Captain America: Civil War (2016)
United we stand. Divided we fall.
Loosely based on the seven-issue 2006-07 Marvel comic crossover storyline, Civil War — written by Mark Millar and penciled by Steve McNiven — Captain America: Civil War borrows elements from the said narrative and neatly intertwines them into the firmly established Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), amping up the action-thriller tropes in the process. While dubbed as the third picture in the Cap saga, Civil War essentially plays out like The Avengers two-and-a-half, with a number of revelations and story beats that will surely impact proceedings as Phase Three of the MCU kicks into gear. Regular Marvel screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely — the guys responsible for penning 2014’s highly acclaimed Captain America: The Winter Soldier — have done an outstanding job in keeping the script quick on the trigger, swiftly moving from one plot point to the next, never losing sight of the central conflict or characters whilst ensuring that the mayhem remains grounded in ethical and political overtones.
Civil War essentially hits the ground running with an explosive scuffle in Lagos, Nigeria, where Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), along with several of his Avenger sidekicks, endeavor to thwart a terrorist group, led by Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo) — aka Crossbones — from getting their hands on a biological weapon. It’s here where returning Winter Soldier directors Anthony and Joe Russo plunk audiences into a tightly choreographed high-stakes Battle Royale with the flair of a martial arts auctioneer — from here on in, viewers have little time to catch their breath. The tussle concludes in significant collateral damage (which looks bad across widespread media), the negative fallout resulting in pressure for the Avengers to surrender their autonomy and succumb to the jurisdiction of a global governing body whose job is to inaugurate a system of accountability to keep our heroes in check. And just like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), it’s back to Superhero 101, with vigilantism being questioned along with the methods of policing it. Much like the notion at the core of Watchman (Alan Moore’s 1986-87 masterwork), it’s another case of ‘who watches the watchmen?’
Basically, the pending act divides the squad of super-soldiers, particularly Rogers, who’s afraid of becoming a weapon in the hands of others, just like his friend, the brainwashed assassin Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). On the flipside, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is willing to submit to an authority after being confronted by a woman whose son was killed during the feud with Ultron in Sokovia — just one of the many casualties that stemmed from the devastating clash. Alas, this new status quo fractures the current band of Avengers, resulting in two opposing camps, led by the big kahunas of the MCU; in one corner we have the Cap, with his desire to remain free to defend humanity without any interference, and in the other there’s Stark, with his surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability. In any case, every Avenger has a legitimate argument for fighting, either a belief or a cause they hold dear.
The centerpiece of this intellectual, emotionally driven popcorn muncher is an all-out Avenger-on-Avenger brawl — where friends-turned-foes are forced to face off against one another — with filmmakers skilfully utilizing an airport as their arena. Here, these enhanced individuals duke it out in a visually stupendous ‘knock-out,’ the snap-tight editing and crowd-pleasing action making this super-charged skirmish the finest Marvel has ever committed to screen; it’s also the first bit of footage to be photographed using the new Arri 6K Alexa 65, and a real treat to watch in IMAX. This 17-minute long confrontation is seasoned with enough applause-worthy moments and witty repartee between our knuckle-locking combatants, alleviating the pain of a quarrel that could potentially be a taxing sit through, as these beloved characters (literally) pound and blast one other to smithereens — their well-being (and lives) really do hang in the balance here. Furthermore, this isn’t a case of action for the sake of action, it’s action driven by characters, their choices, resolve and ideals.
And of course, swinging into the MCU for the very first time — and stealing the limelight during this show stopping third-act scrap — is the web-head himself, Spider-Man, superbly played by Tom Holland, In the Heart of the Sea (2015), with this (now third) cinematic incarnation of the web-slinger potentially being the best to date. Melding Peter Parker’s youthful naivety and scientific know-how with the wallcrawler’s unique combat style, Holland knocks it out of the park, leading me to believe that the idea of a joint Marvel/Sony Spidey reboot (slated for a 2017 release) may perhaps not be such a bad idea. Likewise, the Russo’s effortlessly introduce more new blood into the Marvelverse with the debut of yet another fresh face on the prowl, Black Panther — now here’s a guy you can really sink your claws into. Consumed by vengeance, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) — the prince of the fictional African nation of Wakanda — has his own agenda in mind, which doesn’t exactly align with that of Rogers or Stark.
Juggling about a dozen or so heroes over the movie’s 147-minute runtime, the Russo’s try their darned hardest to cater for casual viewers and die-hard fanatics alike. For instance, with little introduction, it shouldn’t take newcomers long to figure out exactly what the size-altering Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) or the omnipotent Vision (Paul Bettany) are all about. On the other hand, there are dozens of MCU Easter eggs sprinkled throughout, for example, fanboys might appreciate the Cap’s famous line, ‘I can do this all day’ from Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), resurfacing in the picture’s climactic beat-down. It’s an excellent balancing act, one that the Russo’s seem to pull off quite naturally. Sure, there are moments of shameless fanservice and mega-budget buffoonery, but as a whole, this full-throttle adventure is a big, brash, fun rollercoaster ride for all.
Once again, the cast as a whole is uniformly great. Over on team Cap, Chris Evans portrays Rogers with his usual square-jawed flair; however, it’s interesting to see his optimism tested by betrayal and frustration. Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker (2008), offers a handful of lighter moments as Rogers’ friend and ally, Sam Wilson aka Falcon, whilst Jeremy Renner, The Bourne Legacy (2012), looks comfortable as master archer Clint Barton/Hawkeye. Elizabeth Olsen, Godzilla (2014), is excellent (once again) as Wanda Maximoff, a character who’s beginning to come into her own, chiefly through her connection with Vision — it’s still a shame about her lame costume though! Last but not least, Paul Rudd, This Is 40 (2012), steals just about every scene he’s in as a star-struck Scott Lang/Ant-Man. And oh, comic book aficionados might recognize Emily VanCamp from television’s Revenge (2011) as Sharon Carter or Agent 13, who serves as a loose love interest for Rogers in the film. On the reverse end, over on team Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. continues his reign as the bedrock of the MCU; in spite of this, his character seems to have lost a bit of the pizzazz he exhibited back in the early days, particularly after a couple of heavy-handed story arcs, including his premonition in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), along with the creation of the said robotic foe. Scarlett Johansson, Lucy (2014), is essentially going through the motions as the skilled prowess Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, whilst Don Cheadle, Crash (2004), plays nicely alongside Downey Jr. as the U.S. Air Force officer James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes, who operates the War Machine armor.
And, this brings me to the feature’s antagonist, Helmut Zemo, portrayed by Daniel Brühl, Inglourious Basterds (2009). To Brühl’s credit, the 37-year-old German actor does the best he can with the role, providing a weighty ‘what have we wrought?’ commentary on Marvel’s Phase Two; but honestly, he winds up feeling somewhat unsatisfying. Let me explain. This version of Zemo doesn’t don the signature mask or iconic purple get-up — he’s more of a 007 type villain as opposed to a broad-shouldered brute — with filmmakers oddly deciding to take the character in an entirely different direction, one that’s not tied to any of the mythology from the comics — think the Mandarin from Iron Man 3 (2013). Quite frankly, I’m still not sure what to make of this interpretation; let’s just hope future MCU titles do the traditional ‘Baron Zemo’ a little more justice.
Setting a new benchmark for the comic book movie genre, this thirtieth feature in the ongoing Marvel Universe gives audiences exactly what they crave, an all-you-can-eat superhero buffet, the sum of its parts adding up to a largely satisfying send-off for the Captain America ‘trilogy.’ While not all loose ends are tied up neatly, the Russo’s have certainly hit another home run with Civil War, opening up a floodgate of narrative pathways leading up to (and including) Infinity War, set to be released in 2018 and ’19 respectively. Love it or hate it, there’s no sign of Marvel Studios slamming down their breaks. And as per usual, be sure to stick around for two post-credit scenes that work as brazen teasers for future films to come.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Captain America: Civil War is released through Marvel Studios