A little while ago, I saw a small indie flick that some of you may not have heard of. It's debut hasn't been a particularly large blip on some people's radar, but I thought I'd see it regardless. The film in question was something called Captain America: Civil War. Ok, I'm joking - the hype around this film has been insane, and I'm very impressed with the marketing campaign for this installment of the MCU franchise.
For some reason however, this small, independent film has been playing pretty much everywhere except in the United States recently , which is why I got to see it a week ago (being from the UK.) But, in light of any fellow Americans across the pond who might stumble across this review, and haven't seen the movie yet, I'm going to keep this spoiler-free to start with - so don't worry there'll be plenty of warning before I delve particularly deep into all that stuff. So lets get going; what did I think of Captain America: Civil War?
Well, I seriously loved it. My favourite kind of film is one that makes me feel every emotion, and this really does achieve that. There were points where I cried, points where I laughed, points where I was on the edge of my seat... This film is a proper roller-coaster, but in the greatest sense of the word. I didn't feel quite as emotionally engaged until the end (more on that later) but this was still a really good movie experience that I recommend everyone sees.
So how does Marvel keep doing it? Well, take this for an example; the film starts and you jump in head first. It's properly enjoyable and gritty action stuff, but then it gets all serious and somber back at the Avengers HQ. With a few fleeting jokes to lighten the mood, there's a brilliantly acted moving scene to follow that tugs at your heart, then a clash of wills takes over in a mature conflict of morals over Avengers breakfast. If that sounds like a roller-coaster - it is, and it's like this throughout. So it's another roller-coaster ride from Marvel, and that's why you can enjoy these things so much when you watch them.
But with this one in particular, and what impresses me most about the Russo brother's Marvel efforts, is just how well they handle all that stuff, and how by-the-book it really all is. Somehow they manage to keep everything in this film contained, and keep the plot moving so expertly. When you're watching it, you really get the sense that every detail has been proof-read and checked; every pencil sharpened and every hair straightened. Nothing is out of line here, and every scene is just textbook.
Lets take tone, for example; the tonal balance here is just so perfect. It's occasionally properly emotional, and it can be pretty grippy stuff too (take a look at those action sequences!) Then in comes the fun, where the Russos also balance humour with all that good stuff to put lightness in all the right places. It's meticulously made like no rival blockbusters out there - and that means we get everything delivered in such an efficient way.
However my biggest complement to this film is also it's main criticism - and sorry to hit it so early on, but it is quite significant; it just feels a little lifeless. The reason why I may not have been so emotionally invested until the end is just because the nature of the Russo's storytelling. Effectively, it feels like the plot is spoon fed to us in small chunks, to service the fans and the rest of the MCU. This means you can't connect to each scene as well because you only get a moment before you're whisked off to the next bit of plot. Don't get me wrong, this is the most efficient way to deliver us what's necessary; but doesn't give us room to digest it.
It's this that makes me feel like I'm just being shown information that I need to further the story, rather than to develop the characters or engage me in some way - which in turn makes it feel less fluid and human, and more manufactured.
That being said, you do reap the benefits of that efficient set-up by the last act, where all humanity is brought back in bucket-loads. Here, we meet the highlight of this film that brings it from being pretty good, to great. That final fight makes for one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in any Marvel movie to date. The sheer rawness of it and the whole situation that unfolds is not only well written (in the sense that you feel the whole build up has lead you here) but it's also beautifully acted. I admit it, I cried!
So the last act hits you hard, but the issue is that the rest of it just isn't QUITE as gripping or emotionally engaging. That's not to say the rest of it isn't good though, because this is still a fun movie from beginning to end. For a start, the action is pretty awesome (if a little too 'shaky-cam' in places) and each character has a moment to shine in that excellent airport scene. Also, most of the great existing characters are serviced well throughout the film (something I'll explore in more detail when we get into spoilers) and the new cast members all stand out in their roles too (Black Panther and Spider-Man were amazing!)
All in all then, it's textbook story-telling - and that's both a good and bad thing. You'll have a good time with this film, and then the final battle manages to hit you hard.
I can't recommend that you see it enough; Marvel has done it again, and Civil War is a great piece of film, even if it lacks some of the heart that makes other MCU films so great.
SPOILER WARNING FROM THIS POINT. VENTURE FORTH AT YOUR OWN WILL!
So now that we've established why it was so good, I'd like to discuss what went well (and perhaps what didn't) in a bit more detail. An ideal way to do that is to look at each character portrayal and how well it was handled. So lets go!
Now the reason I start with Tony is because I think this is the stand-out performance of the film. Robert Downey Jr portrays a much more withered and darker version of Tony, who's clearly determined to reach his goal. His performance is powerful and moving, and really touches the heart. You buy it too; that whole sequence at the end when he realises Bucky killed his father is just so real. I'm very impressed with this performance, and it's probably the best showing of Tony second only to Age of Ultron.
Now Steve is obviously the focal point of this film, and thankfully it shows. This is largely because the film focuses centrally around Steve's relationship with Bucky. The way they develop Cap in this film is great, and they really explain his moral arguments well. What's more, Evans continues to show real acting ability here; he owns this role by now.
I like what they did with Bucky and the story. Bucky himself served as a great device to test Roger's allegiance to his past and the core values that come with that. Their friendship really is tested, and that feels real too, thanks to another great performance from Sebastian Stan.
Falcon is another friend to Cap's, but his main purpose in this film is to lighten the mood. This role worked too and he had quite a few cracking one-liners. It was also amusing to see him compete with Bucky for Steve's friendship, adding an extra dimension to his character. I can't wait to see his character develop more on a personal level in future films.
Rhodey only really had a small role to play in this film, but where he was he did very well. His injury is a great plot point as it makes Tony's battle more personal, and they play his new vulnerability well. As for his reasoning for team Iron Man, that also felt natural and well established (though it's not exactly a surprising choice anyway.)
To gage what I think about Black Widow in this movie, I think I need to watch it again. As usual, Scarlet Johansson kills it in the role, and the Russos clearly understand the character to a degree, it's just that I'm not sure how fluid her arc was shown here. Her choices didn't make a lot of sense overall, as they were overshadowed by other things in the film. Like I said, I think it's something I need to think about in more detail next time I watch it - but for now I'm not overly fond of the character here.
Hawkeye's portrayal is one of my biggest issues in this whole film. Don't get me wrong, Jeremy Renner does well as usual; it's just they did virtually nothing to explain his choices in this film. When you look at the beauty by which Joss Whedon portrayed this character, it's kind of a shame how he's been given little attention here. I don't doubt the Russos took their time thinking about Hawkeye, but I just don't think it was shown all too well. He just kind of showed up, and all of a sudden ended up in jail, with little explanation for his choice to oppose regulation in the first place.
Ok, most people loved the vision's portrayal here - but I didn't like it at very much. Aside from a few well though-out lines, he didn't seem nearly as pure and 'inhuman' as he did in 'Age of Ultron.' He was too often used for 'fish out of water' humour, and not often enough as a grounding centre in the team. I think these problems are largely fueled by a misunderstanding of the character from the writing, and a different interpretation of his calm fighting style that we saw before. Hopefully they develop Vision further in the future of the MCU, but I don't like what they did here.
Whilst her relationship with Vision felt forced, Scarlet Witch was actually a pretty big stand-out of this film. Elizabeth Olsen is absolutely great in this role, and her vulnerability is very interesting. I love how the Russos furthered her character here, as well as how they constructed her power base (and her fear of that.) Seeing this character develop will be absolutely fascinating to see; to the extent where I think she's my favourite 'new Avenger.'
Seeing this character interact with his fellow Avengers for the first time is hilarious. Paul Rudd is just amazing, and whilst his character is only a small part of the film, he's used as an excellent tool to balance the tone of the film. Oh, and the giant man thing? How cool was that!
The other character used to add comic relief to the film was the beloved Peter Parker. And whilst it's hard to judge on such a small appearance, I think this is the best big-screen Spider-Man we've seen so far. Tom Holland is perfect in the role, and it just adds to the excitement for 2017's 'Spider-Man Homecoming.' He sure is home, and that scene with RDJ was one of the highlights of the film. One nitpick? I'm not sure he would really be that physically able and confident in the big fight. But yes, that is a nitpick.
I've saved one of the best til' last. Black Panther's role in this film is one of my favourite parts. Whilst Spider-Man was set-up well, Black Panther plays a much more pivotal part in this movie, and it's soo good to see. I'm astounded at how well they set him up, and Chadwick Boseman owns both the acting side, but also the physical side of this fascinating character debut.
One last mention here is the Villain, who is actually one of the MCU'S few great on-screen villains. When I heard they were having a villain, I wondered if it would be an 'all make up and fight the bad guy' type story. But luckily, Zemo played just the right level of role in the film, whilst also having adequate and reasonable motives. He was a realistic villain, and thus one of the best the MCU has seen. I'm glad they took this direction, but I'm not sure he had to be given such an iconic comic-book name.
MY VERDICT: 4/5
So, in conclusion, I love what they did with most of the characters here, and I enjoyed it throughout - especially towards the end. Is it the best Marvel film? No, not in my opinion. Even the best Captain America? Again, I don't think it quite matches it's predecessors - but that just shows how good this trilogy has been. Captain America: Civil War is textbook, and truly emotional by the end. You'll have a great time with it and I highly recommend you see it. Roll on Phase 3.
5. Captain America: The First Avenger
7. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
8. Iron Man 3
For my full MCU rankings go to: https://creators.co/@barneyonmovies/3885469