(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.
Although 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.
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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