It is a very short and very civil war by the way.
A lot was riding on Civil War. The first thing it had to achieve was not being just another avengers flm in a time when we’re starting to get a bit of fatigue with this superhero thing. Especially in the context of Deadpool’s unprecendented success for mocking the gnre and its tropes as a whole, and then for Batman v Superman to come along and ruin the evenings out of thousands of cinema-goers worldwide; Civil War is in an odd paradoxical situation. It can’t go too far wrong, but in the context of its backdrop, it has to do well and set good precedent for the gnre for the rest of the year.
It opens on a spectacular tail-end of a previous avengers mission to track down Crossbones that all-but succeeds and then goes horrifically wrong and huts civillian life, something the avengers are not proud of; and this time, the government gets involved. Tony Stark still feels his ongoing PDST and his guilt over Ultron, and feels the avengers would be no better than the villains they face against if they didn’t let themselves be reigned in, but Captain America’s seen how wrong SHIELD wound up and can’t bring himself to trust an authority that can’t judge the situation like them.
Look at how long I spent explaining the conflict there. It is instantly much richer than the efforts by Lex Luthor to trick Batman and Superman into fighting each other. This is not a comparison I wish to make with frequency but you almost can’t help it. Warner Bros and by extension, DC made the challenge. They decided to move the release date of BVSDOJ to avoid the direct clash or being after Civil War. They chose to shove their big climactic conflict and universe building franchise trailer monster into one film, knowing that months later, Marvel would be showing off a storyline that’s been being built up to since 2012’s The Avengers.
The story is surprisingly effortless. We quickly proceed across the world to scenarios that further ramp the tension and leave the audience genuinely unaware of who to trust but never feeling left out. By this point, Marvel aren’t trying so hard to wow you with never-done-before action sequences, and yet, we have a chase throw an apartment block that becomes a car and motorbike chase between three fighting super-heroes. We have a man vs helicopter, and we have the big moment that they’ve been building towards; the depiction of a six-on-six battle between heroes; divided by the world that they’ve surrounded themselves in.
Every relationship really works; even in the most brief of moments, between Black Panther and Iron Man, between Steve and Bucky, between Bucky and his captors, and most excitngly, Stark and Peter Parker, I don’t want to spoil any of it, but everything clicks. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is more engaging than the emotional Tobey Maguire incarnation and much funnier and much more real than the over the top and implausibly gritty Andrew Garfield version.
Sadly, something has to give, and whilst it does not make the film flawed, there is a key element missing: the world. The film starts by so heavily stating the importance of the effects the Avengers are having on the world, and that’s why there is a political movement to regulate them. By simplifying the Superhuman Registration Act from the comics into ‘accords’ which permit the U.N regulatory controls and definitions of the Avengers, we lose the politics. It revers to the relationships with each other rather than the world. When you rewatch Winter Soldier, everything is brought to the key discussion of freedom. This is just conflict for the sake of conflict. Not bad, but could have had more time to permit us to consider the motives.
The big battle itself achieves more than Age of Ultron’s big robot army because the Russo Brothers have you so invested in each combatant that you will be worried about who might actually win. You’ll be scared of where the relationships might end up. Every punch matters.
You’ll be on the edge of your seat. Like The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War is a thriller. Its the story of relationships breaking down, and you never quite know where it’s going to go next, and is easily the most enthralling entry in the MCU to this point.