Marvel Cinematic Universe launched Phase Three of its superhero world in the form of Captain America: Civil War, the third instalment of the Captain America strand that parades as Avengers 2.5, following last year's arguably disappointing Avengers: Age of Ultron. This, however, is the Avengers film that Age of Ultron so desperately wanted to be, and quite frankly, should have been. Captain America might be the namesake, but the plethora of superheroes in the mix is astounding - Iron Man, Black Widow, Winter Soldier, Falcon, War Machine, Hawkeye, Vision, Scarlett Witch and Ant-Man (to name just a few), as well as debut appearances from the newly rejuvenated Spider-Man, battle it out in Civil War, marking a new wave of releases from the film studio giants. If this is an indication of future films, Marvel may be about to embark on their hottest streak to date.
Distrust of the superhero community hits fever pitch after a mission goes haywire and many end up dead. The United Nations prepares the Sokovia Accords - an international governing body that restricts, monitors and polices the ever-expanding superhero population - which splits the Avengers into two extreme sides. New loyalties form, lead by Tony Stark/Iron Man (whose guilt over the creation of Ultron leads to his agreement in the body) and Steve Rogers/Captain America (disconcerted by the government's agenda and agrees with the ideological freedom of America and the superheroes, disagreeing with the proposition). With the heroes broken in two and the two leaders stuck between good and bad, right and wrong and their own personal issues, a civil war begins that pits the strongest against each other, resulting in grave consequences for the future of the Avengers.
Whilst the literal future of the Avengers is in jeopardy, figuratively they are better than they have ever been. Civil War is populated with an abundance of characters, plot threads and focuses, yet directors Anthony and Joe Russo manage to keep everything tight and balanced. The fear with a film of this scale is that everything comes crashing down around it, yet the film simultaneously manages to juggle some impressively large elements, whilst expanding on others, introducing new ones and keeping everything in sync as they do it. Despite the sheer number of characters displayed here, each of them has motivation and conviction to support their decisions and actions, grounded and poised with humility and modesty; they might be superheroes but you understand them, what they want and who they are. This human element is grandly influenced by the sensational actors and actresses involved; Chris Evans adds more life to the titular character than we have seen before, whilst Robert Downey Jnr gives a genuinely captivating performance as Tony 'Iron Man' Stark - satirical, emotional and determined, often all at the same time. Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow (who remains my favourite Avenger and the one in desperate need of a standalone film) remains as impressive and consistent as we have previously seen while the rest of the player are pretty astounding too.
Thematically, this is the most powerful Marvel have ever dared to be and their bravery is profound, offering brawn and brains in one giant blockbuster success that should inspire others to do the same. Some complex and intricate ideas and tones are explored throughout the film, all of which are handled in a way that engages an audience, questioning their own conscience and morality, offering verisimilitude despite the fantastical elements. Perfectly counteracted is of course the action scenes. which Marvel typically do with such stellar might and accomplishment - no change here then. Each fight sequence feels stylistically different and original, unique to the last and bold in its execution. Storming against each other at the airport as the two sides go head to head, the evenly-matched ideals interact with strength and believability, using their own personal powers to their advantages and it really is intriguing to view how these wholly good people interact when faced with good, rather than downright evil. It adds a new layer to their fight and characters, whilst maintaining a comedic edge that is needed as the film prepares to go darker than it had before. That final fight, on a far more persona level, raises the stakes considerably, exemplified through stunning visuals, cinematography, iconography and parallels. With these scenes, Marcel greatly shakes up the formula, which many - myself included - began to worry was becoming stale. This revitalisation could not come soon enough and Civil War is a better film because of it.
An array of phenomanal elements do not always take a way from some of the small, niggling errors, sometimes even spotlighting them more: the first action scene in the market is disconcerting on a number of occasions, editing with action so choppy and turbulent that one must question whether they have come down with a case of vertigo. Thankful, this is only seen during this one instance but it takes a while for you to regain your feet after this. One non-spectacualr special effect sticks out like an eyesore towards the beginning of the film but I can quickly forgive and forget that. I am slightly less so on the irritating 'if only they said this sooner' element that causes the big debacle, but when it results in a film so stunningly tightly and choreographed as this, then I accept it as a win on the audience's behalf. These niggles are minor complaints that only come up when compared to the grandeur and quality of these rest of the film, but issues nonetheless.
That said, Captain America: Civil War is bold, innovative and altogether refreshing. Impressively switching between character-driven dialogue development, all-to-the-wall action scenes and a depth to a war and conflict that others could only dream of (looking at you, Batman vs Superman), Civil War is impressive because of what is at stake and what we know lies ahead. It wins by building to this point thirteen episodes into its Universe run and offering more for the audience to invest themselves in - there is no winners, or losers, or good people or bad people as such, just individuals with different approaches, opinions and emotions and Civil War wins by accepting each of these and exploring them in thought-provoking and progressive ways. I genuinely do not know where this Avengers unit is going next and as long as Marvel do not hit the reset and send everything back to being peachy keen, they will have myself and many others beside them for the journey.
(REVISED - 9.5/10)
(ORIGINAL - 9/10)
(ORIGINAL - 9/10)
Summary: Captain America: Civil War is Marvel at its peak, offering a plethora of interesting characters, all of whom are superbly portrayed, bolstered by an engaging and coherent narrative. In short, Civil War is a breath of fresh air in the superhero genre.
Instead of the typical highlight section here, I am going to make a few notes that I didn't fit in the review, but I want to get your own feelings and opinion towards.
- I am not entirely sold on Spider-Man just yet. Whether I am still bitter of Andrew Garfield - the absolute highlight of the Amazing Spider-Man outing - being dropped so insouciantly that I cannot quite accept Tom Holland yet. He certainly makes an impression, it is just not quite the right one yet.
- Black Panther is promising and something that genuinely took me by surprise when he took the mask off. Looking back, I should have seen it coming, but alas...
- My eyes filled with tears as we said goodbye to Agent Carter on screen. I then started crying when I realised we wouldn't likely be seeing a third season of Agent Carter. So no more Agent Carter, period. Emotional for a lover of strong female characters like myself.
- May I be so bold as to say that Iron Man is better without having this standalone films too? He feels more magnetic, humorous and engaging when appearing in the Avengers films than he ever did in the Iron Man trilogy. Maybe, then, I should reconsider my need for that Black Widow franchise...
- I think I need more of an explanation about PP than we were given...