Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Dirs: The Russo Brothers
I’m not the first person to say it but I have to agree that this is so much more than a ‘Captain America’ film, it’s really an ‘Avengers’ movie under a different banner.
As governments sign into force an act that requires super-powered individuals to register themselves, division forms among the Avengers on the issue as they take sides against each other, while struggling to defend against an enemy determined to take advantage of their lack of unity.
Following on as much from ‘Age of Ultron‘ as it does from ‘The Winter Soldier‘, this builds on the narratives and themes of both of those beautifully, easily making this one of the best and most key instalments of the MCU. Directed by the Russo brothers (‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘, ‘Community’) they take the opportunity to insert more of their personality, even neatly working in a cameo from Jim Rash whose character is almost indistinguishable from Dean Pelton on ‘Community’. Lighter moments and deft touches of humour are neatly worked into a film that has so many heavy themes and weighty emotional threads, avoiding the pitfall of trying to go bigger but more astutely delving deeper into the characters we are becoming so familiar with, while also introducing a few new ones.
I don’t live anywhere near an IMAX cinema, yet for my first viewing of this I travelled to one as I had a feeling it would be worth it. I was right, it was a spectacle. However a note of caution on IMAX 3D, sometimes (partly depending on seating) it’s a bit much to focus on and sadly though the IMAX experience is wonderful, this in post-produced stereoscopy was a little hard to watch. I wish I could have seen it in 2D IMAX but that wasn’t an option at the cinema I went to, it would have been perfect then, and is something I’m actively searching out for ‘Infinity Wars’. At home on Blu-ray it was a lot easier to focus on, and I really did enjoy it as much if not more with the second viewing.
The first few scenes of the film go from linking in history that’s been previously alluded to but not fully elaborated on, then into tying up loose ends namely Crossbones from ‘Winter Soldier’, linking seamlessly into other themes and narrative threads for the rest of the movie. I didn’t get the full effect when I first saw the film but on repeat viewing at home I realised just how much is achieved in the space of less than a quarter-hour. Starting the film with the Winter Soldier being sent on a mission in the early 90’s, which forms a recurring flashback that develops over the course of the film and ties the character very strongly into the story along with Steve Rogers and other Avengers, providing a basis for threads and themes that offer a deeper motivation than the political disagreement that initially divides them.
I really enjoyed the film, the way in which it raises certain issues worked very well in the context of the franchise and the restrictions that had to be negotiated from the source material. This film introduces so much that’s key to the big-picture of the Avengers, which is why I think of it more as an ‘Avengers’ film. There are a number of international settings, with characters visiting London, Vienna, Berlin, Bucharest and New York to name just a few. While it doesn’t fully explore all these locations in detail to give it a truly international feel, it’s good to show that the Avengers are operating internationally which opens the way up for more diversity in the MCU, some of which is started here.
The African nation of Wakanda is introduced with the political delegation at the accords, not just a small nod as seen in ‘Ultron’ this turns into such a key thread and is fleshed out to a point that it covers some of what we would expect to form Black Panther’s origin story. It will remain to be seen if this we be re-covered in 2018’s solo film, hopefully that film will focus more on the way that he first became the costumed hero. I absolutely love Chadwick Boseman in the role, just from the little we see of him in this film he already perfectly conveys the diplomatic princely side of the character’s life as well as the personal with his father and then the costumed hero Black Panther, it’s a perfect introduction.
Speaking of perfect introductions, another character is brought into the MCU here, Tom Holland’s new take on Spiderman. Really avoids going into his origins at all, saving that for ‘Homecoming’ (which incidentally is looking very promising from the trailer). It’s a great introduction though, making full use of his characteristic talkative personality, ‘there’s not usually this much talk’ in fights. I did love Andrew Garfield’s take on the character, though I can see where they are heading now with Holland and I approve, making more of the teenage aspects of the comics, as the ‘Homecoming’ trailer shows they’re going to is a nice move.
As for characters we have had introduced before but not fully gotten to know, this film does a brilliant job of increasing their roles and starting to better convey who these team members really are. Specificially I liked the way the film develops the character of Vision far more than ‘Age of Ultron’ did. Although that film was his origin and he was hugely important by the end, this is about his growing and learning his place in the world a little more, getting him closer to being poised for big things to come. We start to get a better sense of his personality and it’s a small step in the right direction to help us care about this very different character who (if you know a little about the comics and the films follow their lead) will become more integral to the Avengers and the upcoming films.
Little moments of brilliant humour, such as one small but enjoyable romantic scene with Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter as Bucky and Falcon look on and bicker in the car, help to keep the film at an enjoyable tone despite some of the heavier stuff. There are weighty events and themes, especially involving Tony Stark, including a plot thread or two that are almost enough to form Iron Man 4 around. His guilt for creating Ultron has changed him, he’s at times visibly humbled, and other past regrets are touched on in a way that show Marvel are not going to sideline Tony no matter how much he at times states he wants to take a smaller role.
Some have cited villain Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) as a weak point due to the way his motives and seemingly backseat role are developed, some have even said his plan is ‘ridiculous’. I actually think it’s one of the strengths of this film. He says in the film, “experience and patience, a man can do anything if he has those”, then shows exactly that, so there’s no massive forced complexity or taking on superpowers himself, he’s strongly motivated and meticulous and in my opinion there’s something powerful about that. I’m carefully dodging saying too much for the sake of spoilers, but this villain’s motives are very personal and while he’s not super-powered his planning and execution are formidable, traits seen in ‘super-villains’ before that have stood the test of time. At times the film leads us to think Zemo’s goal is one thing, then changes it brilliantly into such a simple aim, a welcome change from the world-conquering scope of most recent comic book films.
It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Marvel movies, so there’s no surprise that I loved this. However I will stand firmly by the opinion that this is brilliant film-making when judged against other films, especially within the action genre. The effects are characteristically fantastic, the action consistently impressive. Yet it’s really the depth and ability to handle the emotional and ethical themes as fully and deftly as they are that makes this such an excellent addition to the MCU and one of the most satisfying films of its genre in 2016 and clearly head and shoulders above some other superhero movies of the year.
Captain America: Civil War is available now to buy on all usual formats from the standard outlets. It’s also likely to be nominated for an Oscar or two in technical categories such as Visual Effects and Sound.