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Notes On A Film – Captain America: Civil War

Things have been hectic at Clandestine Critic Casa, with lots of decorating and gardening and associated stuff getting in the way of reading and reviewing comic books (I’ve got a stack of first issues to write about that’s piling up, so consider yourself warned). So it was nice to have an afternoon to view the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most reliable place for comic book films at the moment. This was especially true when the last comic book movie I bore witness to was Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Captain America: Civil War was the perfect antidote to the Warner Bros/DC mess, covering a similar conceit (hero versus hero, governments working to control heroes) but doing it immeasurably better, highlighting the gulf that exists between the two superhero universes. Captain America: Civil War is packed with great action, great characterisation, great jokes, in service a good story which makes sense and which delivers emotional moments; it’s a near-perfect superhero movie.

Where to start with all the good stuff in the film? Great direction from Anthony and Joe Russo, continuing their great job on Captain America: Winter Soldier? Great script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely? Great acting from the old hands and the new faces? Let’s take that as a given (see the very high rating on Rotten Tomatoes et al.) and get in to the details. The comparison with BvS: DoJ is helpful because the two films share a similar theme – heroes who should be friends are put into a position where they are on opposite sides – but do it completely differently and with different results.

In BvS: DoJ, we don’t care that Batman and Superman are fighting because the film doesn’t earn the moment; in CA: CW, the film-makers go out of the way to establish the reasons for the disagreement, ensuring that all the characters have reasons for their stance on the matter. [A digression: Marvel also has a dozen films that build into this characterisation, which is an unfair advantage over BvS: DoJ, but at least Marvel has earned it by doing the hard work, compared with the desperate cramming and catching up in the DC films leading to a lack of explanation and depth.]

Where is BvS: DoJ is dour and ponderous, CA: CW is able to maintain a serious tone but incorporate elements of humour so that you are entertained. Both films are similarly long but whereas BvS: DoJ feels longer, you are never bored throughout CA: CW, as it deftly mixes the plot development with character-based action and characterisation. Watching the two films is a completely different experience: BvS: DoJ is a bum-numbing slog with the occasional moment that captures the attention, whereas CA: CW grabs you from the start and doesn’t let up throughout.

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The action in the two films is another contrast: BvS: DoJ has most of its final act fighting at night in the rain, murky and too fast to follow; CA: CW has its biggest (and best) multi-character fight scene in the middle of the day in an airport, and the action is sublime, easy to follow, spectacular and entertaining (and this doesn’t take into account all the other great action scenes that are scattered throughout the film). Until Marvel tops this, the airport fight scene is the best superhero fight on celluloid, with Captain America, Winter Soldier, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye and Ant-Man facing off against Iron Man, War Machine, Black Widow, Vision, Black Panther and, in his MCU debut, Spider-Man. The scene is dazzling, but still finds time for good character moments for Scarlet Witch, Vision, Black Widow and Hawkeye, and for Spider-Man to steal the film with wonderful jokes (‘Hey guys, you ever see that really old movie, Empire Strikes Back?’), and lovely moments from the comics (Ant-Man on Hawkeye’s arrow, plus Ant-Man’s big surprise). Even with the moments shown in the teaser trailers, it’s still fantastic to watch this fight scene unfold in the film; the people in charge of making DCU films at Warner Bros. should take note.

The film has a lot of plot to pack in: former general, now Secretary of State Thunderbolt Ross bringing the Sokovia accords to the Avengers, Helmut Zemo’s machinations; developing the enmity between Iron Man and Captain America (and Winter Soldier) [as well as fitting in the obligatory Community cameo, this time from Jim Rash aka Dean Pelton]. However, the film still manages to introduce the new elements without feeling stuffed. Apart from recruiting Spider-Man (which sees Robert Downey Jr and Marisa Tomei together again after Only You) and giving us the best Spider-Man onscreen so far, and the development of the potential relationship between Scarlet Witch and Vision, there is the introduction of Black Panther to the MCU – Chadwick Boseman makes for a very good T’Challa, maintaining the dignity of the character while still making him accessible. This bodes well for the solo film, and the suit and fighting style look great, and the tease of Wakanda looked fabulous, so full marks for bringing the character to the screen intact, and I hope the introduction of Martin Freeman as Everett K Ross means we will see him in the solo Black Panther film as well (I really love the Priest-written Black Panther comic books).

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I have only the smallest niggles about the film. It would have been nicer to have more female characters – Black Widow, Scarlet Witch and Sharon Carter are not enough, and Marvel should be doing better. I also thought there was perhaps a bit too much of Downey Jr – I understand that we need a certain amount due to the personal nature of the animosity between him and Winter Soldier, but the film is supposed to be a Captain America sequel, and the great performance by Chris Evans (who really acts as the heart of the MCU, something that I would have thought difficult based on the relative blandness of the character in the comic books) is slightly sidelined by the Downey Jr theatrics. But these are only minor qualms in an otherwise great film. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, which maintains the high quality of Marvel’s cinematic output and makes me excited for Avengers: Infinity War.

Rating: DAVID

[Explanation of my updated film rating system]


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