CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR – a review by JJ Heaton

Starring: Chris Evans (Snowpiercer), Robert Downey Jr (Sherlock Holmes), Scarlett Johansson (Lucy), Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), Sebastian Stan (Black Swan), Jeremy Renner (The Bourne Legacy), Chadwick Boseman (42), Paul Bettany (A Knight’s Tale), Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla), Don Cheadle (Miles Ahead), Paul Rudd (Role Models), William Hurt (A History of Violence), Daniel Bruhl (Rush), Tom Holland (The Impossible)

Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Writers: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (Pain & Gain)

Runtime: 2 hours 27 minutes

Release Date: April 29 (UK), May 6 (US)

With Batman v Superman proving unsatisfactory to many audience members craving to see their favourite heroes beat the crap out of each other, all eyes are now on Marvel Studios to see if they can accomplish what DC fumbled. But the two films have more than just duelling super-egos in common: both are crammed with characters from across their respective universes, both are establishing groundwork for the immediate future, both take inspiration from classic stories from the source material, and both are really, really long. But whilst Dawn of Justice strained under the weight of its ambitions, barely making it to the finish line in one piece, Captain America: Civil War balances all of its moving parts effortlessly to craft what could easily be the MCU’s grandest adventure yet.

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Those expecting a beat-for-beat adaptation of Mark Millar’s original Civil War storyline are going to be disappointed, but given the state of the Marvel Universe right now and the company’s lack of key comic book characters that was never going to happen. Instead, the film lifts key elements whilst mostly telling its own story, and in the process has turned what was originally just an excuse to force heroes into conflict into a legitimately gripping war of ethics. Whilst this is still Cap’s story and his views are generally portrayed as the correct ones, the film does a good job of justifying the other point-of-view; nobody feels drastically out of character like some did in the comics. The story has a grand scope as it hops around the world and brings in so many characters old and new, but unlike the competition it never feels disorienting or poorly developed. Even with its many disparate parts, every piece is under control and everything important is kept in the foreground. It’s this kind of thoughtful design that makes the film’s epic runtime breeze by, and even though certain characters do have smaller parts they never feel short-changed. There is never a moment where a scene was cut too short or moment was left to drag; everything is in perfect order. It is, however, not without fault. The film does blow its wad in the scale department a little too early, following what’s easily the most fantastic fight sequence in superhero movie history with an admittedly more emotional but less impressive final battle, and the film’s big third-act reveal feels a little too telegraphed and is mainly just there to reinforce conflict. But the film does have a strong open ending, leaving the universe in an uncertain state of flux much like The Winter Soldier did, but again it never feels like they’re forcefully teasing future movies.

Every other character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe makes an appearance in this movie, so covering everyone is just going to be redundant. Long story short, every returning player is as good as ever and all are given just the right amount of screen time to shine. The tempestuous relationship between Chris Evans’ Cap and Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man takes centre stage here, and what began in The Avengers as playful bickering has evolved into a true conflict of ideals. But even within all their clashing, they never forget that they’re usually allies and they both understand and even somewhat respect the other’s point of view; again, their motivations never feel skewed just to force hostility. But within all of that are also great little character moments for the other recurring characters; it’s great to see the Ant-Man geek out over meeting The Avengers, Falcon and Winter Solider exchange barbs about leg room in a car, or the burgeoning relationship between Vision and Scarlet Witch. It’s also fun to see William Hurt return as “Thunderbolt” Ross, finally connecting The Incredible Hulk back into the overarching story in a meaningful way (now we just need Abomination and Leader to become relevant again).

But even with all that, audiences are sure to be talking all about the movie’s fantastic introductions to Black Panther and Spider-Man. Chadwick Boseman makes for an excellent Panther, balancing the character’s honour and pride with a lust for vengeance, turning what could have easily been yet another piece of Marvel cross-promotion into a key piece of the film’s thematic conflict. Tom Holland’s performance as the third cinematic web slinger finally embraces the character’s potential on screen, creating a Spider-Man that is optimistic and the butt of many jokes but one who can still stand toe-to-toe with these powerhouses of the universe. Holland’s screen time may be brief and it could be argued his story is superfluous to the plot, but everything about his scenes is executed flawlessly and I can’t wait to see him take centre stage in his own movie next summer. If there is a weak link in the cast, it’s Daniel Bruhl as the villainous mastermind Zemo. Bruhl puts in a strong performance as the character, but the film doesn’t do a great job of explaining his motives, giving only the vaguest of hints before dumping it all on us right before the end. He’s like a living embodiment of forced conflict; everything he does accomplishes nothing but getting characters to the point of hostility. That all results in some absolutely amazing fights, but it’s still an obvious ploy nonetheless.

On a spectacle level, Civil War blows all of the other MCU movies out of the water. Every action sequence in this movie is absolutely on-point and, given that the second unit directors are the guys who brought you John Wick, that should be no surprise. It really feels like the filmmakers explored every possible way these characters could utilize their powers in combat and took advantage of that, creating for some truly outstanding mash-ups that are as imaginatively conceived as they are choreographed. The camerawork and editing is fast and frenetic, but never in a way that obscures the action. Instead, it amplifies the intensity of the conflict, making every blow impactful and awe-inspiring. The visual effects aren’t always completely convincing, but because of how light and fantastical the film looks it manages to get away with it. What they lack in believability they more than make up for in ingenuity, crafting incredible moments that could have only been accomplished digitally.

Captain America: Civil War delivers on all its promises to be a fantastic ride and then some, proving that complex superhero movies packed with story threads and characters can be made if done with care. It improves on its source material by making the conflict feel more natural and with better parallels to real-world issues, rather than falling prey to petty squabbles that go against previous character development. It’s a near flawless piece of blockbuster entertainment, one that probably won’t convert anyone uninterested in the franchise so far, but for all us True Believers invested in this universe it’s an absolute treat. All I can now ask is this: how the hell is Infinity War going to top it?

FINAL VERDICT: 9.5/10

Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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