Captain America: Civil War – It’s time to pick a side in one of Marvel’s best films to date

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

With superhero and comic book films gradually becoming a cinematic cornerstone over the years, it can often feel like an increasingly hard game of spot-the-difference as the releases keep piling up. While I’m a big fan, the origin stories, goodies vs. baddies, and endless fights can often (and inevitably) get repetitive in the costume-wearing world. However there are a few films trying to shake things up and break the usual mould: take Iron Man Three (2013) with its inventive spin on the traditional villain, or Ant-Man (2015) which skipped on the original comic book incarnation of the superhero (Hank Pym) to instead tell the story of his successor (Scott Lang). And recently Deadpool (2016) smashed the cycle even more with its gory violence and adult humour, plus cool fourth wall breaking and meta-references galore. While Captain America: Civil War (2016) might not be as self-referential or light-hearted as that, it too offers a wholly different take on the superhero universe – one which spectacularly surpasses what we have to come to expect from an already well-established comic book film franchise. Consider the bar well and truly raised…

Returning director duo The Russo Brothers (aka. Anthony and James Russo) don’t waste a moment of the extended running time they’ve been given (at 2 hours and a half it’s the longest Marvel film yet) spectacularly kicking off the action within the first few opening scenes. Cue yet more of the breathtakingly choreographed fight sequences that worked so well in their previous instalment Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), as well as a brilliant introduction to a new baddie from that same film (and who is played with pleasingly gruff intensity by Frank Grillo). With big action set pieces and the usual MacGuffin that the newly established group of Avengers have to steal back from the other side (here a biohazard of some sort), Civil War begins like every other comic book film we’ve seen before; albeit an impressive one. However it is after this exciting introductory sequence that the real story kicks in, The Russos spinning what could have been another carbon copy superhero film into a mature, fascinating tale about politics, power, and who is really in control.

A tense standoff...

While this sequel is a continuation of the thrillingly darker tone that The Russos chose for The Winter Soldier, a lot of it comes directly from the source graphic novel written by Mark Miller. A gripping tale that explores a world becoming increasingly disenfranchised with superheroes – a world that sees them causing as much damage as the very evils they fight – Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay deviates slightly from Miller’s story, yet still focuses on the tensions created when political powers call for the heroes to be controlled. Pretty soon those fractures aren’t just felt across the world…they’re felt between the Avengers themselves.

Civil War pleasingly twists and turns, The Russos keeping us on our toes throughout and throwing in some outstanding action-packed scenes to really make for an intense ride. An incredible sequence towards the end of the film involving an airport runway is the best yet, with superb fights and the odd dose of humour (especially when Ant-Man shows the rest of the team what he can really do). Indeed, although this is the most grounded and emotional of all the Marvel films so far, it is also the most fun. The Russos ensure to keep a vein of comedy running throughout – a touch that has become a staple of Marvel films and which prevents proceedings from getting too murky. Most of the laughs this time come from a brilliant new incarnation of everybody’s favourite webbed superhero (played by a bright-eyed Tom Holland who is clearly in his element here). Overenthusiastic and geekily so, it is the best turn of the character we’ve seen on film so far, one that makes you excited to see his solo outing next year.

Cap (Chris Evans) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) meet Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)...

However it is another new addition that really makes Civil War stand out from its predecessors. Black Panther is a character people have been eagerly waiting to see onscreen, and The Russos have truly given him an introduction worthy of his iconic status. Black Panther’s appearance, and in fact the whole of Civil War, is also a prime example of everything that the Marvel films do best, particularly in comparison to recent DC films (Batman v Superman (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016)). While these titles quickly throw together new characters with mildly entertaining results, they inevitably fall flat as they fail to generate any sort of feeling or interest for them. Instead Marvel takes the time to build up their back stories, with perfect performances creating wholly realistic characters we want to see time and time again. Even without a Black Panther solo film (although there is one coming), we already understand the difficult journey he has to go on, Chadwick Boseman’s powerful and emotional performance drawing us in and hinting at a wealth of secrets about the character that will surely be explored down the line.

But let’s face it, while it’s exciting to see these new characters, what Civil War is really about is a continuation of one central relationship that has been seen throughout all the Captain America films: Steve and Bucky. Civil War is without a doubt Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan’s finest hour, the two effortlessly building on their characters from the previous films and once again portraying their complicated friendship with ease. Evans in particular continues to perfectly convey the complex character arc Steve has experienced through each of the films – from perfect superhero, to reluctant fighter, and here to something else again. It is also a joy to see him opposite Robert Downey Jr. again, another actor who gets better with each Marvel film he appears in. Here Downey Jr. shows how Stark has become even more conflicted over whether the Avengers cause more problems than they solve, a fact that leads to some brilliantly taut standoffs between him and Steve. It’s mature moments like this which really give Civil War its edge, and make it worth revisiting time and time again.

Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) and Steve try to talk things out...

Captain America: Civil War is an absolute masterclass in getting a comic book film right. Fresh and fun, intense and entertaining, The Russos have spectacularly outdone themselves and created a sequel that is up there with The Avengers (2012) as the greatest entry in the Marvel universe. However with the director duo taking the wheel on the next Avengers film, Infinity War, they might just surpass even this. I for one will be waiting in eager anticipation to see if they manage to do so.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on September 5, 2016.

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