29th Apr2016

‘Captain America: Civil War’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Daniel Brühl | Written by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely | Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

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Captain America: Civil War picks up where Avengers: Age of Ultron left off, as Steve Rogers leads the new team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. After another international incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability and a governing body to determine when to enlist the services of the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps: one led by Steve Rogers and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Tony Stark’s surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability. And as if that wasn’t enough the Avengers (on both sides of the Civil War) must try to protect the world from a new and nefarious villain… Helmut Zemo.

I have a long and storied history with the original comic from which this film takes its name (it was this book and Brian Michael Bendis’ New Avengers that got me back into comics after a VERY long absence – and it was Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run that kept me coming back) so I was incredibly intrigued to see where Marvel would take this story on film. Now I say takes its name because beyond its moniker, Iron Man and Captain America clashing over ideologies and the Winter Soldier storyline, this cinematic version of Marvel’s civil war bears no relation in the slightest to the source material. And it’s all the worse for it. Gone are the subtle nuances of right and wrong; gone are the evil machinations of villains who we don’t even see in the Marvel universe thanks to rights issues etc; and gone is the tension and the drama of a tearing apart of a long-standing friendship. Instead – thanks to RDJ’s Iron Man – you WANT Captain America to win, you want him to beat the living shit out of Iron Man, if only to shut him up once and for all!

Honestly, if this was the last appearance of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man I would not be upset. His stunning portrayal of the character as seen in the original Iron Man film is long gone; here he seems incredibly workman-like, only going through the motions for that last paycheck. As for the character, I would prefer the all-out drunk, womanizing arsehole of the comics that this dour, morose portrayal. We get it Tony, you’ve got issues, major daddy issues; and a very bad case of survivors guilt… I think maybe it’s time you retire from the superhero game. Permanently.

But Captain America: Civil War is not all bad. Far from it.

The new additions to the marvel Universe – Black Panther and Spider-Man – are two of the major plus points for the film. Chadwick Boseman, as T’Challa/Black Panther is PERFECT. Seriously. Boseman’s performance walks a note perfect fine-line between the grace of royalty and a man out for vengeance, bringing the same kudos to the character as was written in the best of Marvel’s comics. Given what we see of Boseman here, he is a worthy addition to the series and, dare I say it, a perfect replacement for RDJ! As for Tom Holland as Spider-Man, what can anyone say but yes, yes, yes! The decision to introduce a younger, more fun-loving teenage version really allows for note only Holland to shine but also the character. Spider-Man shares some of the best comedic moments of the film, often coming across more like a starstruck audience member than a superhero. Here’s hoping the innocence and excitement Holland’s Spider-Man has isn’t pummelled out of the character when he heads into the THIRD attempt at a long-running Spidey franchise. Keep it light and fluffy Sony/Marvel – it works here and it worked for Ant-Man’s solo film. It WILL work for Spider-Man: Homecoming.

And that’s the thing. Following Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, both of which had much more comedy than melodramatic drama, the Marvel universe felt like a much more fun place to be. But Captain America: Civil War is NOT fun. There may be moments of light-heartedness, which is not only limited to Spider-Man and Ant-Man – there’s a fantastic scene with Falcon and Bucky in an old VW bug that brought a chuckle to the entire audience at the midnight showing I attended – but for the most part this is a very serious (almost DC Comics serious) superhero story. Which perhaps gets too much come the films final third and THAT fight between Bucky, Cap and Iron Man, as seen in the trailer. There’s no way this particularly dark storytelling can continue in further films surely?

Speaking of dark. I knew it was too much to hope Marvel would bring the “time bullet” storyline (and Captain America “death”) into this particular film, though believe me I’d love to see Chris Evans traverse through time in a cinematic version of the Captain America: Man Out of Time mini-series! In fact I could watch Evans as Captain America/Steve Rogers any day of the week, especially in his own franchise (for the character is criminally underused in the Avengers movies). If we only got more Captain America movies, instead of more of the Avengers franchise, going forward I wouldn’t be upset in the slightest, in fact I’d welcome it. There’s a wealth of stories, especially from Ed Brubaker’s “espionage” run that would make for more fantastic movies like Captain America: Winter Soldier – which is STILL the pinnacle of Avengers/Iron Man/Captain America storytelling for me. Though given how the previous Cap movie AND this one ends, I’m guessing we’re heading down New Avengers territory – giving kudos to the “New Avengers versus Thanos” storyline rumours for Infinity War Part I (thus bringing back Avengers old and new to actually defeat him in Part II).

Ultimately Captain America: Civil War felt like a disappointment after the highs of Winter Soldier. It’s not a bad Marvel movie (not by any stretch of the imagination), it is for the most part a very welcome and very well-made sequel; it’s just not as “amazing” as you may have read in other reviews. Helmut Zemo, though given much more intimate connection to the heroes in this tale, never lives up to the potential that character had, in much the same way as I felt Armin Zola was wasted in previous movies. Maybe it’s because Captain America’s villains are either too politically motivated or, more simply, downright crazy and too “out there” for cinema-goers (after all, would audiences have bought Zola as a “robot” with a TV for a face?) but I think the series NEEDS, going forward, a truly despicable super-villain for Steve and his band of New Avengers to face…

Captain America: Civil War in in UK cinemas now.

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