“Wherever you can compromise you do, but where you can’t, don’t”
Is Captain America: Civil War the best MCU movie yet? In more than a few reviews, the answer has been: yes. When critics fawn over something with great intensity, I usually regard the thing in question with suspicion. It also works in reverse: when critics universally slate something, I am more forgiving of it (see: Batman v Superman). After watching Captain America: Civil War more than a week ago, I’ve had more than enough time to think about it. While I thought it would be hard to top the MCU’s previous ‘best film,’ Captain America: Winter Soldier, Civil War just about tops it…I reckon it earns the title ‘best MCU film.’
If you’ve read the graphic novel which the film is based on, forget it. Civil War is a very loose adaptation of its source material. And that, that’s a good thing! The film takes the initial premise of the graphic novel but moulds it to suit the MCU’s direction and history. After the events of the previous MCU movies (notably the Avengers’ films), and an accident at the beginning of the film that causes civilian casualties, the Avengers are handed the ‘Sokovia Accords’ by the US Secretary of Defence, Thaddeus Ross (yes, he from the bastard child of the MCU, ‘The Incredible Hulk’!). The Accords would place The Avengers under UN oversight. Tony Stark agrees. Steve Rogers does not. Let arguments and battle commence!
Of course, the plot is a little more complicated than that. But I’m trying for a spoiler-free review, so I won’t go into the nuances of the plot. However, suffice to say, the plot is meticulously constructed. It builds on the MCU’s history, in a way that feels natural and believable. Take Tony Stark: he’s the mature ex-leader, the weight of his past failures (Ultron, especially) bearing down on him. He accepts that The Avengers need oversight; the responsibility for action should lay with someone else. Steve Rogers, however, has suffered from placing his faith in a governmental structure. SHIELD turned out to be HYRDA, for example, and he lived through the horrors of World War II. Oversight is a perfect dividing point for the two friends.
“It always ends in a fight”
There’s heated discussion over the Sokovia Accords, and the first half of the film is a steadily-paced mass debate, interspersed with some of pretty good action scenes (a stairwell fight involving Rogers, Bucky Barnes and local police forces is superb!). We’ve heard most of the debate before, in other comic book films. There’s the confusion between vigilante and hero, whether or not the Avengers believe they are above the law, whether or not civilian casualties are acceptable…but there’s more than enough to differentiate it from other familiar and recent clashes (for example, Batman v Superman…or Daredevil Season 2). However, the script and the characters never allow themselves to wallow in their self-pity, justifications, or morality. There’s always a jot of humour or a moment of absurdity (Vision in normal clothes cooking, for example!) to lighten the tone. It reaches some dark places at times, but never allows the darkness to overcome it. ‘Guardians’ of the Galaxy’ takes the top place for the MCU’s best comedy, but Civil War had me laughing out loud more than a few times!
It may be The Avengers: 2.5, but the style of the action scenes is definitely in keeping with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There’s more than a little influence from films like ‘The Raid,’ which is all for the better. The action scenes from the first half do suffer sometimes from cutting and editing overkill, making it hard to concentrate on what’s happening. However, the final two battles are brilliant. The former takes place on an airport, and it’s #teamstark vs #teamcap ! It’s intense, insane, hilarious, and very creative. The latter is the personal battle that we’ve all been waiting for since Civil War was announced…and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s the emotional peak of action sequences in the MCU.
“I can do this all day”
Not only is the script top-notch and the action sequences more often than not superb, but the character juggling is almost perfect. No one is short-changed (apart from Hawkeye, maybe). Considering that there are no less than eleven main superheroes, some old, some new, everyone gets their time to shine. We are given equal opportunities to sympathise with Stark and Rogers, but also equal opportunities to see how the other Avengers feel and react to the situation. There are even two new characters introduced, and once again, they are perfectly cast. Black Panther is given a meaty role and feels necessary to the overall plot. On the other hand, Spider-Man feels like he was shoe-horned in to the plot. However, his scenes are among the best in the film. He’s nervous, funny, geeky, and a great Peter Parker AND a great Spider-Man. It whetted my appetite for another cinematic reboot for Spider-Man…which is something I thought I’d never say!
Unfortunately, there is a downside to Civil War…and that’s (surprise surprise!) the villain! Without going into great detail, Helmut Zemo seems tacked on to the story. He is a central part of it, but he’s not given enough screen time to justify his actions. His scenes are short and initially confusing. There’s not much thought put into his character. Once again, the main emphasis is on the superheroes. That is entirely forgivable in this context, as the whole point of the film is our heroes fighting each other! However, the film proves once again that the MCU has only one good villain (excluding Marvel on Netflix!): Loki. Come on, we need another great MCU villain! There’s always Thanos…
Anthony and Joe Russo have just about topped their magnificent effort of ‘Winter Soldier’ with ‘Civil War.’ It reaches emotional peaks and troughs. It balances the horde of characters with a simplicity and aplomb that was lacking in, say ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron.’ It builds on the history of the MCU and treats the history with respect. Our heroes act and react the way we think they would, given that we’ve spent so much time with them since 2008. It’s hard to see them clash and collide, and it’s hard to simply choose a side. I was starkly #teamcap before the film, but came out with sympathy for Stark after the end credits had rolled. ‘Civil War’ is proof, even more so than ‘The Avengers,’ that the episodic nature of the MCU reaps great rewards. And ‘Civil War’ is the greatest reward yet (and I managed not to compare the film to ‘Batman v Superman!!!).
VERDICT: 9/10. The best MCU film yet, without a doubt! Emotional, resonant and replete with brilliant action scenes. #Teamcap or #teamstark, you’ll be #TeamCivilWar after watching this film!
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Click here for my review of Captain America: The First Avenger
Click here for my review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier