Jess Ennis reviews Captain America: Civil War, the most anticipated superhero movie of the year.
Allow me to begin this by saying that I did not go into this as an impartial voice of reason. I’ve been waiting for Civil War since approximately a day after I saw Captain America: Winter Soldier – but this served to make the stakes even higher for me. Winter Soldier gave us a slick political thriller; it gave us rich character development, incredible action sequences, and well-shot direction that went above and beyond what the superhero genre had thus far asked of its films. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo delivered excellence, and promised us more – and by god, that’s what they’ve given us this time around. Civil War is, simply put, a triumph.
In less capable hands, managing this many characters who are so rich in backstory and motive might have been an utter failure. In the hands of the Russos, however, whose work on Arrested Development and Community has given them a penchant for ensemble pieces, the film cleverly tangles together the threads of the majority of the Avengers, giving them each their moments to evolve. It allows veterans like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers their opportunity to grow a little more, whilst giving newcomers such as Wanda Maximoff and the Winter Soldier some deep, well-written roots.
After the roll-call of a cast list was announced, it was a concern among the fans of Winter Soldier that the Soldier himself, Bucky Barnes, would be overlooked in favour of more screen time for the ‘old favourites’. Thankfully – so thankfully – the Russos seem to be as much a fan of his tumultuous past, because Bucky’s story is at the heart of the film’s plot. Bucky, his crimes, and the past that he runs away from is front and centre, and Sebastian Stan gives easily the best performance of the film as a man desperately trying to reclaim some sense of identity. Slotted in nicely alongside this is the overarching narrative of the film, in which Stark and Rogers come to blows over the development of the Sokovia Accords, mandated legislation which aims to put the Avengers under government authority. Civil War does what Winter Soldier did – fusing character dramas with politics that gives the entire story weight and depth in equal measure.
Robert Downey Jr is also on strong form, and it’s in films like this that you remember how rich a character Tony Stark is – when he’s given the writing, Downey Jr can be really, truly brilliant, and this film allows him to do that. In fact, all the cast seem to give their best performances. Chris Evans is fantastic as Steve, Anthony Mackie is great as Sam Wilson, and Scarlett Johansson equals the brilliance of Winter Soldier as Natasha Romanoff. Jeremy Renner reclaims Clint Barton from the jaws of Age of Ultron, which very nearly destroyed him, and Elisabeth Olsen as Wanda is fleshed out far more than I had anticipated, which was a wonderfully pleasant surprise. Special kudos goes to Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa (Black Panther) and Daniel Brühl as Zemo, who are some of the most interesting and exciting characters to grace the MCU in recent years.
Stylistically, the film is easily one of the best shot in the superhero genre, combining those vast, poster-making ensemble shots with tight, almost guerilla style focus on fights and moments that is almost outrun by the pace of the action itself. The film’s direction ensures that you’re never isolated from the action within it – some of the best action I might have ever seen. There are moments in Civil War that I won’t spoil, but that genuinely made the ten-year-old boy in me scream and punch the air. It’s so gratifying when the action feels earned, and the beauty of melding it with a character-driven piece means that every punch has a reason and a consequence behind it. The fights between Steve and Tony feel so important – and that’s because the Russos make sure that they are.
This film doesn’t have the delusions of grandeur that Batman vs. Superman had, however. Though it has the same respective stakes for Marvel that Dawn of Justice did for DC, Civil War lacks the empty self-importance. Instead of drowning the film in night shots to give it mood, Civil War makes use of the dark brutality of the Winter Soldier’s past, of the real threat that it poses to all the characters. Where Batman tried desperately to construct a gritty tone that felt hollow, Civil War‘s tone comes straight from the fine crafting of the characters and the intelligence of the direction. It doesn’t bog itself down in trying to create an atmosphere, or a darkness – it just takes from the characters and allows the writing to do the rest. It’s a mastery of combining unbelievable action sequences with complex character stories, a benchmark for the superhero genre that only Winter Soldier had attained in my eyes thus far.
Civil War is complex, character-rich, and filled with good performances. It’s brilliantly directed, filled with some of the finest stunt work and fight choreography I’ve seen in years. But most importantly, so very crucially – it’s fun. It’s really humorous in parts, air-punchingly rad in others. On top of all that honing of craft, on top of all the interesting direction, is a movie that is, frankly, a bloody good time.
And if a superhero movie isn’t that, what’s the point?