“United We Stand. Divided We Fall.”
Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Starring (deep breath) Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johanssen, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily Van Camp, Tom Holland, Daniel Bruhl and William Hurt
After a brief flashback of the Winter Soldier’s (Stan) cold war career, we see the current Avengers taking down former SHIELD/HYDRA agent Brock ‘Crossbones’ Rumlow, in a fight which ends up devastating a Lagos office block. As a result, the UN ratifies the Sokovia Accords, legislation to regulate the Avengers under the control of a UN panel. Tony Stark (Downey Jr.), wracked with guilt over the Ultron affair, is for it, but Steve Rogers (Evans) is agin it, given his experiences operating under oversight.
Things escalate when the enigmatic Zemo frames the Winter Soldier for a UN bombing, setting the former Avengers at odds, with Steve and Sam Wilson (Mackie) working to bring Bucky in alive, while King T’Challa of Wakanda (Boseman) dons the mantle of the Black Panther to avenge his father’s death in the bombing, eventually leading to an all-out smackdown between Captain America, Bucky, Falcon, Scarlet Witch (Olsen), Ant Man (Rudd) and Hawkeye (Renner) on one side, and Iron Man, Black Widow (Johanssen), War Machine (Cheadle), Black Panther, the Vision (Bettany) and Spider-Man (Holland) on the other.
And that’s just the third act closer!
With help from Peggy Carter’s niece and former SHIELD agent/Cap’s neighbour Sharon (Van Camp), Cap and Bucky race to stop Zemo activating five more Winter Soldiers. Discovering the set up, Tony comes to help them, only for a last revelation to trigger a final battle between the former friends.
What’s wrong with it?
Oh, man this thing is busy. There is literally zero breathing room. I slipped out to use the toilet during the quiet moments of Bucky’s interrogation, and I’m worried I missed something.
Mama Stark has had very little screen time so far, and is only weakly established as Tony’s berserk button.
Zemo has done a lot of research in a very short period of time, and very effectively for a member of a Sokovian death squad. I’d buy it more if he’d been established as a psyops guy, or even a fairly mild research bod, given that he is never really called upon to be a physical threat to anyone other than a fifty-something UN psychiatrist.
What’s right with it?
For my money, the film makes better use of its ensemble than Age of Ultron did, in part because it is technically a Cap movie, allowing leeway to leave much of the group behind when it needs to focus more closely.
New recruits Black Panther and Spider-Man are excellently executed. Allowing T’Challa to first pursue and then abandon the path of revenge makes a potentially one-note character into something more, and the mid-credits tag of Wakanda makes it more than just a name at last. As for Spidey, his blend of wit and awkwardness is delightful, and the use of a less decrepit Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) who shamelessly flirts with Tony Stark was genius. I also love his little blinky eye pieces.
To address the core issue, the film successfully builds and moderates the conflict between the characters in a believable way, and wisely limits the scope of the war within this film to essentially a couple of skirmishes and a prison break. The various twists and reversals were all well done.
While others’ mileage may, and does, vary, this film score hugely over Batman vs. Superman, it’s most obvious and direct rival, by being just way more fun. Also, the Marvel Universe has something that the DC Universe lacks, which is direct sunlight. Seriously, no wonder Batman was able to hold out against Superman.
Despite their limited screen time, the film effectively pitches Vision and Scarlet Witch as the powerhouses of the Avengers, with the latter at one point looking like the only effective member of Team Cap in the airport fight. Also, Wanda’s “I can’t control their fear, I can only control my own” is totally the motivational poster for the film.
I like that in the opening fight, Black Widow is the emergency ‘big gun’, and that the guy who knocks her down almost immediately knocks Cap down as well.
While his approach and backstory don’t precisely gel, Zemo is a wonderfully solid and even tragic villain, although it is unfortunate for him that his motivational monologue comes in after the similar and near-perfect origin speech delivered by Jon Bernthal’s Punisher in Daredevil.
How bad is it really?
This is… a really good film. Actually, dial that back a bit; it’s a really fun film, and pretty good as well. It does a lot of things, none of them in a deep or profound way, but all of them with just enough substance to be effective. It mixes the humour which is such a strong part of the MCU with the drama and tragedy of the conflict between our heroes and builds that conflict in believable ways.
Although probably the weakest of the Captain America movies, this is easily one of my two favourite Avengers movies, leaving Ultron feeling like little more than set-up. I actually think I only equivocate on whether it is my favourite or not because the absence of Thor and the Hulk stands in the way of it being a ‘true’ Avengers movie.
Best bit (if such there is)?
For sheer spectacle, the airport fight is hard to beat, and the final, brutal confrontation for drama, but I have a soft spot for Bucky and Sam – old friend and new friend – beaming with joy as Cap has his first real kiss in sixty years.
What’s up with…?
- Numbers? Iron Man gets numbers, but everyone else gets subtitles.
- Vision’s cooking? Seriously, that ‘not paprika’ looks like cayenne, and even without taste buds he really ought to be able to tell the difference because one of them has ‘cayenne pepper’ written on the bottle. Or is someone in the Avengers such a keen chef that they have a rack of hand-ground, unlabeled spices (and enough of a sadist not to mark the cayenne?)
Production values – Civil War is as slick and pretty as we’ve come to expect of a Marvel movie, with all the light and liveliness that Zack Snyder wants to suck out of comic book movies. The action is a little overwhelming on the big screen, but not as wearying as many. 2
Dialogue and performances – With the exception of Martin Freeman’s bizarre turn as an American, the performances are universally excellent, both from the assured long-term star turns and the newcomers. 4
Plot and execution – Given the tightrope required to set two well-loved characters (and let’s face it, we are talking about two characters here, the rest are ultimately support) at odds, the film does excellent well at making everyone’s decisions and turns of allegiance believable, and the plot although twisty is never imponderable. 3
Randomness – While a logical extension, Giant Man sort of comes out of nowhere, and Zemo’s methodology doesn’t quite gel with his background. 4
Waste of potential – There was a lot of fear over this one, and yet it delivered a superior spectacle to Age of Ultron and a worth conclusion for the Captain America ‘trilogy’. 3