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The Marvel mega franchise is in a strange place after 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? The tone of each isn’t exactly a great fit and that’s the challenge for this latest instalment. A shared world is a neat idea but holds a lot of questions for the texture of future films when Rocket Raccoon and Steve Rogers can meet. But with returning film makers at the helm I expected a certain amount of continuity. There are interesting conflicts to be explored and an abundance of returning characters to choose from. But there’s also the issue of bloated running times and convoluted screenplays to consider. Have Team Russo managed to pull it off, or is this a sign that things are coming apart at the seams 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 Thaddeus ‘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 the team are to be assigned to whichever crisis a committee 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. The heroes are forced 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. The roster is starting to look like the kind of selection you’d see in one of Capcom’s beat-em-up games included many of the same faces. But while the cast is starting to look unwieldy they do at least each get moments to shine. Even if it’s only during the action. The focus is on they main players who are given enough development along the way. But it’s not all po-faced drama since of course the same mixture of banter and dry quips is still present. The 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 inevitable sequel baiting moments but thankfully nothing comes across as obnoxious. The studio has apparently learned its lesson after some earlier missteps in films like Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World. On the whole 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. We’ve probably all wondered who cleans up the rubble after the credits roll, and the answers to that question allow for some surprisingly dark moments. Should governing agencies be allowed to direct Cap 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. However most of it fits into the broader idea of personal hubris which allows for some focus.
As a pure superhero spectacle on the other and the film certainly delivers. 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 in its own fashion. Which is to say its a lot of striking red and blue on grey. But there’s room for a lot of levity and imaginative super powers as team members bounce off one another. Elsewhere the makers continue the Jason Bourne style chases and hand to hand combat which worked so well in Steve Rogers’ last outing. A blistering heist intro and a highway set-piece are stand out action beats. The cinematography is slick and globe trotting locales are fun – even if huge on screen prompts noting each region are a bit much by the end.
But that question of consistency remains, and it’s not perfect. Because of this in the end it’s not quite as good as Steve and Bucky’s last get together. The prior Winter Soldier adventure had a tighter grasp on the amount of grit being used as well as better overall pacing. That being said in strange way it sort of makes this the best Avengers movie, if perhaps not the best Captain America story. The juggling act between jovial Ant-Man moments and central ideas like revenge, guilt and responsibility does effect the overall sense of congruity But it still manages to achieve a certain weight and direction lacking in the likes of Age of Ultron. For a few of those high tier action adventure thrills and a couple of real magic moments it’s worth a look.