Captain America was once regarded by many as the “least interesting” member of the Avengers. In a post-modern, America-critical world, it’s easy to see how Captain America struggled with finding his place. He has a lot in common with Superman; being too clean-cut, too patriotic and too bland to become anything more than a two-dimensional caricature. The original CAPTAIN AMERICA film was okay, but it did little to dissuade the critics of those observations.
Then WINTER SOLDIER happened, and everything changed.
I was hugely impressed with WINTER SOLDIER, and it changed my view of Cap. Suddenly he was interesting and current; possibly the most interesting Avenger rather than the least. When CIVIL WAR was announced, I was pretty excited about where the story would take this character…
So, what’s the skinny of CIVIL WAR? I’ll get this out of the way: it’s good. CIVIL WAR is, as you’d probably expect from Marvel, slick, well-directed and pulse-pounding. But, equally, it doesn’t seem to succeed to the same degree as WINTER SOLDIER.
The set-up presents an interesting ethical quandary. Post AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, the gang takes on a new enemy in foreign territory. The plan goes awry, there are civilian casualties (despite the bad guy being neutralised), and all eyes are suddenly on the Avengers. The natural human reaction to view different as “wrong” comes to the fore, and the Avengers – as “enhanced” humans – become the target of public concern. Thaddeus Ross insists that the Avengers become subject to the Serkovia Accords, which will place them under the direct control of the United Nations. As the various Avengers decide whether they will submit to this plan, a terrorist strikes at the UN: killing many supporters of the Accords. The attacker is identified as Bucky Barnes, the antagonist of WINTER SOLDIER. Captain America thinks that Bucky might not be responsible, and so goes on the run with him. This creates a divide between the Avengers. Some side with Steve Rogers, others with Tony Stark – aka Iron Man – and the “civil war” of the title comes to fruition…
There are many big ideas in CIVIL WAR, and the film attempts to turn expectations on the head in some ways. Rogers isn’t the conservative you’d expect him to be: rather he becomes the fugitive. Stark as the counterpoint for Cap is a nice idea, and the film explains how and why this is the case by exploring his background (which dovetails with that of Bucky and Captain America). This is handled well, and post-AVENGERS ASSEMBLE Stark is still struggling to come to terms with PTSD, which is even costing him his relationship with Pepper Potts. Equally, the “sides” that many of the characters take are interesting, because natural assumptions such as Black Widow’s affiliation are again switched about-face (she sides with Stark, agreeing that the heroes should be held accountable for their actions).
I should note that these themes in superhero movies are nothing new. I felt that CIVIL WAR echoed many elements of WATCHMEN (Nixon’s outlawing of masked vigilantes being similar to Ross’s insistence that the Avengers be subject to the Serkovia Accords). The themes of prejudice has been examined in the X-MEN movies, although X-MEN in comic and film did a much better job of this. Some of the characters in CIVIL WAR even discuss this (querying whether the Accords will end in registration), and given that the Marvel films are set in (or at least semi-share) the same universe as X-MEN it’s interesting that these elements find a home here. More recently, BATMAN V SUPERMAN conducted a far more detailed – and much more serious – examination of the topics of accountability and fear of the different. However, the tone of CIVIL WAR is very different to these movies, and none of these concepts are particularly dwelt upon here.
For me, the biggest criticism of CIVIL WAR has to be that this really isn’t a Captain America film. What we’re watching here is AVENGERS 2.5: there are literally loads of characters on screen, and some feel superfluous. Tom Holland makes a great Spiderman, but his introduction slows the pace of the film, and really feels jammed in. Equally, I thought ANT-MAN was one of last year’s top superhero films, and Paul Rudd was fantastic in the role, but his appearance in CIVIL WAR is unnecessary. Many of the characters seem to have been introduced for the sole purpose of the showdown in the latter part of the second act – almost to justify the “civil war” of the title – but the film wouldn’t suffer for their absence.
All of that said, CIVIL WAR is great fun. If you’ve enjoyed the recent spate of “lighter” superhero films from Marvel, then you’re bound to enjoy CIVIL WAR.