CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)
The Marvel mega franchise is in a strange place coming off titles like Ant-Man, Age of Ultron and The Winter Soldier. Can you make a sequel to the latter and still include elements of all the others without it falling to pieces? After all the tone of each isn’t exactly a great fit, it’s the challenge they’ve faced making this latest instalment. With the kind of future release line up they have scheduled the problem is only going to grow from what I can see; a shared world is a neat idea but holds a lot of questions for the texture of a film when Rocket Raccoon and Steve Rogers can meet. But with returning film makers at the helm I expected a certain sense of continuity; at least from their last effort to this. There are interesting conflicts to be explored and an abundance of returning characters to choose from, so they also have the issue of bloated running times and convoluted screenplays to consider. Have the Russo Brothers managed to pull all this together successfully, or is this a potential sign that things are coming apart at the seams perhaps like the heroes themselves?
After saving the people of Sokovia, New York and many others, the current Avengers team has no time to rest on their laurels when they’re faced with tough questions from Secretary of State ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (William Hurt) about civilian deaths and property damage. New proposals to be ratified by the United Nations will keep them in check, and they are to be assigned to whichever crisis a committee board sees fit. As the mandate splits the team members and feelings of guilt and dissent begin to rise, a sinister plot involving The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and his past actions rears its head, forcing the heroes to consider their ideals and take whatever action they see fit; in spite of the damage it may cause to their old alliances.
Civil War is a long movie, and it packs a lot of stuff into the story. But I suppose that’s to be expected when the character roster is starting to look like the kind of selection you’d see in one of Capcom’s beat-em-up games which have included many of the same faces. But while the cast is overflowing at times they do at least each have moments to shine, even if it’s during the action; and the main players are given enough development along the way. The same mixture of banter and dry quips is still here of course. New arrivals feel mostly natural and fit into the story as things unfold, which helps even if some cameos are briefer than others. Considering the title of the film they do end up giving more time to Tony Stark as things progress, but it’s worthwhile and provides enough drama to keep things moving. Old characters are kept from becoming stale and new challengers keep the mix interesting. There are a few sequel baiting moments but thankfully nothing comes across as obnoxious, and it maintains a certain level of charm and overall entertainment value.
While the conspiracy thriller material of The Winter Soldier is still just about clinging on here, the main thrust of the plot involves taking responsibility for the kinds of third act destruction seen in the previous adventures, as well as blockbusters in general. We’ve probably all wondered who cleans up the rubble after the credits roll, and the answers to that question allow for plenty of weight and some surprisingly dark moments. Should governing agencies be allowed to direct Iron-Man and friends to prevent unnecessary collateral damage, or should doing the right thing speak for itself? The question becomes less relevant as things develop but it’s an engaging theme, even if the inherent silliness of costumed vigilantes is ever present. As egos clash and heroes are divided the storyline starts to add more elements which does at times make it feel overly tangled, but most of it fits into the broader idea of personal hubris which at least allows some focus.
As a superhero spectacle however the film certainly delivers, and the much publicised airport stand off between new and old Avengers offers some of the best comic book moments in the franchise. It’s colourful and eye popping, as well as allowing for a lot of levity and imaginative power use as each team mate bounces off the other. Elsewhere the makers continue the Jason Bourne style chases and hand to hand combat which worked so well in Steve Rogers’ last outing, and a blistering heist intro and a highway set-piece offer plenty of good action beats. It’s a great looking film all round with plenty of slick cinematography and globe trotting locales – even if the huge on screen text prompts which note time and place are a bit much by the end. But that question of consistency remains, and I have to say because of this it’s not quite as good as Steve and Bucky’s last get together which had a tighter grip on the amount of grit as well as the overall pacing. In a strange way it sort of makes this the best Avengers movie, if not the best Captain America story. The juggling act between jovial Ant-Man moments and the central ideas of revenge, guilt and responsibility does effect the overall sense of congruity but it still manages to achieve a certain weight and direction perhaps lacking in Age of Ultron. For a few of those high tier action adventure thrills and a couple of real magic moments, give it a shot.