Hands up who thought the clean-cut, living, breathing symbol of freedom and liberty would have ended up showing the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe how it’s done?
Forever a man out of his time, Steve Rogers’ guiding principles have seen the first Avenger become a square peg in a round hole that has resulted in him falling out of favour with the powers that be.
Captain America: Civil War harvests the seeds of doubt that were planted in The Winter Soldier and closes a chapter on the MCU that has led to the ultimate emblem of apple pie-eating pride transform from, in the words of directors Anthony and Joe Russo, “patriot to insurgent”.
It’s been a fascinating journey, one that is arguably the defining aspect of Marvel’s epic big screen enterprise and the Cap trilogy has stood head and shoulders above the rest thanks to a compelling mixture of great storytelling, engaging characters and standout direction.
Chris Evans’ central performance should also not be underestimated and he gives his best turn yet in Civil War. Evans has the square-jawed all-American looks befitting the part, but there’s also steel behind the eyes that gets sorely tested this time out.
Civil War picks up after the events of Avengers: Age Of Ultron, with a tragedy during an Avengers mission being the metaphorical straw that breaks the camel’s back for the authorities. U.S Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) announces that, despite the debt owed by society, no longer can collateral damage by tolerated.
The Sokovia Accords (so named after the country affected by the events of Age Of Ultron) are drawn up and the Avengers are urged to sign and agree to fall under the jurisdiction of the United Nations. Wracked with guilt for his part in creating Ultron, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) leads the call to sign up and while some fall into line others, most notably Cap, are less inclined.
When a terrorist act seemingly points the finger at Cap’s old buddy Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Solider (Sebastian Stan), the fissure between the Avengers and, in particular, Iron Man and Captain America grows bigger and more strained. But was Bucky responsible or is another force at work?
On paper, Civil War treads a similar path to Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice – superheroes end up at each other’s throats when they should be on the same side. However, the difference in execution is glaring, with Zack Snyder’s effort little more than a one-dimensional bludgeoning in comparison to Marvel’s latest.
Another difference between both films is how it brings new characters into the fold. Whilst Batman vs Superman crowbarred in the likes of Aquaman via a flimsy laptop session, this introduces a young, inexperienced Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and a hard-as-nails Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in organic and believable ways. The scenes Downey, Jr shares with Holland are especially fun and promise much for Spidey’s official Marvel debut.
Indeed, fun is something that can be found in plentiful supply here (another advantage over Bats vs Supes) and the balance between light and dark is nicely handled.
Importantly, both sides of the argument are given equal weight. It’s difficult to disagree with the weight of evidence brought to the table by Ross, while Stark’s point that it’s better to sign now rather than having more draconian accords thrust upon them later on is persuasive. However, the counterpoint put forward by Rogers that becoming the tool of political forces means you will forever be in its sway is equally valid. After all, following the events of The Winter Soldier, it’s not surprising Rogers has his doubts about the fortitude of institutions.
The charge that Civil War gets too bogged down with its characters is understandable – as is the assertion that this is basically Avengers 3 rather than Cap 3. That does a disservice, though, to Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s script and the Russo’s direction, which tries not to leave anyone behind.
The plethora of A and B-list Avengers ultimately pays off in the central airport hanger sequence, which starts off lightly as both sides weigh in to each other whilst saying “we’re still friends right?” before the punches start to land with more purpose. It’s a great action scene that again mixes dramatic stakes alongside lighter moments, not least of which involving Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) who literally gets the biggest moment.
Perhaps in response to the criticism levelled at Marvel movies that their final acts often descend into epic CGI-heavy carnage, Civil War‘s denouement is far more effective for being much smaller and personal in scale as well as bleaker in tone. The motives behind Daniel Bruhl’s pitch perfect villain Helmut Zemo become clear as the endgame draws near and speaks to the overall tone of the film – of actions having consequences down the line and the fragility of alliances when trust is in short supply.
Quite how much longer the MCU can keep juggling so many balls is up for debate, but so long as the calibre of films remains as high as Captain America: Civil War, then we’ll continue to hold out hope.