‘Captain America: Civil War’ review – energetic exhilarating fun

Editor’s Note: This article contains minor spoilers.

Captain America: Civil War is the third instalment in the series of films starring the titular superhero and the latest instalment in the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The term “MCU” should be familiar to nearly everyone now given the announcement of  “Phase Three”: the new era of superhero films being released by Marvel over the next three years. Captain America: Civil War marks the beginning of Phase Three of which as of yet there are nine more films to come in the next three years. The proliferation of the Marvel franchise has been the cause of some debate over whether the amount of superhero films has become an annoying fatigue. While, ten films over just three years certainly seems like a lot I’m perfectly happy with that as long as they continue the quality established in Captain America: Civil War.

The now massive MCU began in 2008 with Iron Man starring Robert Downey Jr. playing the titular superhero, the opposition to Captain America in Civil War. As of now, Iron Man remains the most critically acclaimed film in the MCU yet with a 94% approval rating on the aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes. And for good reason, Iron Man is a very entertaining film with some serious dramatic heft as well as thrills and a charismatic performance from Robert Downey Jr. It is a worthy film to begin the supreme reign of Marvel over the next eight years (really, almost a decade already!). I have seen eight of the thirteen films in the MCU so far and the film I enjoyed the least was Thor (2011) which received a general favourable 77% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Nonetheless, I did enjoy it but it was just too silly to rank among my favourites from Marvel. Seriously does anyone even think Thor is a good superhero? I’d much rather watch a film starring Idris Elba as Heimdall – honestly I could watch him do his taxes. Now I’ve been a fan of superhero films for a long time since I was a kid and the modern era of superhero films began at the turn of the 21st century with X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002) which remain some of the best and most successful films to date. I’ve always grown up with superhero films in the cinema and has always been fascinated and excited by superheroes. What isn’t exciting about a teenager slinging web across the streets of New York City or an invincible mutant with adamantium claws who is Canadian. Although my enthusiasm has waned more towards the end of my teenage years, I always revert back to my 12 year old self when watching superhero films and have enjoyed the majority of them released over the past 16 years. Captain America: Civil War is no exception.

Captain America: Civil War is directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, collectively known as the Russo brothers, and written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. This quarter consisting of two sets of duos also worked on the previous Captain America film, The Winter Soldier, to great results. I’m a fan of the Russo brothers for their work on the NBC cult sitcom Community which they directed many episodes for and some of my favourites. Jim Rash who was a regular cast member on Community even makes a cameo in Civil War to my delight. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are the creators of the ABC Marvel series Agent Carter which I like a lot. The Winter Soldier was a solid, intense thriller with the feel of 70s political thriller or sci-fi film the likes of Three Days of the Condor, The French Connection and Star WarsThe Winter Soldier deals with how Steve Rodgers (Captain America) played by Chris Evans assimilates into the 21st century  (remember he’s like 100 years old and looks great) and how he pursues Bucky (the Winter Soldier) played by Sebastian Stan, a soviet assassin and an (really) old friend. Though, Civil War continues in the same aesthetic quality the tone is somewhat different. Although, The Winter Solider had some funny lines mostly coming from the charming friendship of Sam Wilson (Falcon) played by Anthony Mackie and Captain America. The stakes are much higher in Civil War but the quips are more frequent. The Winter Solider feels like a much smaller film than Civil War which sounds ridiculous because it was an enormous blockbuster however at it’s centre was the conflict between Steve Rodgers and Bucky Barnes. Civil War takes on a global scale.

Leading up to Civil War, many of the films in the MCU had scenes where portions of cities had been decimated and resulted in massive collateral damage caused by the Avengers without consequences. This has been the topic of criticism and the same issue is tackled in DC’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice released just a few months ago to massive failure. Civil War tackles this issue and passes with flying colours of the American flag. In some ways, Civil War is more of a sequel to Avengers: Age of Ultron which did received generally favourable reviews with 75% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes but was still a disappointment for many. Civil War takes place approximately one year after Ultron’s defeat in Sokovia at the hands of the Avengers. The opening scene shows how Bucky Barnes is brainwashed and used as a weapon for the terrorist organisation, Hydra. Then it moves into the present, the Avengers, Captain America, Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) played by Scarlett Johansson, Falcon and Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff) played by Elizabeth Olsen. They stop Brock Rumlow from stealing a biological weapon from a lab in Lagos, Nigeria. It is an incredibly energetic sequence, the camera moves frantically weaving through the chaotic streets of Lagos as the heroes pursue the criminals. Several aerial shots over Lagos gives a sense of the massive scale of the city and the collateral damage they eventually cause again. Rumlow blows himself up, but when Wanda tries to displace the blast into the sky, it destroys a nearby building, killing a number of Wakandan humanitarian workers. Although Elizabeth Olsen is a very talented actress, the characterisation of the guilt this event has on Scarlet Witch is achieved with varying success. At first, Scarlet Witch is very sympathetic, the look on her face when she immediately realises what happened is affecting but the effect weakens in her scenes with Vision (Paul Bettany) which can feel very awkward.

At the team’s headquarters, U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) informs the team that the United Nations are preparing to pass the Sokovia Accords, which will establish an international governing body to oversee and control the Avengers. And there it is. This is what divides the team of superheroes and begins the Civil War. The divide is executed extremely well in Civil War, we are never told whose side we should be but we are encouraged to have a chosen a side by the end of the film. The entire marketing campaign was formed around this divide much more effectively than Twilight did with Team Edward and Team Jacob. By encouraging audiences to align with a side this provokes discussion and debate although Marvel doesn’t need any boosts the marketing is genius. Tony Stark (Iron Man) supports the accords because he feels responsible for Ultron’s creation and Sokovia’s devastation while Steve Rodgers doesn’t trust the government with that control. This is a very contemporary issue with the Global surveillance disclosures and Panama Papers and Civil War pulls off conveying the ideas which come from these conflicts without feeling heavy-handed. The debate at the headquarters is very well written providing two equally balanced arguments and thus setting up the central conflict explored throughout the rest of the film.

Civil War has a lot of balls to juggle, it requires some prior knowledge from the previous films in the MCU but also has the responsibility of setting up Phase Three of the MCU. It is a very difficult job to balance creative and commercial goals but the Russo brothers do as best a job they can but this does mean the film can feel over-stuffed. Civil War has the longest running time of the MCU films with a duration of two hours and twenty-six minutes. And it has a large but stellar cast with some newcomers who will be appearing in their own individual films in Phase Three: Black Panther (T’Challa) played by Chadwick Boseman and Spider-Man (Peter Parker) played by Tom Holland. When a bomb kills King T’Chaka of Wakanda at UN conference, T’Challa, his son, goes on a mission to avenge his father. Chadwick Boseman is absolutely perfect as Black Panther. This is the first portrayal on screen of Black Panther, the first Black superhero in modern comics and Chadwick Boseman totally embodies the character wholly and is my favourite character in Civil War. This makes me anticipate with a lot of excitement, the Black Panther film to be released in 2018. Black Panther is the most diplomatic character, while the other characters are compulsive and driven by emotion, Black Panther is collected and regal, he is a king after all, only focused on avenging his father. The extended chase sequence through the tunnel with Captain America, Bucky, Falcon and Black Panther was more breath-taking for me than the big showdown between all the heroes. The stunt work is absolutely incredible in this scene by the characters but especially Black Panther with his graceful feline moves and apparently Boseman did a lot of it himself – impressive.

Spider-Man is coming home. I’m a huge fan of the Spider-Man trilogy directed by Sam Raimi, I didn’t even mind Spider-Man 3 although it wasn’t a very good film I didn’t think it was as bad as a lot of people said it was and I really find the emo Peter Parker hilarious. I though Tobey Maguire did a pretty job in portraying the hero. However, The Amazing Spider-Man film from 2012 felt flat although I like Andrew Garfield, his portrayal of Peter Parker was uncharismatic and the film was messy. Now comes Tom Holland, the third iteration of Spider-Man on film, who is very young at only 19 and does an excellent job in capturing the persona of Spider-Man in the small amount of screen presence he has in Civil War. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is a dorky, quippy teenager (actually a teenager) who is overwhelmed by all the action and superheroes as I’m sure the actor himself is. This is the quintessential Spider-Man and it comes very naturally especially in the scene with Iron Man which produces some of the biggest laughs of the film.In the big showdown between all the heroes, Spider-Man mentions The Empire Strikes Back, the sequel in original prequel trilogy of Star Wars.  And Civil War to The Winter Soldier feels like what The Empire Strikes Back was to A New Hope. It builds on what the previous film had set up, raising the stakes and expands the scale and has stunning climatic moments. Captain America: Civil War ends quietly and the heroes begin to face the consequences of their actions but it has a lot of fun on the way there.

Written by Emmanuel Omodeinde


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