It’s been a couple of weeks now since Civil War first hit cinemas, and so it only makes sense that we take a moment to delve into what just happened. First up I want to apologise that there’s not a spoiler free review, but I was away when the movie first released and I only just managed to see it a few days ago. Since by now if you’re curious you’ve probably read enough reviews to know if it’s any good or not (and it is good, real good) I felt there was little point in doing one two weeks after release. But for those who have seen it (or don’t care about spoilers) there is plenty to go over. So consider this a half-review half-spoiler talk on Marvel’s biggest movie of the year – Captain America: Civil War.
I think the most impressive part of the movie was how the Russo’s managed to handle a Captain America movie with an Avengers cast to juggle as well. This could have easily turned into a messy Avengers 2.5 but it never stopped feeling like Captain America 3. Everything revolved around Rogers, his choices and his motivations. Even when trying to juggle the dissent between Rogers and Stark, and somehow manage to make the audience see and understand both sides of the debate (which they also did), it didn’t turn into an Iron Man movie or an Avengers movie. Cap is at his best when he is working off of others, and he’s almost never alone in this movie. Whether it’s the conflict with Tony, the camaraderie with Sam/Falcon, the central conflict with Bucky, or even his interactions with Widow and Sharon Carter, the movie made sure Steve Rogers had someone to talk to and it really helped his character shine.
Although it wasn’t an Iron Man film we did get to see plenty of RDJ’s Tony Stark. The CGI’d young Downey was a little freaky, especially since it’s the first we see of Stark in this movie, but I really enjoyed his role as the half-antagonist half-friend. It would have been easy to paint his stance as ‘wrong’ compared to Captain America, but you buy into his argument. It is a little weird seeing Stark like this after Iron Man 2, where he took a far more staunchly anti-government stance. You could argue a little more internal development could have helped here, but it’s one of the few times I felt Iron Man 3 actually contributed to the MCU. What Tony has gone through since the first Avengers movie (The PTSD, guilt surrounding Ultron) all starts to maybe change his worldview a bit and make him more vulnerable to emotional pleas like the one he gets early in Civil War with the lady’s son that died in Sokovia. It’s not the perfect path to the very pro-control stance Tony we get in Civil War, but I did buy into the thought that Tony could end up on that side in the cinematic universe.
The movie in general handled the public fallout from destruction caused by the Avengers really well. It wasn’t flippant or overdone, but realistic for the world the Russo’s were building. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t like how people complained about how civilians died in Man of Steel but in the two Avengers movies it was kind of ignored – but they break it down and show the kind of impact these fights are having and creates legitimate tension between everyone involved. Scarlett Witch looked genuinely distraught at how she wasn’t able to contain the blast from Crossbones’ suicide bomb and the lives that were lost as a result. It made for a brilliant scene.
Speaking of Scarlett Witch, I was really happy with how she was handled here. Not only did she have the weight of the opening incident on her shoulders throughout the movie, but also with what happened in Age of Ultron. Unlike in Ultron it felt like Elizabeth Olsen was allowed to do more with Wanda, and it showed. Admittedly I’m not really sold on whatever is going on between her and Vision (I get there’s comic precedent to this but I don’t think the execution is quite there yet) but outside of that I liked her increased role in Civil War. She also got to really show off her powers beyond just mental manipulation – it was clear in the airport brawl that she was the MVP as she comfortably dealt with anyone who stepped up against her while also saving several members of Team Cap from some precarious positions. And with every passing movie I’m enjoying Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, who continues to deliver an underrated performance with a healthy mix of comedy and drama.
We had two superhero debuts in Civil War, and the one I was most excited for – Black Panther, delivered on all fronts. Chadwick Boseman was fantastic as T’Challa in what was a very composed and understated performance, but it worked beautifully for the portrayal. He never raised his voice in anger, but he still made you believe the internal rage that was building. All that led to a wonderful character moment at the end where he stood next to Zemo and refused to let that anger control him – before stopping Zemo from taking his own life despite his sole goal through most of the movie being to gain vengeance for his father’s death. Expect a lot of excitement for the Black Panther solo film and a big boost in interest over the character in general.
I was sceptical of Spider-Man going into the movie. I was burnt out after five Sony movies and thought he’d be chucked in purely because they were finally able to use him. I was also worried an even younger Spider-Man would just mean more origin retelling and felt the suit looked really fake in the teaser we saw. But I’m glad to say I was wrong on all accounts. Tom Holland seemed perfectly cast as both Peter Parker and the webslinger, and was written truer to the comics than either Maguire or Garfield’s takes on the character – at least as far as what I personally have read of him. My one complaint is that you could tell he was a little shoe-horned in. With 36 hours to find Captain America Stark probably shouldn’t be wasting time going to New York to recruit a high schooler and hit on Marissa Tomei, but in a superhero movie it was easy enough to suspend my disbelief as I watched it (some would argue there’s always time for someone like Tomei). It was all worth it just for the Empire Strikes Back reference when he ties up Giant Man’s legs like he was an AT-AT.
The suit also looked more natural in the flow of the movie. It might be because I wasn’t scrutinising it as much since it wasn’t a five second teaser, but where as it looked fake among the armour and suits being worn by the rest of the Avengers in the trailer, it looked perfectly fine here. Speaking of fake though, it felt like there were times when the green screen work and visual effects stood out more so than I’m used to in a big budget MCU-type movie. Robert Downey Jnr as Iron Man at the airport was when it seemed to be at its most obvious. It almost felt like it was filmed to be primarily 3D but scaled back into 2D and caused some spacial dissonance. Might just be me though.
Part of this ‘sense of fakeness’ can be applied to the fight/action scenes as well. For the most part they were well executed, but whenever the fights got particularly acrobatic it because very obvious that it wasn’t natural. It wasn’t always the case, and the emotion in scenes like the final Iron Man/Cap/Winter Soldier fight carried it above and beyond the average superhero beatdown, but some of Panther’s spinning kicks felt very artificial. I also felt the first action scene in Lagos was filmed by different people to the later scenes. The camera was a bit all over the place like it was done so to hide certain parts of the action. It did build tension to the scene which might have been why they went down that route, but it wasn’t as enjoyable to watch as other scenes.
There are two things I want to say on this topic though before I go. The first is that the Russo’s made a bold move to film those kinds of fight scenes in broad daylight, where it becomes much harder to hide the kind of effects needed to make Panther’s fighting style work. So many superhero films are filmed in darker locations where it can be hidden somewhat, but they didn’t compromise the story in order to cheat in that aspect. The second point is that I can be overly critical of fight scenes because of how much I adore them. I more or less hold every fight scene I see (in direction, photography, choreography and emotion) up against the Raid series, which to me is the modern pinnacle of fight execution. These scenes are no ‘Raid’, but despite my criticisms they’re still solid and for the most part work well.
Also, and it has to be said, the big Civil War fight between the two sides was a lot of fun. The Russo’s did well to give everybody some wins and losses as they went at it, with nobody (even Hawkeye) appearing out of his element for too long. While Scarlett Witch was the strongest, Ant-Man was the most fun: whether it was tampering with the Iron Man suit or becoming Giant Man (which would have been a great surprise if merchandising didn’t spoil that reveal). It was good to see Paul Rudd mixing it up with the Avengers, though with Spidey also in the MCU now he may have to give up a few of his quips to the new guy on the block. The end of the fight, with Vision accidentally blasting Rhodes out of the sky, was also a well executed moment, especially since Falcon (who Vision was aiming for) didn’t second guess himself as he went straight into hero mode to try and save him, even if it was for naught.
I hate to say it again but I have to, the one letdown of another Marvel movie is again the antagonists. Civil War can kind of get away with it because the movie’s focus isn’t on a direct villain as much as it is the interplay between the two sides, but I personally thought Zemo felt very incidental despite the fact he’s fairly crucial to the story. Part of this seems intentional in how the movie is paced by the Russo’s, you don’t get a whole lot of focus on who he is rather than what he’s up to, but I honestly found myself not caring about what he was up to. There were aspects I did like – the reveal of his family’s death was quite touching and made you feel bad for him as he was listening to recordings the whole movie. It tied his motivations into the overarching theme quite well, but at the end of the day I simply didn’t care all that much about him and ultimately his story doesn’t feel like it matters as much as it should – and really that has been one of the constants when it comes to the MCU.
Speaking of the conclusion, kudos to Marvel for not wrapping everything up into a neat little happy bow. The Avengers are still heavily split, and we even see Captain America breaking his squad out of the prison they were kept in after the airport brawl. Yeah there is still the touch of friendship with Steve’s note to Tony (with phone included to call when Thanos arrives….I mean when they really need him) but they didn’t skimp out on the personal drama. Tony’s still broken up over everything that happened (including the revelation of his parents demise), and we see Winter Soldier voluntarily freezing himself because he doesn’t want to be controlled like he had been. It might not end with Tony and Steve hugging it out, but it ultimately makes the movie that much more important to the overall MCU, and helps sell the conflict that we went through for the two and a half plus hours.
I think what I liked most about the execution of Civil War was that even though the stakes were fairly high, and there were plenty of explosions and civilian danger, the story itself was fairly small and self contained. It kept the heart of the story it wanted to tell, which was the struggle of friendship and belief against immense pressure, and told a meaningful story without losing the charm that makes the MCU so beloved. There are legitimate life lessons to be learnt here, and the speech Carter gives at her aunt’s funeral about compromising where you can, but standing firm when you can’t, is quite a powerful line for anyone who has been in a situation where that can be applied. This is a true sequel to Winter Soldier, far more than I was expecting even with the trailers we had. As far as the rest of the MCU, it’s top three for me alongside Winter Soldier and Guardians (I’d need multiple viewings to determine true positioning). It’s firmly establishing the playing field heading into phase three, perfectly set up two incoming characters with solo films ahead and strengthened all the other main players. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is looking as strong as it ever has after this.