Captain America: Civil War centres on the United Nations response to the destruction the Avengers have wrought over the past eight years. Attempting to somewhat reign the Avengers in, the United Nations creates the Sokovia Accords; which will prevent superheroes from intervening in world affairs without sanction, if instigated. As you might expect this doesn’t sit well with all of the Avengers, despite finding strong advocates in Tony Stark, War Machine, Vision, and Black Widow. Adding to the pressure, Winter Soldier re-emerges after the events of Captain America: Winter Soldier, and is blamed for several terrorist attacks. After a brief, although highly impressive opening fight scene, most of the first act deals with discussing the Accords.
It was great to see the various Avengers argue about the Accords, presenting their cases either for or against. Not only does this provide the audience with explanations for the characters’ future actions, it gives us a chance to see the people behind the various masks. In big action movies, very often the characters themselves are irrelevant, defined more by their set-pieces than their personalities. Thankfully, right from the get-go it’s clear that Civil War is a far more intimate movie, that requires the audience to be invested in its characters. That’s not to say that the film can’t be enjoyed by those looking for nothing more than an action “pop-corn” flick; but that the character driven story helps elevate the experience to excellence.
Audiences are given glimpses into the day to day life of an Avenger; from Vision not understanding certain social conventions, to Black Widow comforting Steve after a mournful event. Not only are these scenes well executed, they help audiences to relate and/or grow attached to the characters, making more heart-breaking the inevitable conflict. Furthermore, neither side is in the wrong, with both able to make convincing arguments. It was great to see the turmoil each character went through in deciding, or not being able to decide, which side was in the right. Unfortunately, there is a degree of depth missing to these arguments. Outside of the first flurry of opinions, no character really develops their side of the argument, or offers uniquely new perspectives. That being said Civil War is (just over) a two-hour movie, and while some minor characters, and certain elements of the plot, are under-developed, overall the writers managed to perfectly balance the multiple narrative threads. The result is a cohesive and satisfying story, that is both simple to follow, while having depth.
Particularly impressive is how naturally Spider-Man and Black Panther are included, with sufficient history and purpose to prevent either character from feeling forced. That being said, while both performances are phenomenal, neither Spider Man, nor Black Panther contribute to the plot in any meaningful way – mostly appearing only for the purpose of setting up their respective standalone movies. For most viewers this won’t be an issue, just don’t go in expecting either character to be pivotal to the plot. Conversely, while Agent 13’s inclusion isn’t exactly contrived, and her contribution to the plot is more significant than that of either; Black Panther, or Spider Man, her final scene feels extremely forced. A shame given the phenomenal performances Emily Van Camp has delivered in her other roles.
As for Spider Man and Black Panther, both characters are remarkable re-creations of their comic book counterparts, with pitch perfect deliverance from both Tom Holland and Chadwick Boseman. Spider Man is the standout character; not only being a kickass powerhouse, dominating opposing heroes, but generating humour in every scene – from geeking out over the other heroes around him, to almost fourth wall breaking callouts of preposterous occurrences. With the grim nature of the plot, you might have been expecting Civil War to forgo the infamous MARVEL humour. If so you were wrong, with Civil War being the most humorous MCU entry to date (Guardians of the Galaxy aside).
On the other hand, Black Panther is a far more reserved, almost stoic character, that offers a nice balance, not only to the whimsical Spider Man, but the mostly tongue and cheek cast at large. Like Spider Man, Black Panther has a plethora of impressive and badass action sequences. The character is also afforded a surprisingly deep and rewarding arc, given his relatively short screen time. Set up for future instalments is done with a refreshing level of subtlety, an approach that excites audiences for the upcoming releases, without sapping the energy of Civil War itself.
In part, the extent to which both Spider Man and Black Panther shine is surprising, given the exceptional performances by the cast at large. As you might expect, Chris Evans once again is superb as Captain America, and Robert Downey Junior continues to masterfully bring the character of Tony Stark to life. Downey Junior also delivers a standout emotional scene towards the end of the film. But it’s not just the usual suspects that deliver terrific performances, with inspired work from Paul Bettany (Vision), Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch), Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) and Anthony Mackie (Falcon). Few characters fail to shine in Civil War, and even those few can cite lack of screen time as being the reason.
Civil War doesn’t just succeed as a character drama with a side helping of comedy, but also delivers an exhilarating action movie, that demonstrates the strength of the superhero genre, like no movie before it. Every action sequence is beautifully shot, and magnificently choreographed; delivering the type of bombastic, adrenaline pumped action, that places childish grins on the audiences’ faces. Perfectly balanced, every action sequence has a sense of impact; progressing the story, and providing meaningful character moments, not to mention being unique from one another. From the first to the last punch, not a moment of the action bores, or feels excessive, with the Russo Brothers achieving the perfect tempo in every scene.
Furthermore, no characters ever feel lost in the action. It’s easy to keep tabs on what every hero is doing – as opposed to the “Where’s Wally?” (Also known as “Where’s Waldo?” in some territories) feeling in the likes of Avengers: Age of Ultron – in a display of exemplary cinematography. Every character also has several kick ass moments. Particularly impressive is the airport fight sequence, which is my favourite action sequence in any superhero film to date, and will doubtlessly be fondly remembered for years to come. Filled with a plentitude of awe-inspiring, breath-taking moments that I won’t spoil here, suffice it to say Civil War produces superhero action, the likes of which have never been seen on the big screen before.
Civil War has impressive displays of CGI, which unfortunately cannot be discussed effectively in a spoiler-free review. That being said, the crew were able to blend physical and CGI effects with the sleight-of-hand that makes it hard to distinguish one from the other. Additionally, there is a sequence I won’t name, but will be remembered as one of the best uses of CGI in a superhero movie.
Perhaps the worst part of Civil War is the name, as it creates expectations that quite simply are not met. Fans of the Mark Millar comic will be disappointed at MARVEL’s lack of courage, and commitment, to emulate any of its shocking moments. From Spider Man revealing he’s Peter Parker and Iron Man recruiting infamous villains to his cause, to Goliath’s death and Steve Rodgers’ arrest, the Civil War comic is packed with universe altering events of major consequence. Unfortunately, none of the events of the film feel impactful; with almost every potentially momentous and meaningful development being resolved in the final scenes.
Captain America Civil War has a uniquely intimate feel amongst its MCU counterparts. The first film to really depend on audience’s pre-investment to its characters, Civil War delivers the most personal, and character driven entry to date. Accompanied by stellar, awe-inspiring action sequences unrivalled in the genre, Civil War delivers a truly unique experience that demands not just one, but several viewings.