Last month, we saw two iconic heroes face off in DC's Batman v Superman and, now, Marvel are following up with their competition, Captain America: Civil War, in which two of this studio's iconic heroes face off - Captain America and Iron Man - in one of Marvel's biggest, most compelling and substantial films to date. Here's my review of it.
We've seen a countless number of superhero films within the past decade, especially since the MCU's launch, back in 2008, with Jon Favreau's surprise hit Iron Man. Now, whilst some may be suffering from superhero fatigue, I'm still very much always looking forward to seeing what the box-office juggernaut that is Marvel deliver next because, as lauded with films as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, every new film brings something different to the table. All of their films are much more than just superhero movies: Thor was an underdog tale; The First Avenger was a war movie; Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera; Ant-Man was a heist film; November's Doctor Strange is set to be a psychedelic, fantastical sci-fi and the list goes on. Back in 2014, Joe and Anthony Russo gave us The Winter Soldier and it was one of Marvel's best films - a wonderful political thriller that reinvigorated not only the character of Captain America but just the superhero genre in general. Back for the follow-up, Captain America: Civil War, the directing duo have, this time, given us both an epic superhero blockbuster but an intense psychological thriller too - making for one of the richest, most entertaining films in Marvel's canon yet.
The film opens in 1991, with Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) being awoken from his cryogenic freezing and turned him into a cold-blooded, weapon: The Winter Soldier. The details of his first assignment remain a mystery for most of the film, with little tidbits of information being revealed throughout, until the very end. Returning to the present day though, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and his team - Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johannsson) - are in Lagos, after Crossbones (Frank Grillo). But, when things go awry on the mission, U.S Secretary of state Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) goes about getting our heroes to sign the Sokovia Accords - a decree that states they will only act when the government says so and gives them the thumbs up and to, otherwise, stay out of action. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), guilty from the consequences of creating Ultron, sides with the Accords and believes the heroes need to be put in check. On the other side, however, Rogers believes that the heroes are better off on their own. Things only intensify when Barnes is involved in a terrorist attack in Vienna; knowing that he wasn't responsible, Rogers sets out to help him, whilst Stark heads out to stop him. With the rising tension of the Accords then Bucky getting caught in the middle, loyalties are tested when opposing sides are established and both heroes go toe to toe.
There's a lot going on in Civil War, with the Russo Brothers juggling the mammoth central plot with several, smaller storylines. And, to top things off, this film is PAKCED with an assortment of all sorts of characters and superheroes too; pretty much all of the main Avengers are here (minus Thor and Hulk who are off for Ragnorok), alongside some returning Winter Soldier members and two major newcomers making their MCU debut in T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Plus, not only is Civil War a continuation of the Captain America storyline but it is a continuation from Age of Ultron also, as well as just a culmination of everything in the MCU thus far as all the tension of the past 12 movies is finally let loose when these heroes go head to head. It's fair to say, Joe and Anthony Russo had a lot on their plate with this one and an unenviable task of brining this film together. Yet, if there was anyone that could digest such a task without breaking a sweat, it's them and that's exactly what they've done because for such a busy film, Civil War is very organised and very cohesive.
It's a testament to screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and their impressive screenplay, managing to juggle so much and make everything intertwine and work well and make a very cohesive film. They also managed to juggle the characters too and carve out compelling and satisfying character arcs for everyone featured in this film; given them depth and personality and humanity. This film not only takes everything from the past 12 films into account but it builds on it all too. Every character and every arc was handled so satisfyingly and Markus and McFeely, along with the direction of of the Russo Brothers, managed to create a film that so winningly tackles so much to create such a fulfilling narrative and character dynamics. The script doesn't just take into account the Avengers but it introduces the likes of Black Panther and Spider-Man into the mix too and it does so very well; both their roles in Civil War feel organic and necessary - with the former playing a pivotal role to the premise and the latter making a great additional character who's presence lights up the screen. Markus and McFeely had an unenviable task of putting this ambitious idea on paper; the Russo Brothers of bringing it to life but the script and direction are exceptional and the result couldn't be better.
Speaking of characters, despite the enormous, stellar cast connoting that Civil War is basically The Avengers 2.5, this is, undoubtedly, as the title suggests, first and foremost, a Captain America film - a lot of focus revolves around Bucky Barnes and his relationship with Steve, picking things up from where we left off in The Winter Soldier. Both of the characters are integral to the plot and a lot of focus and attention is given to the pair and deservedly so as it makes for some compelling viewing - their life-long friendship is believable too and you can understand why Steve would go out of his way to protect Bucky. Like its predecessors before it, Civil War continues the more serious tone and outlook for the Captain America films and is a lot darker than some of the MCU's other affairs. However, that's not to say that it's all drab and bleak - like a certain Batman v Superman - because it isn't. Civil War is still tons of fun and, with characters like Sam Wilson, Scott Lang and Peter Parker in the mix, quippy banter and comedic jokes are a guarantee and this film is very witty and funny at times. Yet, the Russo Brothers manage the tone brilliantly and don't let the comedy detract from the impact of the more serious elements of the premise and it's a very well-balanced film, tonally. This is also Marvel's most emotional endeavour yet and, as fun and enjoyable as it all is, it can't take away from the emotional consequences and the dramatic integrity of this film.
The idea of a thin line between heroes and vigilantes and good and evil is nothing new in comic-book films yet it's so impactful here because of the characters. I went in clearly rooting for one team but, the screenplay is so cleverly written and both sides of the argument are so clearly developed that both sides seem right and it's a very blurred line here - both sides act as the protagonist at times as they do the antagonist at others. McFeely and Markus have managed to effectively portray both sides of the argument and it's impossible to go into this film and not change your mind about who you're siding with several times throughout; you'd be lying if you said your opinion wasn't swayed once. Of course, the result of the tension and conflict is an epic showdown between our heroes and it is incredible. Having seen these characters grow over the past 8 years, having grown to attach to them all and care for them all, seeing them come head to head and fight one another is emotional and exciting. They aren't just 'superheroes', they're real characters with depth and personality that have been so well realised not only over the course of the entire MCU but in this film alone too. We really root for them all and empathise with both sides, to the extent that seeing them fight one another is so impactful and emotional - making the action and the consequences and the stakes all the more intense and meaningful.
The acting is great too. The entire cast are on top form and look like they're having so much fun. There is veritable and believable chemistry between this stellar cast too, which only adds to the dynamics and arcs of all the characters. Of course, with 'Captain America' in the title, it's Chris Evans that takes the lead here and, arguably, carries this project on his shoulders and the actor is phenomenal as Steve Rogers. Evans truly is the definitive Captain America and his big heart and charm make him perfect for the role. The actor really sinks his teeth into some dramatic material with the character too as everything he has gone through, since his introduction in 2011's The First Avenger, finally takes its toll on him, leading to this battle and this conflict. It's easy to believe just why heroes would go against the law to follow him into battle though; the actor embodies the role and is as heartfelt, sincere and patriotic a hero as you'd expect. On the other side of the fence, Robert Downey Jr. is also just as masterful as Tony Stark. However, we see a very different side to the character than we're used to here. Downey Jr. gives a more subdued, reserved performance for a more serious Stark, as the consequences of creating Ultron begin to take its toll on him. Seeing the conflict between the pair, that has slowly been escalating since 2012's The Avengers, is exciting and heartbreaking at the same time, because of how much we empathise for both characters and all they've faced.
The supporting cast all shine too. Anthony Mackie and Paul Rudd bring the belly share of the laughs - the former is as charismatic as he was in The Winter Soldier and the latter is as witty and wonderful as he was in his solo outing. Elizabeth Olsen is very troubled here, realising just how powerful she is, and Paul Bettany gives a nice, naive and whimsical turn here, following his Age of Ultron debut well; Sebastian Stan is great too, as we see more a human, genuine nuance to his character this time around. Scarlett Johannsson and Jeremy Renner are both are great as always too. Chadwick Boseman is a great new addition to the MCU as Black Panther. He has a very regal and classy weight to his presence and Boseman is delightful as our Wakandan Prince, playing a major role to the story here - for reasons I can't disclose, he is very sombre and subdued here but it makes for some great viewing - and it promises great things for his standalone picture in 2018. Tom Holland is also remarkable as our latest cinematic incarnation of Peter Parker, a.k.a Spider-Man. His screen-time is limited but Holland is, without a shadow of doubt, already the best on-screen Spider-Man we have seen. Both scenes involving the beloved Web-slinger are brilliant and his wisecracking quips are reminiscent of the classic Spidey from the comics. Holland is nerdy and endearing and perfect in the role; he's everything Peter Parker should be and gets the right balance of hilarious and badass. His chemistry with Downey Jr. is gloriously fun to watch too and it'll be exciting to explore that further in next Summer's Homecoming.
Civil War is a popcorn flick, in every sense of the word - a fun, epic visual spectacle. The opening sequence is exhilarating and so beautifully helmed and the action only continues to impress from there onwards. The airport sequence that everyone has been praising and talking about is just as good as the hype leads you to believe. In fact, no. It's BETTER!!! The sequence comes in about halfway through the film and lasts about 20 minutes and is single-handedly the greatest action sequence in not only any superhero film ever but, perhaps even, just generally, any action film ever. The action doesn't let up for a second; it is incredibly creative - from Ant-Man being shot on Hawkeye's bow to Spider-Man's ingenious use of webs - and there are lots of funny jokes being tossed around. It's tons of fun, it's also visually gorgeous and so well-directed and, on top of all of that, it's also emotional and tense and important to the narrative and the MCU as a whole. The final action scene involving Tony Stark and Steve Rogers is perhaps the most dramatically driven action sequence in the entire film as our heroes just beat the hell out of one another. Again, the scene is impressive and entertaining but is incredibly emotional but it cannot compare to the rollicking airport sequence, as we drink in the joy and wonder of what Joe and Anthony Russo throw at us.
Honestly, I can go on about Civil War for days. It's not a perfect movie though. My one, minor complaint is the villain - Zemo, played here by Daniel Brühl. Marvel don't have a good track with their villains and Zemo is no exception. His storyline was minuscule and inconsequential to the overall outcome and narrative. He just felt misplaced and was very unnecessary to the film. Yet, because of his minimal screen time, it's a very minor flaw - especially since Brühl is a good actor and gives a good performance, regardless. His scenes aren't bad to watch either, they just feel without purpose and very tacked on. So, for that reason, I feel like it doesn't take away from the film going experience at all really. Civil War is epic and Zemo doesn't hinder this. Not only is it a near-flawless superhero film but it's just a near-flawless film in general. The action is great, the visuals are great, the characters are given depth and there are consequences and stakes and everything feels meaningful; this is an emotional and dramatic film and one that has a genuinely compelling narrative with compelling characters. It's an action-packed, fun popcorn flick but it's also an intense, riveting psychological thriller.
It is an exceptional piece of cinema and, having digested the film and taken my time thinking things through, I'm speaking as a critic and not a fanboy - so save the accusations. This is one of Marvel's best films yet and it's certainly one of the best superhero movies of all time - up there alongside the likes of The Dark Knight and The Avengers. Joe and Anthony Russo, I applaud you. Now, bring on The Avengers: Infinity War.
VERDICT:Captain America: Civil War is as epic in spectacle, action and fun as it is laden with nuance, drama and emotion. The Russo Brothers have given us a popcorn flick, psychological thriller and, most importantly, one of the best comic-book films of all time.
About the Author
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.