Captain America: Civil War
Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo
Written by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Mark Millar (comic)
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Paul Bettany, Daniel Bruhl
Before The Avengers hit theatres back in 2012, many questioned whether you could bring so many different superheroes together in one film and have it feel both cohesive and coherent. Then the movie ended up delivering in a big way and in the wake of its success it almost seemed foolish to have doubted the proposition in the first place. After all, decades of comics had proven that these characters work together in print… why would the big screen be any different?
But such thoughts underestimate just how important Joss Whedon was to the success of The Avengers. Say what you will about him as a director, but as a writer he brought a crucial understanding of these characters and the team dynamic. He made a difficult balancing act look easy. Captain America: Civil War, on the other hand, does not feel quite so effortless. Although it may seem to be the equivalent of The Avengers 3, it ultimately falls victim to many of the problems we’ve been dreading all along: it’s bloated, uneven and fails to tell a satisfying story.
The movie picks up one year after the events of The Avengers: Age of Ultron with the world still reeling from the destruction in Sokovia. Add to this another mishap involving Scarlet Witch that leads to the loss of innocent lives and suddenly the United Nations steps in to mandate some form of oversight for The Avengers. Iron Man is in support of it but Captain America refuses to sign up, making him a fugitive. At the same time, someone is trying to reactivate The Winter Soldier and turn him against The Avengers.
I was a big fan of what Anthony and Joe Russo did with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and initially this movie lays out the same sense of intrigue and street level action. If the last Captain America movie was inspired by Three Days of the Condor, this one seems to be borrowing more from the Bourne films. There is an early action sequence in a crowded Nigerian marketplace and a decent motorcycle chase as well. Big, bold city names highlight the globetrotting element of the film and serve as a way to break up chapters of the story. There is also some solid character work in some of the more quiet scenes including a funeral.
However, once the battle lines are drawn and the supporting cast begins to fill out, things start to get a bit messy. The introduction of the new Spider-Man is the point where the movie starts to go off the rails and suddenly becomes more concerned about expanding the Marvel universe and providing fantasy superhero matchups rather than staying true to the story at hand. The big airport fight sequence is full of moments that are designed to make fans stand up and cheer but the action is chaotic and hard to follow. (Disclaimer: I sat along at the far side of a theatre in a 3D screening, which might have affected my viewing somewhat.) The combat also lacks any real tension with the heroes actually taking the time to acknowledge that they really aren’t trying to hurt each other.
Admittedly, this is the point where the movie feels most like The Avengers and it is free to let these different personalities and abilities bounce off of each other. Unfortunately, the writing just isn’t strong enough to balance them all and it is unable to maintain a consistent tone throughout. Characters like Ant-Man and Spider-Man don’t feel like they belong in this movie, which is the first time I’ve felt this kind of tonal awkwardness in a Marvel movie. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was able to maintain a grittier feel while also injecting some comic relief. This movie goes too far into jokey blockbuster land and when it tries to pivot back to something more serious, it ends up falling flat.
Although he is being positioned as a major selling point of the film, I just wasn’t a fan of Tom Holland as Spider-Man. From his squeaky voice to his idolizing of Tony Stark, nearly everything about this version of Spidey seems to have been created as a punchline (the same goes for Marisa Tomei as Aunt May). To be fair, both he and Black Panther are being introduced in the midst of a bigger story that doesn’t allow for them to be fleshed out very well. I really have no opinion on Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther because it feels like he was just another new addition to the roster because that’s what these movies are supposed to do. He didn’t make much of an impression, although I don’t think it’s his fault. I would have much rather seen Hulk and Thor in this movie, but I suppose their powers would have caused bigger problems from a story standpoint.
There are some comparisons to be made between this movie and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which also foregoes the typical hero vs. villain structure for an internal conflict. This movie definitely gives a much better justification for the heroes to go head to head and it delivers a better climactic showdown. However, the other big problem is that it feels like Marvel has completely given up on trying to tell complete stories. They have fully embraced the serialized nature of the movie franchise, resulting in a story that feels unresolved, simply leaving things open for continuation in the next installment.
At 2 hours and 26 minutes, Captain America: Civil War is the longest Marvel movie yet and it really feels like they tried to cram too much in. It’s unfortunate that a movie so directly based on an interesting comic book story arc ends up failing in the storytelling department. The rich thematic elements of the comic seem to have been jettisoned in favour of personal plot twists. There are some decent supporting performances that get lost in the mix, including Daniel Bruhl as Baron Zemo and Sebastian Stan, who finally made me care about the tortured soul that is The Winter Soldier. Ultimately, Captain America: Civil War should give Marvel devotees what they want, but it relies on cheap surface level thrills to deliver an otherwise forgettable episode of the world’s most expensive TV series. — Sean