(Note: minor spoilers)
It would be absurdly easy for me to spend this entire review talking about how Captain America: Civil War compares to Batman v Superman. The bad taste of the latter is still in my mouth, and the two movies share a lot of themes and even a few plot points. But I don’t want to take that approach. Instead, I will just say here that Civil War is a far superior film, and handles most of the shared elements much more effectively – and that’s it. I shall mention Batman v Superman no more, and just talk about how this movie stands on its own.
Following the city-shattering events of previous films, and the accidental deaths of more innocent bystanders in Civil War‘s opening action sequence in Lagos, governments worldwide have decided that the Avengers have been causing too much collateral damage in their current unregulated state. Thus, an act has been drawn up which will require the Avengers to work strictly under UN supervision. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), still feeling guilty about his role in the creation of Ultron, is all for it; but Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) feels it will impede the Avengers’ ability to help the world. Soon, complicating factors ensue: Steve’s old friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) resurfaces, apparently resuming his work as the Winter Soldier. Steve still wants to help him, but officials would rather just eliminate him – and in the midst of the chaos, two factions of Avengers gradually form, with Steve and Tony at their heads.
It is striking how grounded this film manages to be even with the continued presence of super-powered beings like Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany). Based on the main conflict of the plot, there is a lot of moral and political discussion, and you can understand both sides of the argument being posed. The characters all still feel very human: Scarlet Witch and Vision, who haven’t been around for very long, have their own sources of internal conflict which they manage to get across in relatively short conversations. The line between the different factions is often blurred: some characters offer help to their ‘opponents’ without fully switching sides, and you never lose sight of the fact that they would rather stay friends and are finding it painful to fight each other. Plus, everybody’s reasons for the choices they make are always clear. Among the Avengers’ conflict with each other, there is also a villain in Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), working in the background: his plan does feel like one of those comic book villain plots which involves a lot of effort and convoluted steps for a limited payoff, but it still ends up being quite clever at its core.
The first two major action scenes of the film – the opening in Lagos, and a car/motorcycle chase later on – are good but not great. Both are certainly thrilling and fast-paced, but suffer a bit from disorienting shaky-cam. It’s at the end of the second act, however, that we get the big six-on-six superhero showdown promised by the trailers and the poster, and it’s difficult to find words to describe how good this one is. In today’s era of advanced visual effects, you don’t often come across an action scene that can be described as ‘special’, but this fight is certainly that. The cinematography is perfect, and everybody involved uses their abilities to their most inventive degree – it’s a masterpiece of glorious indulgence.
Now let’s talk a little about one of the big sources of hype for this film: the long-awaited introduction of Spider-Man, played by Tom Holland, to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His first appearance is around the middle, in a terrific scene where Tony Stark turns up at Peter Parker’s home to recruit him: Holland immediately comes off well, his performance combining genius with awkwardness in a likeable manner. There’s no mention of Uncle Ben, but his explanation for his motivations does boil down to ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ without actually using the words. (Aunt May, by the way, is played by Marisa Tomei – which I found slightly startling, being so used to the character as more elderly.) Soon afterward, Spider-Man turns up for the aforementioned big action scene, showing off his abilities with lots of banter and endless teenage enthusiasm for the coolness surrounding him. All in all, things look extremely promising for the Web-Slinger. Civil War also introduces us to Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), an African prince who develops a vendetta against the Winter Soldier: this character isn’t quite as exciting as Spider-Man, but still provides some good action and character development.
For its first half, Captain America: Civil War is merely good. For its second half, it’s brilliant, culminating in a climactic scene which probably packs the biggest emotional punch of any Marvel movie so far. The story is a bit too convoluted in parts, but that’s not enought to really bring it down. With its action combined with superb character depth, I would say it is – just about – the best MCU film so far. Rating: 4.5/5.