"This job, we try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes that doesn't mean everybody."
So throughout this review you may notice a few comparisons with this film to another certain superhero film released this year. You might say “that’s not fair, you should only judge a film based upon its own merits”. Well, metaphorical opposition, that may be the case, but with Zack Snyder parading around with statements about how he was dealing with iconic heroes while Marvel were dealing with low level heroes like Ant-Man or how his movie is too complicated for Marvel audiences to grasp, DC sort of brought this upon themselves.
Due to the collateral damage of their actions, public and political pressure begins to mount upon the group of superheroes known as the Avengers and a law intending to regulate superhuman activities splits the group into two rival factions, one led by Captain America (Chris Evans) and the other by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr). But the inclusion of Cap’s former friend turned brainwashed assassin Bucky Barnes, a.k.a the Winter Soldier, (Sebastian Stan) further complicates matters.
If one were to ask an eight year old version of myself what I would like to see made into a film, the first would be another ‘Star Wars’ film and the second would be one in which the characters of Marvel comics go head to head. In less than six months I’ve seen both become a reality, and neither has disappointed me. That is somewhat remarkable because when you consider everything that this movie has to be, the culmination of the Captain America trilogy, another step in the larger world that is the MCU, an introduction to new characters and an adaptation of the Mark Millar comic book.
So there are a lot of things to balance there, and with the painful experience of ‘Batman v Superman’ and its own failed juggling act, it is a relief that ‘Captain America: Civil War’ balances everything as well as it does. First and foremost are the characters as Marvel has always emphasised the distinct personalities of its heroes above the action around them and ‘Civil War is no exception, with each character being given a specific and relatable motivation for their actions and having a subtle amount of depth to them, not massive amounts (it is a blockbuster after all) but enough to create conflict and complexity. The entire plot hinges on the concept of conflicting ideologies so for Marvel to convey those differences and beliefs as strongly as they do here is most certainly worthy of high praise.
It goes beyond just that though. This is not just a case of the Russo brothers throwing chess pieces into the air to see where they land, each character feels specifically placed in a certain role to further the plot or development, even characters that only appear briefly such as Hawkeye, Ant-Man, War Machine or Spider-Man, they play an integral role within a certain set piece that simply would not be as amazing without them.
From an action stand point the Russo’s are on top form again. Each scene has such a visceral sense of energy to it and it is all directed in such a wonderfully clear way. They return to the ground level action they executed so brilliantly in ‘The Winter Soldier’ but take the action a step further here, with giant set pieces that feel massive in scale but never boil down to an incomprehensible mess. You are constantly aware of where everything it and what it’s relation is to the main characters. Of course because the film does such a superb job of establishing each character’s motivation and their relation to one another there is a clear weight and substance behind each fight scene.
One scene in particular you may have already heard a lot about, the airport scene we have all caught glimpses of in the trailer. It has been described as the best scene in any comic book movie, ever, which is a bold claim but one I have to agree with. You can probably find better examples of directing within a comic book movie (the train fight from ‘Spider-Man 2’) or better examples of acting talent (the interrogation from ‘The Dark Knight’) but in terms of a scene that represents all that is great about comic books and captures it so perfectly, this is it. The action, meaning and variety can all be found here but so can the entertainment, humour and fun with the added bonus of seeing your favourite characters all at once. It is the greatest comic book movie scene, ever.
As for the cast (and it’s a big one here), thirteen movies in and they are all just as devoted to the franchise as ever. There are too many to talk about so I’ll just say anyone I don’t mention is still very good, but these are the standouts. Evans and Stan may be putting in their best performances yet for Marvel while Downey is playing Stark at his most sympathetic and likable since ‘Iron Man’. As for Tom Holland as the new Spider-Man, despite only appearing for what must be a maximum of twenty five minutes at best, he is without any question or shadow of a doubt, the best incarnation of Peter Parker/Spider-Man ever to appear on the big screen.
If I have any complaints then one of them is the villain, Helmut Zemo. Daniel Bruhl did a fine job portraying him, he had a clear motivation and felt somewhat significant but at the end he still seemed slightly underused. In any of the solo films he might be fantastic but in an ensemble like this I felt like his character was interesting enough to warrant a few more minutes of screen time. Also there are several sub plots and character relations that are established and developed within the first and second act but then pushed aside at the third. They have some form of progression to make it acceptable but I couldn’t help but notice a few loose ends in terms of exactly where each character was by the end of this chapter.
However if they are pushed aside it’s in favour of a deeply personal third act in which we discover new revelations about Rogers, Stark, Bucky, their interconnected stories and the ramifications on each other that delivers what may be Marvel’s biggest emotional gut punch to date. Therefore it’s hard for me to be too upset about the other complaint.
Quite possible Marvel’s strongest cinematic outing yet.
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