Length: 147 mins
Writer(s): Christopher Markus, Stephen Freely (screenplay)
Dir.: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring: Come on…you know who it stars
Spoiler Warning: while everything discussed here can be seen in the trailers, if you don’t want to know anything about the movie, don’t read this review!
For all the characters in this movie, Civil War is really just about two of them – Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. Their conflicting stances and the strain that this places on their relationship is the central driving force of the film. While their respective opinions may seem out of character on paper (even when the comic first came out, many people thought that Iron Man and Captain America had had a bit of a role reversal) the movie handles this extremely well.
We see Tony Stark racked with guilt over the events of Age of Ultron (which was pretty much entirely his fault) and desperately trying to keep the Avengers – his adoptive family – together. Steve Rogers on the other hand is increasingly wary of being told what to do by faceless governmental bodies after his own experiences in Winter Soldier and, after losing another one of his dwindling connections to his past, is fighting tooth-and-nail to protect his best friend. Fundamental to the narrative is their differing stances on a UN resolution that wouldtake autonomy away from the Avengers and effectively make them ’employees’ of the international community. Stark believes that if the don’t accept responsibility for their actions that they are ‘no better than the bad guys’ – whereas Rogers thinks that they should be above politics and agendas and be free to go where they are needed.
The film portrays this core idea – this ideological conflict – extremely well; effectively combining elements of the original comic with the MCU canon. This gives us a narrative that manages to shake off the trappings and cliches of the comic book movie genre to tell a story about people, rather than superheroes. Of course they do fantastical things (the three-point ‘superhero landing’ is alive and well) but when you get down to it, the characters here are more human than they have ever been. They are fallible – and that’s surprisingly refreshing.
Civil War feels distinctly less ‘fun’ than what we’ve seen before – but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact I think that the film is better for it. The sense of humour that is apparent in all the Marvel Studios movies is still there, it’s just more subtle – and the film is no less entertaining for that. It’s gripping and dramatic – it’s like the Marvel movies have ‘grown up’. Everything that was good about Avengers Assemble is still there, but it’s more refined.
I’m really not trying to piss-off DC fans here, but Civil War is everything Batman vs. Superman was trying to be. They’re similar movies in a way, with a number of parallels here and there – but the key conflict in BvS somehow manages to be very black and white and yet really ill-defined. It tried to present it’s core ‘super-powered punch-up’ as a battle of ideologies (and this is certainly how it is portrayed in many of the comics) but when it comes down to it, Batman and Superman just didn’t like each other basically. In Civil War, however, the situation is infinitely more complex – in that you can’t really fault any of the characters for their stances or opinions. You can totally understand why Stark thinks that the Avengers need more oversight – just as you can sympathise with Cap’s belief that they should be wholly independent. You can even get behind the characters who want to impose these checks and controls in the first place – they’re basically fed up of the Avengers showing up whenever and wherever they want and blowing shit up. Fair enough, really – they break a lot of stuff.
Unsurprisingly, the stand out performances here are from Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jnr. who get the lion’s share of the screen-time and character development – particularly RDJ, who is brilliant here. As for everyone else, they give as good a performance as you might expect -particularly the two new guys who make quite the impact despite being late to the party (more on that in a minute). Daniel Brühl is a great villain – somewhat underplayed but it suits the story. Paul Rudd’s cameo as Ant Man (in a silly new costume, because TOYS) is pretty good but he doesn’t get enough time to make any decent jokes. The only real instance of clunky casting here is, unfortunately, Martin Freeman – whose character just seems entirely pointless. There’s nothing particularly wrong with his performance but he doesn’t really need to be there.
As if the movie didn’t have enough characters, we’re introduced to two new additions to the MCU – namely Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman; and the newly re-acquired (sort of) Spider-man, played by Tom Holland. They both do extremely well here – Boseman has tremendous gravitas and Holland does a surprisingly fresh take on a character that we’re all probably a bit sick of by now. I was initially skeptical about the Spider-man’s inclusion here – particularly after those god-awful Sony movies – but Holland is spot-on and makes a good impression without overstaying his welcome. It’ll be interesting to see what impact this will have among the studios – anyone with the rights to a Marvel title may follow in Sony’s footsteps and ‘share’ their characters with the MCU. If you can’t beat them, you might as well join them.
To sum up, Civil War is not only a brilliant comic book movie, but an impressive film in its own right. The subject matter is mature and complex but it manages to maintain that sense of humour that characterises everything Marvel Studios makes. While I have a couple of gripes with the movie (e.g. Paul Bettany as Vision is criminally underused yet again) – they are very minor issues and in no way take away from a great movie. It’s no exaggeration to say that Civil War is probably one of the best comic-book movies ever made and represents a turning point for the genre – setting the standard by which all other entries should be judged.
See, this is how you make a superhero movie, Warner Bros. Hope you were paying attention.