Captain America: Civil War
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson
Does a film like Captain America: Civil War need an introduction? Anyone who knows anything about films, media or pop culture knows about Marvel Cinematic Universe’s unstoppable trail of blockbusters that have littered cinemas these past eight years. The question that is asked each time a Marvel film is released- this is the thirteenth in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not that the unlucky number seems to daunt them- is of repeat quality- is this as good as the last? Or will Marvel finally fail? And the answer to these questions is always inevitably ‘no, Marvel haven’t failed’.
This film introduces Marvel’s ‘phase three’ of films, following from the first which ended with 2012’s The Avengers and the second which gave us sequels to the initial superhero films and introduced even more superheroes. This placement in the midst of a powerful film franchise is, unfortunately, important to enjoyment of the film.
The story, as the title gives away, focuses on a conflict between the Avengers superheroes. When the United Nations attempts to pass legislation to politically control the Avengers, taking away the freedom that they have been utilising, Iron Man (Downey Jr.) supports this motion and Captain America (Evans) rejects it. Each of the other superheroes picks a side in the upcoming war, whilst shady characters schemes to exacerbate this disagreement. The superheroes that fight are nothing if not abundant. Joining Iron Man and Captain America are Black Widow, Hawkeye, Falcon, War Machine, Ant Man and other names that you’ll recognise if you’ve seen all the other films. Newcomers include Black Panther and a new Spider Man played by an impressive Tom Holland.
Acting all across the board is fine as ever although some of the recurring actors, especially Downey Jr. and Evans, bring a little weariness to their role. It’s not clear whether this is intentional, or just fatigue at playing the same roles for too long. Two really enjoyable performances come from the aforementioned new heroes- Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther gives a subtle performance, which is appreciated given the brevity of his introduction. Tom Holland playing Spider Man gives us much-needed comic relief in this dark film with his charismatic performances- although due to his age, his inclusion in a film about grown adults fighting is quite questionable.
The main draw of this film is of course the action, with the main showdown at an airport featuring prominently in every piece of advertising. If this is what you look for in a film, you’re in for a treat- whilst the first act is a little slow, by the end of the film there is a fight in nearly every scene. Yet the action, whilst enjoyable to watch, often carries on far longer than is necessary. Marvel films haven’t had this problem much in the past, and it seems that the longer fight scenes are simply necessary to fuel the huge advertising campaign.
The advertising causes another problem by encouraging audience members to choose a side, ‘Team Cap’ or ‘Team Iron Man’ depending on which hero they prefer. Whilst this is great at causing investment in the film, the filmmakers seem to tread delicately around the conflict. Both sides are presented as equally correct and incorrect in the conflict- however this presentation isn’t well executed, and it instead seems like the filmmakers are trying too hard not to alienate either set of fans. This is most noticeable with a particularly inconclusive end to the film, which is sure to bore many viewers.
Drawbacks to the film can always be put down to the limitations of working within a cinematic behemoth like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that brings about the biggest flaw in the film- people who aren’t fans of the franchise will get absolutely nothing from this film. Many returning characters are glossed over in terms of characterisation- especially War Machine and Ant Man, which leads to their motivations for joining their respective sides questionable if you haven’t seen the previous films. Many other questions are raised and not answered- where are Shield? Where is Nick Fury, or Thor, or the Hulk? It’s possible that these questions are all answered in previous films, but due to the sheer number of them even someone who has seen them will likely have forgotten the answers. If you haven’t seen the previous films, or do not know enough about them, this film will be pure nonsense.
A fan of Marvel films will love this film. It has all the returning characters put in new dramatic conflicts, it has great action and it brings the Cinematic Universe forward narratively leaps and bounds. It is an excellent film. And at this point, someone who isn’t a fan of Marvel films will not be going to the cinema to see one- so to answer the initial question, yes, this film is as good as the last. Better, considering the previous few Cinematic Universe films such as Ant-Man or Avengers: Age of Ultron have been comparatively weak. But don’t see it if you don’t have working knowledge of the canon at this point.
Review by Tom Bedford