Wednesday 4 May 2016

Review: Captain America: Civil War

Year: 2016
Directors: The Russo Brothers
Screenplay:Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring: 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, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Brühl.

Synopsis is here:

Let’s get this out of the way now. The comparisons of Marvel’s Civil War and Warner Brother’s Batman vs Superman were always going to be made from the moment they were announced. In the upcoming weeks there will be think pieces and hot takes galore about which of these films “won” based on box office takings and opening weekend reactions. I’m sure twitter arguments will be abound about which is the “better” film. Nature of the beast.

After leaving the early bank holiday screening of Captain America: Civil War, I found I had no qualm on my position on the matter. Quite simply, Marvel seems to understand its audience better. Bitter DC Fans can complain about critics being “paid off” all they want. Such talk is nonsense. Civil War isn’t the best Marvel film. Heck, I don't even think it’s the best Captain America flick. However, in terms of balancing it’s characters and telling an engaging story, Civil War wins the so called battle.

It certainly helps that we’ve now spent nearly a decade getting to know many of the characters that appear in this feature over the course of various entries. However, this alone highlights the assured vision that we watch on screen. Civil War doesn’t hold many surprises, but Marvel’s control of their brand, while dulling a certain sense of wonderment when watching a blockbuster (do we honestly think ANYONE is at risk here?), has created an established and expansive universe that understands and maintains its tone, and is clear with its character motivations. Both Civil War and Batman vs Superman talk about “who watches the watchmen” and collateral damage. Both only really use them as Macguffin’s for beating the hell out of one another. It is Civil War, however, that understands its character between the characters and its audience. The relationship built from the previous films, gives Civil War more grounding, and yet, when characters debate and argue, you do not feel lost in mindless manusha. A complaint found in Batman vs Superman was simply “why were they fighting?” Civil War never has the same issues. We see the differing ideologies and their clashes as clear as day. There’s no need for a longer cut or after the fact articles to gain understandings which should have clarity within the theatrical narrative.

This doesn’t stop Civil War from being a flawed piece. On the contrary. We are now at the point where these films merely press on with their stories, less like a grand adventure, but more like a cosplayed soap opera. Civil War gives us the truly tortured Tony Stark so clearly missing from the likes of Iron Man 3 (2012), as well as hinting on budding personal relationship which may or may not come to pass in future instalments. This is fine if there was a solid feeling of these ongoing journeys actually reaching a destination. Civil War, like so many Marvel movies, are good at hinting at more to come. Tom Holland’s sprightly performance whets the appetite for a new Spiderman film. We’re finally getting Robert Downley Jr’s Tony Stark pulling towards some new ground with the character. Scarlett Johansson’s work as Natasha/Black Widow keeps going under praised and I could easily sit through the adventures of many of the characters that appear. Especially the ones who are female or black.

Despite this, I’m also clambering for a sense of true closure, or at least a villain that can truly keep up with the multitude of running, jumping mega heroes. What plays out in Civil War is emotional and at times satisfying, but to only to a certain level. The Buck Rogers TV serial-like method of these films enables a feeling of being fed on a decent burger yet never feeling full. Notice I haven’t yet mentioned much of Steve Rogers (A still wonderfully stiff jawed Evans) himself? That’s because much like Superman, he’s been pushed to the side to accommodate everything else that needs to tie to brand Marvel. The main reason the Captain America movies appealed was because of Roger’s character. The man out of time. The hero who doesn’t like bullies. That strong moral belief. Such elements haven’t disappeared completely, but they have to make way for Ant-man, Black Panther, The Vision, Scarlet Witchthe list goes on.

The Russo’s however, provide a decent job of trying to balance all these strands out. No character feels as shoehorned in as the characters did Batman vs Superman. Marvel may hold a certain blue print that many of these films need to adhere to, but The Russo’s have shown how well they can operate around Marvel’s slightly restrictive template, but do so with yet another film filled with tightly executed action, solid character beats and a vibrant sense of tone. Despite holding a certain amount of fatigue with comic book films, Captain America: Civil War still brings enough sound, fury and vibrancy to remain an entertaining piece. I can’t say that this long running film series is delivering any real shocks as before and the idea that one of their films; Infinity Wars, sounds more like a sadistic promise now that we’ve seen the studios long term plans. Nevertheless, as an enjoyable (albeit overlong) piece of fluff,  Civil War more than delivers.