Before I watched my first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie all those years ago, in my mind, like many around the world, superheroes were still just a caricature of spandex suits and clichéd conversations. Eight years, three phases, and now thirteen films later and the studio that redefined a genre has certainly come a long way. A once male dominated arena has gradually introduced resilient and compelling female characters, and dreadful computer generated imagery has made way for explosions so visceral the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Yet, while several of their features are now solemn with many a moral to teach, none have truly pushed the boundaries of what it means to be a hero, protecting others even when everyone’s against you, standing up for those that may not be as virtuous as you. That is where Captain America: Civil War (2016) comes in.
In the aftermath of Avengers: Age of Ultron’s (2014) destruction of Sokovia, and an unfortunate and deadly run-in with Crossbones, the heroes find themselves on a very short leash with the United Nations holding the chain. Dividing the team in two, Tony Stark’s side take up the baton for accountability and restriction, while Steve Roger’s believe the safest hands are still their own. But as another attack is unleashed upon the signing of the Accords and Bucky Barnes turns up as the likely culprit, loyalties are tested and friendships begin to fracture. As those who were once hailed as saviours digress into vigilantes, everyone is forced to pick a side, choose a fight, and stand for something. Culminating in Stark’s confrontation with both Cap and The Winter Soldier, honour makes way for vendettas. The stakes have never been higher, the emotion never so taut. Sadly, as the truth comes out, trust lies shattered on the floor, just as those who once called themselves brothers in arms do.
There’s an undeniable maturity and gravitas at the heart of all three Captain America films, which has grown in succession as the instalments have. What could easily have been a bare bones story of a patriotic persona fuelled by Truth, Justice, and the American way, has instead given way to a profound and restrained comment on what it means to love and to lose. Heroes aren’t perfect, but they aren’t scared to stand up for what they believe in either. Heroes protect those who have been labelled outcast, misfits, and villains. Heroes let people make the choice, even if it’s the wrong one. And sometimes heroes are even the ones to bring the betrayal themselves. Because when freedom is taken away from them, or their friends, then all they have left is the ability to fight harder, go faster, and be stronger.
Despite the vast array of characters the screenwriters had to contend with, both Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have done a solid job making Civil War one of those rare and mythical sequels that manages to add to its predecessor rather than crumble in its wake. The first half does struggle to find its feet, with jagged sequences and awkward first kisses lacking in any true chemistry. But by the end of the film’s two-and-a-half-hour run, the action has culminated in a score of terrific sequences, including the climactic showdown between the two teams in an airplane hangar in Germany, and the resolution of the film’s great mystery. Both of which solidify the movie’s place as one of the genre greats.
If Marvel holds superiority over their competition in one realm though, it is in their ability to conjure up enough character presence to introduce upcoming features without detracting from the current film’s storyline. As such, both Spider-Man and Black Panther are front and centre in Civil War, driving the narrative as if they had been a part of the team the whole time. Young Tom Holland’s performance as Peter Parker is arguably the biggest breakout, mixing the endearing and charming persona Sony have been striving to achieve with Marvel’s unique brand of humour and hurt. Similarly, Chadwick Boseman also makes his regal debut as T’Challa, the new King of Wakanda. Not quite as impressive as the web-slinger, but a daring, multi-faceted character sure to impress in his own standalone flick.
The visuals too have stepped up a notch, with a grounded, physical, and more abrupt approach. You feel the slams when bodies fall to the floor. You tense in pain as blow after blow is delivered. The Russo Brothers iconic fast cuts and dark pallet work wonders here to give the film the depth it really deserves. If it’s action you’re hanging out for, you won’t be disappointed, with one of the best superhero smack-down sequences ever put to film. For those wondering how Cap’s team are not completely out-skilled by Iron Man’s, prepare to be dazzled by some fantastic and unexpected new powers, which even catch Stark off guard and cause Spidey to become an impromptu swearer.
It’s not the best Marvel movie; I’ll reserve that right for The Avengers (2012) for now. But damn it if it doesn’t come close. Being a superhero just isn’t as clear cut anymore as it was when ideas like Captain America: Civil War were still just a spark in people like The Russo Brothers eyes. It’s a new world for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s time to embrace it.
Rating: 4.5 Shields out of 5
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