[I’m aware that this film hasn’t been released in some countries yet, so I’ve tried to keep this review spoiler-free.]
Let’s hope Zack Snyder’s watching, as this is a superhero film that successfully manages to balance its well-thought out action sequences with weightier concerns. Captain America: Civil War contains all the balletic, multi-hero set pieces you’re probably expecting (including the one teased by the trailer), and it also pays heed to the political and moral ramifications that arise when modern comic book heroes smash buildings, cities and imaginary states to smithereens (thereby killing thousands of imaginary, innocent people along the way). It’s a post-Man Of Steel, post-The Avengers none-more-2016 fad, I guess, and as with Snyder’s recent Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice the principal question asked here is whether anyone should be watching the watchmen. As such Civil War‘s superheroes argue and fall out, with some strongly believing that their hero cabal should continue to self-regulate and others feeling that submitting to NATO control is the way forward. Yet where Snyder’s film floundered as it tied itself up in knots while addressing similar issues, this blockbuster by Joe and Anthony Russo – who also directed 2014’s entertaining Captain America: The Winter Soldier – tackles the political and moral side of things in a light, uncomplicated fashion, and by doing so it doesn’t allow any portentous soul-searching or hand-wringing to overtake the main aim of the film, which is to entertain as wide an audience as possible. The conflicting opinions of the characters central to this story are set out clearly and concisely, but ultimately the Russo brothers have recognised that Civil War is…y’know…for kids (of all ages). And the fact is the majority of kids (of all ages) want to see Robert Downey, Jr’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America batter the living daylights out of one another.
Evans and Downey, Jr are the clear stars here, but as both actors have appeared in so many films as their two characters it seems pointless to discuss the performance of either actor. I suppose at the very least I should say they are consistent with earlier turns, and that I’ve gradually warmed to Evans’ portrayal of the world’s most earnest, uptight man. There are several returning characters, too, with those currently without their own standalone movies (played by Don Cheadle, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie) all benefitting from the extra screen time. Needless to say anyone watching this who hasn’t seen any of the previous Avengers or Avengers-related films will be irrevocably lost. And as the trailers revealed, the film introduces two further additions to the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Tom Holland’s fresh-faced Spider-Man amusing far more than he irritates and Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther making an equally-strong impact. Given the sheer number of characters that appear the pre-release concern from some quarters was that the Russos would not be able to do justice to all of them, but somewhat triumphantly the film never seems overstuffed, and only a couple are given short shrift. (I guess the longer-than-average running time helps in that respect.) Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man is one; in the space of 15 minutes he threatens to steal the film from his more illustrious co-stars, a fact that the Russos seem to have taken into account, as he doesn’t get too much screen time after an initial cameo. You’re left wanting to see more of Rudd and his character, which I guess is a good thing. Lastly, Daniel Brühl is perfunctory as the scheming (Baron) Helmut Zemo, a Marvel comic villain who will probably be unfamiliar to most viewers, but he’s slightly more interesting than many that we’ve seen in this series of films to date.
But really we’re not here to see villains, or their dingy underground bunkers, where they seem to do little other than inject musclemen and women with brightly-coloured liquids. We’re here to see superheroes blast and kick and punch and chase and swoop down on one another, and Captain America: Civil War builds up to the kind of spectacular free-for-all that was popularised by expansive crossover Marvel titles such as Secret Wars (though Civil War itself has been very loosely adapted from Mark Millar’s similarly-named comic). The majority of superhero movie fans will sit through this six-on-six dust-up with a smile on their face, and to the credit of the directors it’s not at all chaotic, or difficult to follow the action. The exchanges and mini-scraps that occur within the larger pitched battle are filled with zingers, surprises and even compassionate, friendly exchanges between former colleagues who have temporarily taken opposite sides, though it’s the central fight between Iron Man and Captain America that packs the biggest punches, and which seems laced with the greatest animosity.
I’ve moaned about superhero movie fatigue on this blog – though I’ve also repeatedly admitted that it’s not as if anyone’s holding a gun to my head and forcing me to watch these films – but the fact is there have been a few releases that have seemed completely unnecessary or poorly written – Thor 2, Iron Man 3, for example – and I still dislike the feeling that I’m on a cinematic treadmill: one thing these films do – Civil War included – is hit the same notes over and over again, for better or for worse. There have been a few breath-of-fresh-air exceptions (Ant-Man, Guardians Of The Galaxy), but it’s the Russos who have made the two best recent installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here they’ve cranked out a multi-hero film that’s a lot of fun, if utterly silly, and I genuinely feel sorry for anyone non-plussed by the experience. Look, ultimately it’s just another Marvel film, and by this stage you probably know what’s in store, but it’s a blast nonetheless and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Directed by: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo.
Written by: Christopher Markus, Steven McFeely.
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Daniel Brühl, Chadwick Boseman, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Tom Holland, Emily VanCamp, William Hurt, Martin Freeman.
Cinematography: Trent Opaloch.
Editing: Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt.
Music: Henry Jackman.
Running Time: 147 minutes.