It’s an interesting time to be comic movie fan. On the one hand, your favourite superheroes are finally getting the blockbuster treatment from Hollywood, while on the other hand, Thor 2 and Age of Ultron exist. I think most fans are grateful for the good ones, but the bad ones were pretty bad, almost cringe-worthy.
There are various reasons why some of the Marvel movies are terrible. Bad plot, corny lines, goofy antagonists, and a struggle with treating themselves as serious superhero movies while being owned by Disney. Knowing all of this, I was apprehensive heading in to Captain America: Civil War. The trailer was amazing, and I had high hopes for the film. Batman V Superman was a terrible movie, but the parts where the titular characters actually fought each other were good, and if Civil War did that much at least, I would’ve been happy.
And I am indeed happy to report that Civil War is an outstanding movie, and not just in the superhero category. Along with a sigh of relief that they didn’t mess this one up, I was surprised at how great this movie was at everything else: action, political tone, character development, and pacing, to name the most relevant aspects. Let’s dive into it.
The best part about this movie was that it took itself seriously. Earlier I mentioned the problem of Disney. It’s probably not Disney’s fault, but with most of the Marvel movies there have been many cringey moments where either the characters are trying to be funny or something nonsensical happens (usually fanservice for the comic book fans). The bad Marvel movies thought their only audience would be kids, when in fact the best superhero films have catered to mature and adult movie-goers. That is why Civil War shines; it presents itself as a serious action movie, and it not because it has swear words, but because it has a plot that features serious consequences and forces its characters to face difficult and introspective issues.
The most succinct representation of this fact is Captain America’s helicopter scene. It’s my favourite scene in the movie, and initially I loved it because it was just freakin’ awesome seeing this dude preventing a helicopter from lifting off with HIS BARE HANDS. But then I saw what director Joe Russo had to say about this scene, and he talks about how it really shows Cap’s desperation and source of strength: he’s trying to save his best friend. This scene demonstrates not only why Cap made the decision that he did, but also conveys quite genuinely the character’s drive and motivation.
It would’ve been very easy for the movie to go overboard with the quips, since it features the greatest number of sassy superheroes to date: Iron Man, Ant Man, Peter Parker, oh my! Age of Ultron showed just how bad it could get. Fortunately, although everyone has their own one-liner to pitch in, it never gets excessive, and the plot and action are always given screen-priority. One-liners and quips are fine, as long as they don’t feel out of place and forced.
Civil War also stands out for not being a simple cash-grab. Let’s face it: just about every superhero sequel has been a shameless cash-grab. The things that happen in those films are irrelevant, and the Marvel cinematic universe continues to exist as if they had never happened. A movie is not a cash-grab when it introduces a new character (telling their origin story), or features events that play a significant part in developing that character. X-Men: First Class wasn’t a cash-grab because it told Xavier’s and Magneto’s story, and provided insight into their relationship. The Avengers wasn’t a cash-grab because it brought all the different characters and their stories together. Civil War isn’t a cash-grab because it continues Captain America’s story, and the events of the film further develops the character.
So thank you, Russo brothers, for not treating us like idiots. Thank you for delivering a movie that’s smart, emotional, and aware that superhero films aren’t just for kids.
The Spiderman fan in me loves this movie, but the critic has to acknowledge that Civil War does engage in some shameful fanservice. The airport fight scene is fantastic, and a nerd’s dream come true: an awesomely choreographed action scene featuring major superhero characters fighting each other. However, there is very little credibility from a cinematic standpoint when you stuff characters in just for a single scene. Hawkeye, Spidey, and Ant-Man serve zero purpose in the film except to partake in that one scene, and just about everyone else except Iron Man, Cap, and Bucky played minor roles. War Machine and Scarlett Witch had particularly good mini-arcs, but I wish there was a more legitimate reason for having all of these characters besides that one fight scene.
Nitpicky thing: while the airport scene is great, I had to wonder what the heck was Vision doing during the fight. I kept waiting for him since he’s one of the more powerful characters, but all he ends up doing is shooting a laser to create a barricade.
Another annoying thing was the return of shaky cam. I was sitting in row E at an IMAX theatre watching it in 3d, so that may have affected my experience negatively, but it was difficult to see exactly what was going on (luckily the airport scene doesn’t suffer from this), and it was also disappointingly obvious when a stunt double was being used. However, despite bringing this point up, I still stand by my opinion that this is a great action movie. There’s an awesome scene near the end where the camera is completely still for all of 7-9 seconds, and it’s a great shot. There’s also a cheesy slow-mo shot that doesn’t feel cheesy at all, because everything had been built up effectively up to that point.
United We Stand.
What elevates Civil War from being merely a good action movie to a great movie overall is its mature theme.
In this latest Marvel installment, we see Captain America continue to struggle against modern day political issues such as collateral damage and accountability. How much are we willing to give up for the sake of security and peace? Furthermore, when Bucky enters the picture again, redemption and friendship is thrown into the mix. By the end he’s fighting a former comrade in order to protect another. Captain America’s conflict, both with others and within himself, are poignant and succeed at getting audiences to invest in him emotionally.
Iron Man has unresolved issues with his parents. Right in the beginning we are given the emotional plot point that triggers the climax of the film. His political stance is also completely reasonable. He actually feels guilt for all the destruction and harm the Avengers has done. A sympathetic character is an instant winner in any story.
Above all else (except maybe the airport scene), I appreciate the tidiness of the story. The impetus for the plot is relevant throughout the entire film, character motivations are believable and move the story forward effectively, and the plot twist was insane but completely reasonable. It even uses snippets here and there from previous Marvel movies, and that takes tremendous skill to pinpoint the relevant story tidbits from other works and use it to inform yours.
Thor was my favourite Avenger from the first movie. This film single-handedly raised my appreciation for Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. The Captain America films have consistently been the strongest entries in the Marvel cinematic-verse. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that the Russo brothers have directed two excellent Captain America films, and it’s a big relief to hear they’ll be in charge of the next two Avengers installments.
Civil War was directed by two professionals and produced carefully for movie-goers of all ages. From what I understand it doesn’t adhere to the comic book’s storyline strictly, but I think that’ll be easy to forgive given how entertaining the film is in of itself. This movie is the first superhero movie that seriously rivals Nolan’s Batman in terms of value, and it does so without turning dark and ultra-realistic, so kudos to all involved with bringing this project to life. Looking forward to Infinity Wars!
This has been a gamobo review.