Director: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson
Watch Civil War online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Do you suffer from an itchy bottom? Involuntarily sighing? Nervous glancing at your watch? Frustration at incoherent or overly formulaic narratives? All while sat in a darkened room for more than two hours? Then you may be suffering from superhero fatigue, a condition that can affect even the most ardent fan of comic book films, after sitting through the umpteenth blockbuster sequel of the last half-decade.
Much like the underwhelming Age of Ultron, the Marvel movie brings all the familiar CGI-users of recent years back together for another outing. Unlike Age of Ultron, though, this isn’t an Avengers story: it’s a Captain America story. That might look like an insignificant detail on the posters stuffed full of Photoshopped characters, but it’s a crucial difference that gives this light-hearted romp a dramatic heft that makes for a satisfying watch.
Picking up the threads from The Winter Soldier, we see a grudge-fuelled mysterious figure from Bucky’s (Sebastian Stan) past, Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), return to wreak havoc – but not before we can whisk through Lagos for a showdown between Cap (Evans) and Crossbones (a menacingly deformed Frank Grillo). A few explosions and destroyed buildings later and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Black Widow (Johansson) and Falcon (the always-excellent Anthony Mackie) find themselves facing the consequences of their actions.
Consequences aren’t a word you normally hear around the superhero table, where punch-ups and collateral damage are the order of the day. But whether it’s intentional, or whether we’ve reached the point in the cycle where the cumulative weight of all the destruction so far renders it simply unignorable, Civil War tackles the issue head-on – and it pays off handsomely. Soon enough, Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) and Black Widow are calling for the Avengers to sign an accord giving the UN the power to oversee their actions, while Cap and his followers are flying the flag for freedom from monitoring, regulation and general responsibility.
The moral debate is far from a subtle one, but screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have a feel for the primary-coloured tone of the MCU, managing to fuse the broad strokes of Stark’s arrogance and Cap’s stubbornness with the intimate emotion of Cap’s relationship with Bucky. When the punches land – and superhero movies love nothing more than a fist fight – for once, they have some real impact.
It’s especially obvious in the film’s central set piece, which sees every Marvel character under the sun collide at an abandoned airport – a beautifully realised face-off that, tellingly, replaces the usual outward-facing public danger with inward-looking conflict. At the helm, the Russo brothers (who also helmed The Winter Soldier, one of the MCU’s best) once again display their talent for both piecing together snappy dialogue (they’ve previously worked on Arrested Development) and for throwing their camera in all directions to deliver almost literally wall-to-wall action.
It helps that the cast, now familiar with their roles and familiar to audiences, don’t need origin stories anymore (thank goodness) and can make the most of their brief screen-time – Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, for example, steals multiple scenes with his larger-than-life one-liners. He does it so well, in fact, that his character works better here than in his own standalone adventure.
And yet, for all the brow-beating and looking back over years of heroics, the most exciting bits of Civil War are actually its newcomers. Chadwick Boseman is superb as Black Panther, an enigmatic addition to the comic book canon, with an intriguing motivation to match his eye-catching costume and cool fighting style. Tom Holland, meanwhile, is amazing as a young Peter Parker, who gets excited about meeting other heroes, chats during combat and enthuses about “that really old movie… The Empire Strikes Back”. Their charismatic turns, one bad-ass, the other brilliantly funny, are a refreshing reminder of the ability of these otherworldly characters to deliver entertainment, pure and simple.
Does Zemo’s plan really hold water upon further inspection? Not really. And does what amounts to one gigantic game of Super Smash Bros. really warrant a two-and-a-half-hour runtime? No. But while Civil War sees the Marvel universe reach near-critical mass, it also manages to shoulder the burden and shrug it off as lightly as popcorn. The ideal balance between serious and silly, Captain America’s latest sequel is the perfect antidote to superhero fatigue. You might even find yourself looking forward to the next Spider-Man reboot – and that’s how you know you’re cured.
Captain America: Civil War is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
Where can I watch Captain America: Civil War online on pay-per-view VOD?
Photo: Zade Rosenthal / Marvel