Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, 2016.
Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Sebastian Stan, Scarlet Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Daniel Bruhl, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Jeremy Renner, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, William Hurt.
Avengers leader Captain America attempts to track down his former ally-turned-hitman Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier; but he’s not the only one, and not everyone wants him alive. At the same time, the consequences of the Avenger’s previous battles are bought to bare when the UN decides they need to be controlled – or arrested.
EVERY YEAR FOR many years, the big boys of American comics Marvel and DC produce crossover events; these are multi-issue storylines which normally involve all their most popular characters fighting against a larger-than-usual threat. These are often big on scale and spectacle, and low on originality or, to be honest, anything else.
One of the more successful crossovers was 2006’s Civil War, written by Kick-Ass creator Mark Millar. Rather than throwing all the A-list Marvel superheroes again that year’s uber-villain, it instead had the heroes at each other’s throats, divided by a US Government mandate that everyone with special powers register themselves and reveal their secret identity. It’s an intriguing premise from the offset, one that combines political intrigue, social commentary and, of course, superheroes fighting each other en masse.
After twelve movies introducing a wealth of different caped and uncaped crusaders, Marvel Studios were in a position to adapt Civil War as the third entry of their Captain America series. Although understandably scaled down (the comic saga sprawled across more than forty issues and included many characters Marvel Studios can’t use), the fundamental elements are all in place; a battle of ethics and wills between Captain America (Evans) and Tony Stark (Downey Jr), aka the Invincible Iron Man – Cap believing autonomy is essential to superheroics, Stark urging the Avengers to sign up and work with the authorities.
At first it seems Cap and Stark are on the wrong teams; Stark ever the rock-star rebel, has banged heads with the Government before and by his own admission, doesn’t play well with others. Cap on the other hand enrolled in the military to fight World War II, joined defence agency SHIELD and, well, wears the American flag.
But Cap cheated to join the military; he overthrew SHIELD; and he’s always done what he believes is right, regardless of orders. Stark feels guilty for previous mistakes – primarily creating Ultron, an android which nearly wiped out all life on earth – and feels the time has come for the Avengers to be answerable to someone.
Civil War doesn’t disappoint, constantly erupting with exhilarating set pieces
It’s effective drama which both Evans and Downey Jr are at the top of their game for; both sympathetic and stubborn, both reaching out to find some common ground even whilst they are battering each other in combat. We’ve never seen Stark this vulnerable, stripped of his beloved Girl Friday Pepper Potts, at war with his friends and even dropping his ego. Cap, under seige from all sides, refuses to concede and makes himself and his companions criminals in the process. Civil War doesn’t cop out either – this central conflict goes right down to the bitter ending.
The third major player is Bucky Barnes (Stan) – Cap’s former buddy turned bionic-armed assassin the Winter Soldier. Directors Andy and Joe Russo clearly love this character – half the movie is spent tracking him down, with three different parties after him; he throws down with just about everyone, and gets most of the coolest moves. He’s an intriguingly ambivalent figure, sometimes a confused victim of brainwashing, sometimes a merciless Terminator.
Many were worried before release Civil War would be another Avengers movie in all but name, rather than a proper Captain America 3. The truth is, it’s both; it’s a better outing for the team than Age of Ultron, but it never relegates Cap from the main role, giving him more to do here than ever before, whilst putting his ethic-driven actions under scrutiny. How far will he really go for his ideals? And which ideals really motivate him?
Card-carrying Avengers powerhouses the Incredible Hulk and Thor don’t show up – they might have ended the party too quickly – but everyone else is here, and somehow they all have a worthy part in proceedings. Ant-Man (Rudd) turns up, and turns it up to eleven; the latest version of Spider-Man (Holland) is introduced as a protégé/comedic foil for Stark; but most entertaining is Paul Bettany’s red-faced android the Vision. Noble, formidable on the battlefield, and rather silly, he attempts to cook the Scarlet Witch (Olsen) a meal before announcing he’s never actually eaten anything before.
The furious action in previous instalment The Winter Soldier was one of it’s key selling points, and Civil War doesn’t disappoint, constantly erupting with exhilarating set pieces. There are gritty, unflinching martial arts brawls in the style of The Raid, but every superpower is made full use of as well. Each conflict escalates as more and more superheroes get involved, leading to a thrilling escape/chase sequence with everybody chasing Bucky, and Cap and his winged-sidekick the Falcon (Mackie) chasing them; and then the movie’s centre-piece, a ten-minute, tarmac-based royal rumble at an abandoned airport.
There are almost too many awe-inspiring moments to mention; Bucky and the Black Panther (Boseman) outrun cars; Cap kicks a jeep into his foes; Stark is only saved from a point-blank headshot by bulletproof glasses; and Ant-Man reverses his powers in a wonderfully ridiculous sequence that shows he’s not out of his league amongst all the big hitters. The match-up of hero vs hero is enormous fun, although occasionally characters seem overpowered to balance up the battles; does Cap punching Iron Man really have any effect? Wouldn’t he hurt his own hand?
It’s not perfect. Although African tribal hero Black Panther adds some global scale to the proceedings, he’s really just here to promote his own movie, coming in 2018; he’s also saddled with the weary ‘you-killed-my-father’ trope. It could also do with trading one or two brawls for more time establishing the supporting characters and surrounding context; how do the Avengers feel about fighting team mates they risked their lives for in previous movies? It’s also strangely insular; what do the public think about all this?
These are minor issues though. Civil War offers almost everything you could want – political fallout, moral dillema, endless great action and almost too many superheroes to count. It steps up the intensity of the character drama, with genuine consequences, whilst never neglecting those essential laughs. Marvel Studio’s best effort so far.
Review by Ulysses Gamma-Hose