Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Directors: Anthony Russo; Joe Russo.
Starring: Chris Evans; Robert Downey, Jr.; Scarlett Johansson; Sebastian Stan; Anthony Mackie; Don Cheadle; Jeremy Renner; Chadwick Boseman; Paul Bettany; Elizabeth Olsen; Paul Rudd; Emily VanCamp; Tom Holland; Daniel Brühl.
Plot: Political interference in the Avengers’ activities causes a rift between former allies Captain America and Iron Man.
Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan and a host of other big names have come together to share the silver screen for the Russo brothers’ return to the Captain America franchise with Civil War, a story of division, ego, and responsibility. Cap wants freedom and Iron Man wants liability, posing the question: whose side are you on? Upon watching Civil War, the answer is definitive: Marvel’s.
If the Russo Brothers’ first foray into the MCU marked the beginning of a tonal shift from colourful superhero movies with little risk to their heroes, to more adult and character-centered pieces, then Civil War was without a doubt the completion of this shift. Producing a more adult movie with some authentic moral questioning (as should be the case for a live-action version of the famed comic), the Russo Brothers have managed to make the Marvel Cinematic Universe come of age through a blend of well placed action and some excellent dialogue that was the icing to a cake filled with issues relevant to the contemporary political landscape, both in America and the rest of the world. Within the story, Rogers was, appropriately, the representation of the United States with regard to their position in the global political landscape – often fighting for the ‘greater good’ with ‘freedom’ from the opinions and restrictions of their global partners in the UN – while Tony Stark was a more internationally relatable protagonist representing those with the opinions that a community based decision making process would be better suited regarding decisions that cause mass destruction, as is the case with organisations such as the UN. It made for an interesting and thought provoking story that raised questions with regard to our own universe in a manner that has been left largely untouched in previous Marvel installments, and was dealt with in such a way that it wasn’t drab and uninteresting, which is of huge testament to all involved, particularly the directors.
The movie generally felt darker than previous Marvel installments, with confrontations between some of the universe’s most beloved heroes having a much bigger impact than the brief moments of conflict seen in other movies, such as Iron Man and Hulk’s confrontation in Age of Ultron. This is because their disputes were more than simple fits of anger or the ‘who done it’ of this film’s predecessor, but were instead more personal conflicts regarding beliefs and, importantly for this character piece, loyalties. The movie made you choose sides, and given the popularity of the characters on each, the decision was a tough one that mirrored that of the decisions the characters themselves were making. It was an involving technique that brought the story closer to home and inevitably raised the stakes of each of the battles, making the movie feel like a potential location for a huge death ‘in the family’ for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The screenplay’s darker themes and ideologies were echoed elsewhere in the production by a smartly orchestrated mix of colours, sounds, and so on that made the film feel different to its predecessors on a level beyond that of its written story. Many of the movie’s most dangerous confrontations were set indoors, whether it be a tunnel or a bunker, and this made for a darker pallet that signified the severity of these particular situations. Perhaps more importantly with regard to the more substantial criticisms of Civil War’s predecessors, the music was more appropriate for its content, managing to avoid the cliche’s of Avengers Assemble in particular and instead offer assistance to the moving dialogue and moments of conflict. In this regard, prolonged periods of deep drones replaced the previous movies’ higher beats that came to be more reminiscent of late 90s cop shows than major summer blockbusters, and this enhanced the production infinitely because of how emotive the soundtrack came to be.
The action sequences in Civil War were nothing less than sensational, too. From the very first moments of the movie, the difference in quality the Russo Brothers bring to the table was evident, with Black Widow looking particularly strong; something that previous movies in the franchise were seriously lacking. Perhaps it’s a given to assume that the action in any given Marvel film is to be of a higher quality than in most other films because of how their budgets and history of producing such sequences are significantly more substantial than most of their competition, but Civil War was a step above, with carefully thought out battles that illustrated each of its heroes’ talents in imaginative and exciting ways that were awe inspiring to say the least. What the Russo Brothers managed to do was to tell a story in each of the movie’s larger battles and this was not evidenced any more than in how they used them to characterise each of the series’ new characters. Black Panther’s characterisation, for example, occurred largely in the movie’s largest chase scene, while Spider-Man’s character was largely developed in the movie’s grandest fight. Similarly, the emotion of the confrontation between Stark and Rogers was emphasised by the action that accompanied it, ensuring that none of the action in the movie felt gratuitous; it didn’t come across as if the studio had requested more guns and fists because ‘violence sells’. Perhaps most importantly with regard to the production of these sequences was the high standards of the editing, something that this Marvel installment clearly surpassed its rival Batman v Superman in. Unlike its DC counterpart, Civil War constructed its action coherently throughout, while not losing the impact of the scenes or slowing down the pace of its battles, making for a generally better rounded technical product than BvS and most, if not all, of its Marvel predecessors.
It’s evident, then, that the Russo Brothers, along with the movie’s screenplay writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, put a lot of emphasis on character building in their pursuit of meaningful confrontation and fulfilling audience expectations, and this was emphasised in no greater way than in how they managed to fit 12 or so beloved heroes in to around 2 hours of action while introducing a new villain and a couple of new recruits too. Black Panther and Spider-Man, for example, were likable new personalities with little tidbits of character that made them interesting, even beyond the action. The ways in which they were incorporated into the stacked movie was certainly more successful than the introduction of Quicksilver in Age of Ultron, and was a very effective starter point for their regular inclusion in the universe moving forward. Just as importantly, the chief antagonist of the piece was also cleverly written and integrated into the final product, marking the second movie in a row that the Russo Brothers have successfully presented a formidable foe to Earth’s mightiest heroes. Daniel Brühl’s Zemo didn’t confront the almost invincible collection of Avengers physically as many of the organisation’s rivals have in previous movies, but he instead confronted them psychologically in an attempt to divide them and have them destroy themselves. This made for one of the more interesting villains in the universe’s history as it seemed more conceivable that he would actually achieve what he set out to achieve: annihilation of the Avengers. He didn’t do this through mass manipulation, the likes of which is difficult to portray in superhero movies as has been evidenced countless times throughout the years, but he did so through sheer will and determination to not let anyone or anything stand in his way. This brought about a more naturalistic progression of the confrontations Iron Man and Captain America in particular were having, and made their ultimate foe increase in importance and danger as the movie progressed. His outlandish task was one that provided him with solace while simultaneously taking the Avengers out, and as a result the movie presented two groups chasing their own individual goals that happened to cross over one another’s paths, each with justifiable reasoning as to why they deserved to finish their pursuit ahead of the other. The villain didn’t seem forced, and while he wasn’t that prominent on-screen, he certainly didn’t seem to be a side-show to the heroes of the piece either, simply because of how his plan was so effective. Zemo was the typical brains over braun villain, yes, but; could there be any other way to logically dismantle such a collection of ‘extraordinary humans’?
Brühl himself has built a reputation, mostly in Europe, of being an incredible talent, and that talent was certainly on show in Civil War where he made the best of his time on screen and offered a layered performance worthy of such a position in a film this huge. His casting was smart given how he had a small reputation in the United States and could therefore personify the villain better than a big-name Hollywood actor could have, and his Austrian accent certainly didn’t harm the legitimacy of his position as ‘other’ to the Avengers, too. Similarly, Tom Holland’s introduction to the MCU as Peter Parker/Spider-Man was fantastically performed by its young actor who seemed right at home as the modern-day nerd of Team Iron Man. His character was certainly well written, but his performance was also extremely good and befitting of such a huge amount of hype. The future of the Spider-Man franchise seems to be in good hands.
The standout performance of the movie was Robert Downey, Jr’s. The actor, who was in his 5th full movie as Iron Man, put out a role-defining performance that may be one of the best of his illustrious career. He filled the screen with emotion in every aspect of his performance, but particularly the use of his eyes. Downey, Jr. has developed a reputation over the years for having incredibly expressive eyes and they were the show-stealers of this very good movie as they offered a journey of their own through the decadence of the Universe’s past. Anthony Mackie (Falcon) may have been a close runner-up courtesy of some terrific one liners delivered with his almost trademark sincerity, but the journey of Tony Stark/Iron Man in Civil War was captained entirely by Robert Downey, Jr. and must therefore be considered the standout performance of this movie, and one of the best performances of any Marvel movie that has been released.
Conclusively, Civil War is all of the action-packed fun of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with some of the dark and thought-provoking themes of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, all packed into a neat little package perfect for the contemporary cinematic and political landscapes. Downey, Jr. is phenomenal, but there are enough interesting characters that are developed sufficiently enough and played by talented actors to give Civil War something for everyone. Though this film misses out on a perfect 24/24 due to the ways in which some characters may be unrecognisable to those unfamiliar with the comic book universe and how the studio could be criticised for ducking out of a major decision or two, the Russo Brothers’ Captain America: Civil War is a near-perfect superhero movie that is a must-watch for any fan of the genre and should be considered the best Marvel Studios release ever.