Civil War Header

(Update 5/13/2016: Author mis­tak­en­ly im­plied that Fox owns the rights to Spider-Man, when it is in fact Sony who owns the movie rights. The ar­ti­cle has been up­dat­ed to re­flect this.)

Seen in 2D at a UK Vue Cinema, re­view­er paid for tick­et. 

I should pref­ace this by say­ing whilst this won’t con­tain spe­cif­ic spoil­ers for Captain America: Civil War, it will dis­cuss the broad themes of the movie. So if you want to go into the film com­plete­ly cold… why are you read­ing a re­view? Why did you even watch the trail­er? Just leave, yes the film is good, go see it. Shoo!

Okay, now that every­one who com­plains about any dis­cus­sion of a film as “spoil­ers” is gone, we can get on with the re­view.

Captain America: Civil War is the 13th over­all film in the Marvel cin­e­mat­ic uni­verse, and the 1st in the so called “Phase Three” roll­out of their am­bi­tious plan. Making so many movies, in a com­plete­ly shared uni­verse no less, in such a short space of time can eas­i­ly bring on fa­tigue and in­con­sis­ten­cies. Whist its true some Marvel movies do vary in crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial suc­cess, they’ve yet to pro­duce a true flop in my opin­ion. I’m pleased to be able to say that Captain America: Civil War doesn’t rep­re­sent a dip in that qual­i­ty at all, and it rep­re­sents a new peak de­pend­ing on how you like your su­per hero movies.

Civil War Side 1Although the film clocks in at a hefty 147 min­utes, it flies by at an im­pres­sive rate, whilst hav­ing the mo­ments to breath it re­quires. What I’m say­ing is that for a film of this length it’s very well paced, bal­anc­ing some­times very vis­cer­al fight scenes with poignant mo­ments of di­a­log and sto­ry. The film also finds time for mo­ments of lev­i­ty and hu­mour, es­pe­cial­ly with the way Spider-Man feels like he’s come from a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent movie. This isn’t a crit­i­cism as it would usu­al­ly be; his per­son­al­i­ty bounces off the oth­er char­ac­ters and stops the — at times very heavy — movie from feel­ing like a slog.

My one crit­i­cism of pac­ing would with be all of the en­sem­ble Marvel movies be­fore it, Captain America: Civil War has to pack quite a lot into those 147 min­utes with a pletho­ra of plot, char­ac­ters, and ac­tion to jug­gle. The char­ac­ter mo­ments of the core cast are ac­tu­al­ly bal­anced al­most per­fect­ly, but this time I would say some plot el­e­ments feel a lit­tle con­densed and could be con­fus­ing if you’re not pay­ing close at­ten­tion. The side char­ac­ters are pushed square­ly to the side, but them be­ing there still makes sense in the con­text of the movie. Captain America: Civil War is def­i­nite­ly a film that will stand up to re­peat view­ings.

At its heart Captain America: Civil War is a movie about a fam­i­ly falling apart, and about the in­ter­per­son­al con­flicts of friends and al­lies against the back­drop of an in­creas­ing­ly ner­vous world. This is what gives the film its emo­tion­al heart and im­pact; its shades of grey give it a nu­ance gen­er­al­ly miss­ing from a black and white su­per­hero world.

Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch is a sur­pris­ing high­light de­spite not be­ing the fo­cus of the movie, with Scarlet Witch re­al­ly break­ing out in this film as an Avenger. Whilst I praised the Spider-Man scenes for their hu­mour, they do still come off as some of the weak­er parts of the film over­all, with his in­tro be­ing pret­ty much skimmed over at the fastest pace pos­si­ble. Even so, it still man­ages to be one of the fun­ni­est scenes in the movie.

The prob­lem here is re­al­ly sys­temic. In an ide­al world, Spider-Man’s char­ac­ter would have al­ready been es­tab­lished in the Marvel cin­e­mat­ic uni­verse, but it’s tak­en un­til now for Fox Sony to give them their toys back. Tom Holland does as well as can be ex­pect­ed with what he’s giv­en, and his part in the film is done as well as can be ex­pect­ed with this less than ide­al frame­work. This is more a prod­uct of inter-studio wran­gling than any bad film mak­ing.

Can I say, Captain America: Civil War just looks gor­geous? Having seen the film in 2D, I can’t com­ment on how well the 3D ef­fect works, but I can say they didn’t com­pro­mise any qual­i­ty in how the film was shot. Action scenes are well framed and im­pact­ful with­out re­sort­ing to the dread­ed shaky-cam, di­a­log scenes feel tense and in­ti­mate, and with so much hap­pen­ing on screen dur­ing the films much pro­mot­ed mass fight scenes the ac­tion is nev­er vi­su­al­ly con­fus­ing or too messy. Captain America: Civil War’s cin­e­matog­ra­phy is nev­er ob­tru­sive, de­liv­er­ing what are sure to be some of the most icon­ic shots in the Marvel cin­e­mat­ic uni­verse.

Civil War insert 2

I don’t think it’s too much of a spoil­er to say that the Civil War arc isn’t iso­lat­ed to this sin­gle movie, nor should it be. I’m glad Marvel is giv­ing this very im­por­tant art room to breathe. It’s en­cour­ag­ing how the Marvel cin­e­mat­ic uni­verse is draw­ing on its lore in a way that feels nat­ur­al. The thing I was most im­pressed by was just how or­gan­ic the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the Avengers feels; everyone’s mo­tives make sense.

I feel like the film comes down more on Captain America’s side, but that might be due to my long­stand­ing dis­trust of bu­reau­cra­cy and the fact that this is still a Captain America movie at its core. It’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see where peo­ple fall on the moral quan­daries pre­sent­ed through­out. Those moral quan­daries are its oth­er great strength; Captain America: Civil War is a sto­ry about sov­er­eign­ty, in­ter­ven­tion­ism, bu­reau­cra­cy, uni­lat­er­al ac­tion, and the very con­cept of in­her­ent good. These are ques­tions we have to an­swer in the real world, and the writ­ers have the good sense not to preach at or lec­ture the au­di­ence — un­like some of their com­ic book coun­ter­parts.

The end re­sult is re­fresh­ing­ly non-partisan for a movie with so much pol­i­tics at its heart; in­stead pre­sent­ing the dif­fer­ing but valid points of view that were at the heart of the orig­i­nal Civil War com­ic. And that’s the high­est praise I can give it. The movie man­ages to trans­late the feel and themes of its source ma­te­r­i­al whilst ex­ist­ing in a sub­stan­tial­ly dif­fer­ent Marvel uni­verse. When some of the footage was re­vealed I was skep­ti­cal they could make this feel like a Civil War with­out the mas­sive cast of Marvel he­roes in the com­ic uni­verse, but I was wrong. The best fight scenes are those one on one be­tween Cap and Tony, be­ly­ing the bit­ter­ness of this be­ing friend vs friend.

So would I rec­om­mend Captain America: Civil War? Wholeheartedly. It’s the best Marvel en­sem­ble movie to date. It’s got heart, brains, and some pret­ty ball­sy ac­tion. In a time when I feel we may be reach­ing sat­u­ra­tion point for su­per­hero movies, Marvel still man­ages to sur­pass­es my ex­pec­ta­tions.

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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.