It’s weird sometimes how Hollywood can end up releasing very similar films around the same time. Maybe it’s chance or industrial espionage, but it seems to happen all the time. I always point to how we had two White House getting destroyed films being released in a year with both White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen, with the former being the better film. Surely it’s not by chance we had two films so similar in subject matter in a year, right? Well it turns out 2016 is the year of superheroes fighting each other as just a few months after Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, we got Captain America: Civil War.
During what seems to be a routine mission, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, Godzilla) accidentally kills members of the public. This causes Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr, The Judge) and Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt, Into the Wild) to come up with the Sokovia Accords, an agreement which will see the Avengers come under the control of the UN. However Captain America (Chris Evans, Playing It Cool) opposes the agreement and is eventually forced to go on the run with his old best friend and former brainwashed Hydra agent Bucky Barnes (Sebastien Stan, The Martian), otherwise known as the Winter Soldier.
To look at first glance, you would think Captain America has way too much to handle. Not only does it need to build up the showdown between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, but it also needs to be a sequel to The Winter Soldier and continue the redemptive arc of Bucky Barnes and add even more characters to the mix with Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, 42) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland, The Impossible) being introduced to us. And somehow, it manages to do it with aplomb and manages to tie all these strands together. They manage to make the arc of the Winter Soldier incredibly relevant to Tony Stark and do it such an emotive way you can see why both Rogers and Stark would split on this issue. The new characters are given just the right amount of screen time to make us want to see more and yes, the showdown is earned.
But indeed, the star event is the action, and it is very good. The opening battle which sees the new Avengers stop a raid on a lab by Crossbones (Frank Grillo, Warrior) suffers a bit from the Jason Bourne virus with the shaky-cam being a bit out of hand, but it’s the only misstep in what is an exciting way to start the film. And yeah, like everyone else, I love the massive airport scene where two teams of superheroes take each other on. Each hero gets a chance to show off his powers, whether it is Spider-Man, The Vision (Paul Bettany, A Beautiful Mind) or the star of the show, amazingly enough, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, Role Models). And the whole set piece builds from a small place where they are duking it out to the huge set piece at the end where Spider-Man gets a little bit inspired from that other Disney property, Star Wars. And for the finale, Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me and Dupree) know that they can’t top it for spectacle so they make the final battle between Iron Man and Captain America this emotive affair where the punches hut not because of the physical pain, but that each hit is chipping away at their friendship.
And yes, the big argument between the two sides is done perfectly. It’s essentially one of oversight vs freedom, with Tony Stark arguing that they need restrictions to make sure innocents don’t get hurt while Steve Rogers believing they may get used for political purposes rather than for actually saving the world. It’s much better than the comic this is based on, simply because the film goes to great lengths to make sure Tony’s point is a good one and that he doesn’t turn into a total Hitler like in the original source material. It does make sense, the whole reason for the Civil War comic was that Mark Millar really didn’t like the Patriot Act and wanted to show that in the only way he could, a brutal graphic novel. But here in the film, Tony is still a reasonable person, even if he goes a bit too far at points, and so is Steve. You could argue that Steve’s view is under represented in this film because while Tony gets a direct visual as to why he believes his point of view, we have to rely on knowing Steve’s past in the previous films as to why he thinks the way he does.
And it isn’t just Tony Stark and Steve Rogers who get great service in terms of their characters. Firstly, there’s a nice little arc with Scarlet Witch and her guilt about causing the accident which started the whole event and how she is forced to move on from that, with the help of The Vision who she seems to have a budding romance with. Then we have the new characters, Black Panther and Spider-Man. Black Panther, otherwise known as T’Challa, is an awesome character who is very different to what we’ve seen before in the Marvel films. His fighting style, which is heavily based on a panther as you’d expect, marks him out immediately in his action scenes and his character is very honour-bound and understated, which makes him very likable. You do want to see his own film, and that’s sort of the point of why he’s here. And while Spider-Man is essentially a cameo role, he does steal the show. He gets the best lines in the script, he adds a whole new dimension to the action and Holland manages to get all that teenage awkwardness into the famous red and blue suit, which Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield struggled with in the past.
Of course, there are some flaws in this film but they are nitpicks and tend to just be a shame there wasn’t more of these characters. Because boy, this film doesn’t half waste some characters. Firstly there’s Crossbones who has an awesome design and ready-made back story after his near death in The Winter Soldier, but is axed off in the opening action scene. Then there’s Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp, Revenge), who was built up big time in the last film and all she does here is the odd monologue and kiss Steve Rogers, which is more to her benefit than it is ours. We also get a new character in the shape of Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) who does the precise sum of nothing and most disappointing of all is Zemo (Daniel Bruhl, Rush). He has a good, if a bit over-done, back story and his plan works incredibly well. Bruhl also puts in a great performance and shows all the bitterness he has gained over the years in just his face.
However he barely gets any screen time and most of it he’s not really up against our heroes, he’s just off doing his own thing. This means he feels a bit ephermal to the plot, even though he’s the main reason it’s happening and you just wish he could go face to face with Captain America, especially as the scene he has with Black Panther is superb.
Where Batman V Superman struggled to pack all of its plot, characters and motivations into two and a half hours, Captain America: Civil War makes it all look so easy. It uses the universe it has built over the last eight years to deliver us a very powerful story which not only works as a popcorn blockbuster, but as something that can emotionally affect you because of how much time you have spent in this world and these characters. It has everything you could want in a big money Hollywood film, a fun script with great lines, brilliant action scenes and characters we resonate with. Captain America Civil War is brilliant.