Watch a trailer for “Captain America: Civil War,” starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson. Photo: Walt Disney Pictures
WHEN an early review from US website Vox calledCaptain America: Civil War the best Marvel movie yet, it felt a tad hyperbolic.
After all, this is a franchise with huge critical and box office hits, whose lowest Rotten Tomato score is 66 per cent (for Thor: The Dark World) — that’s an impressive slate to beat.
And hot off the heels of the disaster that was DC’s Batman v Superman, audiences could be understandably wary of comic book franchises. Well, prepared to have your faith restored.
Captain America: Civil War is a reminder of exactly what makes Marvel movies work, and what DC’s efforts have been severely lacking. Civil War is joyful and fun, even in the darker moments. Plus it has emotional resonance, characters you can genuinely invest in and one narrative arc that is coherent and disciplined, despite the formidable challenge of servicing 12 superheroes.
Like the comic book event it borrows from, Civil War finds Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) on opposite sides in a battle that is a hard one to settle — both men are right and wrong, and both believe they’re doing the noble thing.
After yet another incident with unintended civilian deaths, Iron Man agrees to accept UN oversight, while Captain America sees that option as merely shifting the blame, to give someone else the power to decide when and where the Avengers can save the world.
While the conflict begins as a squaring off between high-minded ideals like freedom, choice and responsibility, it increasingly becomes personal as the overriding themes of friendship and loyalty take centre stage, with Cap’s old friend and Manchurian Candidate-d assassin Bucky/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) the linchpin of the story.
Friends and allies are forced to take sides, and their choices are significant because these are characters audiences have known for years. They bring well-established baggage and relationships with them.
Marvel is banking on the fact that most people flocking to see Civil War will have already seen most if not all of the 12 preceding movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Newcomers may miss the finer points of what it really means to have Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) on opposite sides of the same war.
Two new heroes are introduced in this instalment, and a lot of fuss has been made about the third Spider-Man reboot in 14 years. Tom Holland confidently debuts as the dumpster-diving, banter-loving awkward teen who’s as concerned about his homework and hiding his identity from Aunt May as he is about saving the world. What a delight to see Spidey deftly swing from place to place in the middle of an epic battle.
Also making his first appearance in the MCU is Black Panther/T’Challa, who will get his own movie in 2018. Chadwick Boseman has considerable presence and more than holds his own in a jam-packed cast of superheroes as he pounces and glides across the screen with swiftness and grace in Civil War’s genuinely thrilling action sequences.
Because it’s a comic book franchise with powered people, you of course expect some hi-tech and fantastical displays of strength. But something else really stands out: the beautifully choreographed hand-to-hand combat scenes.
Unlike in Avengers: Age of Ultron, there’s enough variety in the action to sustain at least four major arrangements without resorting to more boom, smash and bam. For a two-and-a-half hour movie, everything’s surprisingly well-paced, a cinematic art form that is, unfortunately, becoming increasingly rare.
The big showdown teased in the trailers is spectacularly entertaining, if maybe a little crowded. It’s easily one of the best action scenes in the MCU as you see familiar characters fight each other instead of generic bad guy #43, with every punch, body slam and truck thrown by mind control from one superhero landing against another superhero. Even though it is grand in scale, there’s still an intimacy to the battle.
But you’d best avoid the 3D sessions, as some of the shaky-cam action scenes border on video game-esque and can blur in the extra dimension. Save yourself the extra five bucks and the headache.
What rescues Civil War from being Avengers 2.5 is that Cap has the most important, rich character journey and is clearly the driving force of the film, more so than in Captain America: Winter Soldier.
Conversely, MCU fans may feel cheated of their personal favourites (which also include Scarlet Witch, War Machine, Ant-Man, Vision and Falcon) who all show up, have their moment and then slink back into the background (with the exception of Iron Man). It’s a teaser that leaves you wanting more, like say, another Avengers movie — which, after all, is Marvel’s raison d’etre.
Civil War does benefit from not getting too bogged down in laying groundwork for future MCU movies. There are hints here and there of what’s to come, like the question of Vision’s (Paul Bettany) control of that Infinity Stone embedded in his head but, for the most part, the film is focused on the present story.
And what a relief to see directors Anthony and Joe Russo up their game from their last effort, the excellent Winter Soldier. The MCU hasn’t had the best track record on the second outings from its directors — Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2 was a mess and Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron was a let-down. The Russos’ success bodes well for James Gunn and Peyton Reed, who are directing their follow-ups to Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, respectively.
The Russo brothers are also signed up for Avengers: Infinity War Parts 1 and 2 — cementing themselves as the new MCU directorial standard bearers in the franchise after Whedon’s departure post-Ultron.
They’ve brilliantly balanced the Marvel signature of combining humour, warmth and oh-so-many quips with the serious business of kicking arse. The future of the MCU is looking bright.
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