Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman
You might not know it from the weather outside, but the summer movie season is officially upon us. Yes, that time of year when, for the next three to four months, Hollywood studios roll out their biggest, brashest, most ludicrously expensive movies they can drum up to assault our very senses with cities blowing up and very loud noises. Depending on your proclivity for such things, this is either the worst or best time of the movie going year. Either way, there’s no escaping it.
First up to bat is the latest offering in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, and the second superhero smackdown of the year (third if you’re counting Daredevil vs The Punisher). Unlike the dud that was Batman v Superman:Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War is a blockbuster that delivers on the hype. It is not a masterpiece by any means, as some critics would have you believe, but what it is, is thrilling summer blockbuster entertainment at its finest. Loaded with spectacle, with an all star cast of characters old and new, Captain America: Civil War manages to brush off the staleness that had begun to cloud the franchise following Avengers: Age of Ultron and deliver something that, whilst not groundbreaking in its overall execution, delivers a rousing spectacle that never falters on its sense of fun. The story begins with Steve Rogers and his team of new Avengers as they foil an attempt by Brock Rumlow, aka Crossbones, to steal a biological weapon from a facility in Lagos, Nigeria. Naturally of course, not everything goes according to plan and innocent lives are tragically lost. Confronted with the consequences of their destructive heroics, the nations of the world sign the Sokovia Accords, a bill that would essentially put the Avengers under the purview of the United Nations and a government oversight committee. This divides our intrepid band of heroes, with Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark in favour of oversight and Steve Rogers who rallies against it. Things aren’t made easier with the sudden appearance of Steve’s old war buddy and former Hydra Assassin Bucky Barnes, aka The Winter Soldier. Lines are drawn, heroes are recruited, morals and philosophies are sort of debated, and the proverbial faeces hit the fan as heroes become fugitives and friends become enemies.
It’s a testament to the skill of the Russo brothers and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley, who have managed to wrangle all the characters, arcs and plot threads together and somehow still manage to tell a coherent whole, a feat often felled short by others. By wisely keeping the focus on Chris Evans’s noble Steve Rogers and his ever deteriorating friendship with Stark, the film never loses sight of the characters it so clearly holds affection for. Indeed, for the viewer it’s even a little tough to take sides, as both parties find themselves in the right and the wrong of the situation, with both sets of arguments warranted and justified. The political and moral philosophising seems more like a means to an end more than anything else, quickly cast aside in order to hurry the film along to the next big fight scene. But it does just enough to warrant our attention, to keep us emotionally engaged with the inevitable emotional fallout of this destructive rivalry.
Whilst the old guard of Avengers fit their costumes like a well aged wine, the newcomers slot themselves into the universe perfectly. Chadwick Boseman as the noble Prince T’Challa, aka Black Panther, holds the moral core of the film, with a worthy arc all of his own, whilst Tom Holland is a pure joy in his all too brief appearance as the teenage web slinger from NYC. His recruitment at the hands of Tony Stark in his Aunt’s apartment in Queens ranks as one of my all time favourite moments in the MCU. The prospect of both Spider-Man and Black Panther’s upcoming solo films now looks even more enticing.
All this of course leads to a gigantic (quite literally in the case of one specific hero) showcase at Leipzig airport as Team Iron Man and Team Cap square off in the mother of all superhero fights. It truly is a epic battle of pure nerdgasm and perhaps one of the most grandstanding moments in anything Marvel Studios has ever done. There are downsides of course. With so many characters being wrangled together, some are going to get short changed and left by the wayside. Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, once again, has little to do besides show up and shoot a couple of arrows, whilst Daniel Bruhl’s villainous Helmut Zemo, whilst having an actual worthy reason for doing the things he does beyond, you know, the Marvel standard of world domination and/or destruction, amounts to no more than a forgettable curiosity. I mean, come on, it wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without an unmemorable villain, would it?
The fight scenes also suffer from the terrible shaky cam curse, a trait that should’ve died out long ago. Sometimes things in the frame move so fast, with the camera shaking all over the place, that it can be a little frustrating when things get up close and personal.
But in spite of its flaws, the film never once forgets why it exists and its true purpose: to deliver a wholehearted sense of fun. Yes, it is Hollywood franchise filmmaking, and yes, it does have that air of setting up for sequels and spinoffs and whatnot, but it does so without a single cynical nor ponderous bone in its body. While it doesn’t reinvent the rulebook or try anything new with the formula that Marvel and head honcho Kevin Feige have so carefully orchestrated, it executes its rulebook so well and so affectionately that you just end up going with it.