Review: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Captain America and Iron Man fight it out in the most personal and emotional Marvel Studios film yet.

Captain America: Civil War (2016).

Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, You, Me and Dupree, Community).

Cast: Chris Evans (Captain America: The Winter Solider, Snowpiercer, Fantastic Four), Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), Scarlett Johansson (The Avengers, Lucy, Under The Skin), Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Solider, The Martian, The Bronze), Anthony Mackie (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hurt Locker, Pain and Gain), Don Cheadle (Iron Man 2, Miles Ahead, Hotel Rwanda), Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), Chadwick Boseman (Get on Up, 42), Paul Bettany (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Priest), Elizabeth Olsen (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Godzilla), Paul Rudd (Ant-Man, This Is 40), Emily VanCamp (Captain America: The Winter Solider, The Girl in the Book), Tom Holland (In the Heart of the Sea), Daniel Brühl (Rush), Frank Grillo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), William Hurt (The Incredible Hulk), Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny).

Despite boasting an Avengers-like cast, Captain America: Civil War remains a Steve Rogers story at heart. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo have created an extremely personal conclusion to an individual story set in what is becoming a crowded universe.

Describing Civil War is easy. The Russo brothers have walked into the shop that is Marvel Studios, and picked the best parts of each film to create their best film yet. It’s the Captain America from Captain America: The Winter Solider, the wonderful banter and charisma of teams of super-powered people from Avengers: Age of Ultron, the great team dynamics from James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Iron Man from, well, it’s Robert Downey Jr. He’s the real life Tony Stark now.

Much like they did with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Russo brothers have directed the action perfectly, and have now extended the same courtesy to the rest of the film too. There’s a wonderful use of Bourne-like shaky cameras during intimate fights and team skirmishes feel tense too. I won’t go into much detail about the more open fights, but it’s jaw dropping.

While there were fears in pre-production that Iron Man’s injection into the film would leave Captain America overshadowed, it’s certainly not the case. Civil War could quite easily have been subtitled with “Avengers 2.5“, but it’s ultimately the conclusion of the story between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes that started in Captain America: The First Avenger. In fact, I think the inclusion of the majority of Avengers helped the narrative. There’s a little chance that just a Captain America vs Iron Man movie could have sustained an interesting dynamic for more than an hour, let alone two. The supporting cast does just that, support.

So let’s talk about them for a while. Obviously we have Captain America and Iron Man, and everyone chooses a side. Are they for or against being supervised, or to an extent, controlled? It’s not an easy decision, and each character is given an opportunity or they experience something that reflects why they made their choice. On Cap’s team is his new best friend Falcon/Sam Wilson, his old best friend Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier, his retired-but-not-retired friend Clint Barton/Hawkeye, his protégé Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch and newcomer Scott Lang/Ant-Man. Wanda’s motivations are much stronger and emotional than most, she’s part of the catalyst of events that lead to the creation of the Sokovia Accords.

In favour of United Nations oversight is Team Iron Man. His line-up includes his best friend Rhodey/War Machine, his butler-come-android Vision, a surprising alliance with Natasha Romanova/Black Widow, and two newcomers T’Challa, also known as Black Panther, and the much-anticipated Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

I have to speak about Spider-Man for a minute. It’s not just a cameo, Parker plays a larger part in the story, and Tom Holland looks and sounds the part. While it’ll be a while until we really see him act out Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Holland’s portrayal gives me great hope for the future. Not only that, the directors and choreographers have a complete understanding of how he fights. The airport set piece is one, if not the best, depictions of comic book fights made onto film. There was never a moment where I felt someone did something out of character, and the airport fight was largely worth the price of admission alone.

Continuing that thought on characters staying in line, Civil War the film is almost an apology for Civil War the comic, where Tony Stark pretty much turns full villain. Despite the many differences between the comics and film, the film stays true to itself and best of all, believable. It’s something that could only have been set up before hand, with character arcs and development. The comparisons will be drawn to Batman v Supermam: Dawn of Justice, but it’s a prime example of how the ‘superheroes fight one another’ situation can be created and resolved. One felt rushed, forced and out-of-place, the other came naturally and you have some investment into at least a few of these characters. Civil War is mature in its story telling, but also allows for the light-hearted nature of a world with superheroes to shine through. It’s not hard to see why the decision to sign the Sokovia Accords would be divisive. The titular character is defending his best-friend-turned-assassin Bucky Barnes and doesn’t think him or his team should answer to anyone. Stark is happy to surrender himself to “whatever form it takes”, that’s not an intelligent decision, but one made from fear.

Chris Evans is outperformed by Robert Downey Jr, but the ‘man out of time’ gimmick that Steve Rogers had is now long gone, and the Sokovia Accords allow his character to progress, giving Evans more room to stretch his acting chops. Paul Rudd’s, Jeremy Renner’s and Tom Holland’s brief but wonderful comedic appearances are the standouts and allow the film to breathe, away from super-powered testosterone. Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther was only given a few moments to demonstrate what he’s capable of, and we’ll learn the full extent of his powers in the upcoming Black Panther.

My only complaint about the film is the lack of any memorable or decent musical themes. Crescendo follows crescendo and the Winter Solider’s theme is used occasionally, but there’s very little in the musical department. Though it’s a common complaint across the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole, there’s only two or three themes I can pick out from across 13 films. It’s not the worst thing to happen to a film, but I hope this doesn’t reflect onto how Spider-Man’s future film and theme will be created.

The Russo brothers have created a superhero Royal Rumble, and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely allow each and every character to have a motive and reason for picking a side. Many MCU movies are enjoyable romps, but few tell personal and emotional stories as well as this. Captain America: Civil War is evidence that Captain America’s story is the strongest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and The Winter Solider and The First Avenger only solidify that.

With an interesting cast and choice of ‘villains’, and some wonderful closure for Steve Rogers, Captain America: Civil War is the best Marvel Studios movie made, and it doesn’t just push this cinematic universe forward, it blasts it wide open. With the introduction of Black Panther and Spider-Man, to Steve and Tony’s fractured relationship, the audience is only left to wonder how they’ll resolve their issues and come together once again for the end game, Avengers: Infinity War.


Feature image credit: Marvel Studios/Disney

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