The third Captain America instalment sees The Avengers confront international politics, their moral ethos – and each other. ★★★★☆
Captain America: Civil War, Marvel Studios(2016)
Dir: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Chadwick Boseman
Genre: Superhero, Action, Thriller
Come 2016 and one would presume that the world would be completely Marvelled out. It’s been eight years since Iron Man, the first instalment of in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and since then we have been met with a barrage of establishing films (Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger and the aforementioned Iron Man and its sequel), secondary progression (Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, culminating with Ant-Man) and the upscaled, end-of-the-world menageries also known as The Avengers and Age Of Ultron.
At a quick count, that’s 12 films in seven years. That’s an unprecedented amount for a wider integrated franchise. That’s a lot for any series. Luckily – for viewers and the company alike – Marvel are savvy to the worldwide superhero fatigue, and in entering “Phase 3 ” they are looking to deconstruct the alliance that they took so long to painfully establish. As such, Captain America: Civil War immediately takes a different tone to all of the aforementioned films. There is no hypothetical “big bad” in the conventional sense, and for the most part it is a refreshing departure that pays off, and in the lack of a full-scale “big bad” assault, all of the Avengers’ pent-up energy is spent inflicting it on each other.
It is the last of these fate-of-the-world initiatives that sparks the main dilemma: following their triumph (or consequential travesty, depending on whether or not you were situated on or under the floating town of Sokovia) in Age Of Ultron and after the full-throttle opening sequence in Africa results in a large amount of collateral damage, the United Nations intend to clamp down on the superhero team thanks to their disregard for accidental civilian death. They are presented with the Sokovia Accords whereby, in complying, the Avengers would only be legally allowed to act should a UN panel vote in favour of action.
“A refreshing departure that pays off”
It is ironic, with their main initiative being to save the world and everyone in it etc, but nevertheless, from the human perspective, who would want a bunch of strange super-able vigilantes acting as they see fit and claiming it to be in the benefit of the human world? Who is to say if, or when, those superheroes would turn on those they intend to help? Why should they get to wreak untold havoc in their quest to aid the world, without any regard for the consequences?
There are echoes of the recent politics of Batman V Superman, albeit, far better executed. Every character here has their own motives for being on either side of the argument, but in thanks to his attempt to find the terrorist (and friend from a previous life) Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) before the authorities do, Captain America (Chris Evans) himself ends up becoming a fugitive. Their being on the run causes a chasm straight down the middle of the superhero team; this isn’t merely humans trying to rein in those more powerful than themselves, but the Avengers trying to rein in each other.
“The action is… disorienting, though nonetheless impressive”
With his murky past and the apparent departure of love interest Pepper Potts, it appears that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) has finally had a crises of conscience in regards to both his own actions and that of the wider Avengers team, and with a vacuum of bodies on both sides thanks to the various abdications, we are left with a rapid-fire recruitment process resulting in the largest superhero ensemble of the MCU as of yet. Assembled: Team Captain America; Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Winter Soldier and Falcon- borderline blinkered but resolute in that the Avengers remain a free body – VS. Team Iron Man; Black Widow, Vision, War Machine and newbies Black Panther and Spiderman (if you missed that nugget, then where have you been!?). By the time the pivotal airport battle comes around, there are 12 bodies onscreen and instances where all of the action is simply disorienting, though nonetheless impressive (kudos to Paul Rudd for stealing the show with his Ant-Man antics, with an honourable mention to Tom Holland‘s brief first outing as Spiderman). Similarly, the finale between Iron Man and Captain America is, despite all its angst and grandeur, surprisingly emotional, with both unyielding characters refusing to back down off their soapbox for the sake of the wider good.
First and foremost, this is a fun film, yet there is the distinct impression – or inevitability – that in trying to highlight everyone and everything, some things are inevitably left by the wayside; Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is reduced to being a mediator and has little expansion in Civil War, whilst the recruiting of Peter Parker -despite offering a brief reprieve from all of the angst – ultimately jarrs the atmosphere and feels somewhat out of place. The motive of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), whilst being a major part of the plot, does not get expanded on as well as it should have and, after a certain point, feels almost two-dimensional whereas the actual antagonist of the film (believe it or not, there is one) is similarly underdeveloped and is really only included to deploy that final fight scene.
In many ways, Civil War is easily The Avengers 2.5; there is action galore, the stakes feel high and the execution of the plot is impressive. With so many characters onscreen, this could very easily have become a meaningless free-for-all, however the writers Stephen McFeeley and Christopher Markus have somehow created a sense of organisation in the chaos with the added bonus of character development for many, if not quite all. In that manner, with the stakes being closer to home, it feels surprisingly personable; this is, after all, a Captain America film but you could certainly interpret it more as Steve-Rogers-confronts-his-past-and-present-demons than merely being another rung to the shelf life of that particular franchise. It does feel like a turning point in the MCU, and if this is where Phase 3 is beginning, who knows where we will end up by the time the Avengers double-barrell rolls around?
You’re a Marvel/ superhero fanboy/girl in a hyped-up world.
You’re all hot under the collar at the prospect of getting deep into the feels of the main Avengers ensemble.
You think Marvel upscaling the real world threat (a la prequel X-Men) is an exciting/ promising prospect.
Or you just want to see Spiderman…