There was a time when it was acceptable for any superhero movie to focus on just the one hero. In the days of cinematic universes, comic book multiverses and baffling crossover events, apparently one is no longer enough. Superhero teams are expanding faster than Gérard Depardieu’s waistline and this year it has become de rigueur to pitch superheroes against one another. Following hot on the heels of the cacophonic mess that was Batman versus Superman comes another movie in which the good guys square off against each other. Captain America: Civil War, the thirteenth in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, represents a chance for Disney to continue laughing in the face of Warner Bros as they pull smash hits out of thin air and let some of their hottest properties punch seven bells out of anyone, everyone and each other.
Loosely adapting the Mark Millar comic book, Civil War sees the Avengers under scrutiny following a tragedy in Nigeria with the huge levels of collateral damage that they are known for, with the loss of civilian life as an added bonus. With the UN deciding that the superhero team must operate only under international supervision, the team is faced with a dilemma of accepting regulation or effectively going rogue. Half the gang, led by Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), agrees to the deal and a restriction in autonomy, but Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) rejects the deal driving a wedge among the two and spitting the Avengers in half.
While Warner Bros seems to be suffering from post-Chris Nolan fatigue with their super-serious and seriously dull DC movies, Marvel have made the wise choice to keep things lively and upbeat. Thankfully, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has always placed an emphasis on fun and director duo the Russo’s continue the good work of shifting comic book characters onto the screen and playing up the joyous elements of the series while retaining a sense of significance.
With so many characters in play there’s always a risk that movies as huge as this will become cluttered and unwieldy. Perhaps the greatest achievement of Civil War is that it manages to keep so many plates spinning at once. With the possible exception of Daniel Bruhl’s slightly marginalised villain, all the characters here seem vital, useful and permitted to play to their strengths. The introduction of Spider-man (Tom Holland) midway through the drama leads into a bonkers set piece fight scene that showcases the best of the assorted characters and pretty well sums up all that is great about this exuberant and gargantuan movie monster that continues to churn out more hits than misses.
Approaching the halfway point of Civil War, I was worried that the movie was repeating some of the mistakes of the comic; chiefly that the debate around the erosion of personal liberty versus the increase in personal responsibility was being left by the wayside. Millar’s comic used the argument as a springboard to catapult an entire narrative universe into one giant bar fight, but seemed not to dwell upon some of the more interesting aspects of the subtext. The movie appears, at first glance, to do a similar thing. But as you romp along into the final movement the narrative becomes more focused and more personal. The Russo’s said they wanted this to be a movie not about politics but about a friendship gone south. As this latest superhero bonanza draws to a close you realise they have achieved something incredible: a movie the casts its net wide, yet manages to feel as concentrated as any superhero movie before it.
[rating=4] | Chris Banks
Action, Adventure | USA, 2016 | 12A | Marvel Entertainment | 29th April 2016 (UK) | Dir. Anthony Russo, Joe Russo | Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Paul Rudd, Anthony Mackie