In Civil War, the thirteenth instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the focus shifts back to Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America (Chris Evans). This is his third film as central protagonist, joining Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark with as many films. It seems fitting that these two come to a head here, as Rogers finds his allegiance torn between Stark and The Avengers and his old friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who finds himself the subject of a global manhunt. Joe and Anthony Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) return to direct, again proving to be very competent in their choreography of the action sequences and their ability to find a deft balance of humour as they probe into deep human emotion, and further explore the intense physicality of the characters under pressure.
Following a mission that results in a spectacular, but destructive pursuit and showdown, political pressure calls for the installation of a system of accountability for The Avengers. This new legislation, the “Sokovia Accords”, divides members of the team. Rogers believes superheroes should remain free to defend humanity without government interference, while Stark disagrees and quickly supports the legislation. As the debate escalates Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Vision (Paul Bettany), Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and more others themselves caught in the middle and must pick a side. When an act of terrorism is blamed on Barnes – the once psychologically affected HYDRA super-soldier who was unleashed on Washington in The Winter Soldier – Rogers comes to his aid, convinced that he can recuperate Barnes’ long-lost semblance of humanity. A few members aid his mission, but Stark – hired to take out Barnes (and Rogers if necessary) – also gathers allies to stand in opposition.
The Winter Soldier and The First Avenger can claim to be some of the strongest entries in the Universe to date, and this one is also right up there – die-hard Marvel fans are going to love it. Essentially another Avengers film, it is loaded with a huge ensemble cast of veteran Avengers and new recruits fighting alongside (and against!) one another, and like The Winter Soldier it is one of the more serious entries. But unlike say Age of Ultron, it has relatively low-key scale and feels more focused and personal in exploring its themes and ideas. It also manages to avoid some of the pitfalls of earlier instalments, especially in regards to the final act.
The threat is not so universal this time, but within the bonds of the Avengers institution and whether it can (and should) survive. The desire for a peaceful future is opposed by Rogers’ self-proclaimed necessity to right the wrongs of the past at any cost, when vengeance is unleashed. It serves as an epic collaboration of shifting allegiances, which hold real stakes, and uncompromising action. It doesn’t quite hold it all together for its significant runtime, but to balance this many characters, and to seamlessly integrate the new ones – and ensure they aren’t distracting cameos but service the plot – is an impressive achievement. In what feels like a conveyor-belt of productions at times, Civil War has substance and manages to stand out.
Anyone who has seen the trailer knows about most of the ‘surprise’ appearances. I don’t want to spoil them with any discussion, but they are all handled quite well. Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther is especially interesting when suited-up. The many instalments in years to come, in particular any involving Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, immediately hilarious), now don’t seem so fatiguingly odious. All of the actors have become synonymous with these characters, and while they are rarely stretched, deliver such consistently entertaining performances. There are a few – like Don Cheadle and Jeremy Renner – who never have much to do, but others like Anthony Mackie (Falcon) have emerged as some of the franchise’s most solid. Daniel Bruhl and William Hurt emerge as the primary antagonists, and while they aren’t particularly interesting, at least they are ‘human’.
What I appreciated here were the comparatively sparing action sequences. There is a lot of dialogue-driven development, but when the chaos hits it was spectacular. The film’s opening takedown sequence is amazing, as is a highway pursuit introducing Black Panther, but this film will, and should be, remembered for the extended airport showdown between the two allegiances. It has an extraordinary fusion of effects and detailed combat choreography that also seems to somehow maintain spatial sense.
Whereas the reasons for Batman and Superman to be fighting in Dawn of Justice were preposterous, here the feud is believable and compelling. Both men are angry and make unjustified, selfish decisions when dealing with their grief and guilt. While their aggression is never directly the result of a hatred for each other, they each stand in the way for what the other believes is right. It is always fascinating to explore what can destroy unity and harmony when so many different egos and fantastic abilities competing together. This film tackles that, and from my experience brings the wonderment of the Marvel comic to the screen as few in the franchise have done before it.
By Andrew Buckle
Director: Joe and Anthony Russo
Writer(s): Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlet Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Chadwick Boseman
Runtime: 147 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: April 28, 2016