rival Loki (ie, the benchmark Marvel villain), then maybe you will be disappointed. While Brühl’s Zemo is certainly an antagonist tangled up in these events, he is more a catalyst for other plot development than an outright big bad. Performance wise, Brühl wrings as much out of the role as possible. Credit to the writers, while Zemo’s methods are unorthodox at best, he certainly has more character depth than, say, Red Skull, Malekith or any host of previous MCU rogues.
Little more can be analysed without giving away some fairly major spoilers and, to be honest, it would be much better to witness these in person. Of what little else we can add: there is a twist towards the end that we probably should have seen coming, but didn’t; there’s some nice interaction between Ultron and Scarlet Witch (hopefully foreshadowing events from the comics); the London-based plotpoint seems slightly randomly dropped in; book off time now for Spider-Man: Homecoming.
The Verdict | While not quite scaling the heady heights of its elite level predecessor, Captain America: Civil War is still very good. The patient build is worth it for the explosive, entertaining hero-on-hero fisticuffs, as well as where the conclusion leaves Earth’s Mightiest Heros. Oh, and Spider-Man is awesome.