If you’re going to make a film where the conflict is self-created like in Avengers: Age of Ultron, that’s ok, but to up the emotional intensity and the battle of principles, then Captain America: Civil War is a better deal. Perhaps, the recent elegiac seriousness of Batman vs Superman just highlights the interpersonal stakes, as well as the whimsy, humour and emotion of Civil War. This latest Marvel film is a family feud, where the ‘enemies’ are friends who play on each other’s flaws and foibles. Dawn of Justice was a slow build up grudge match refereed by tech wizard Jesse Eisenberg and crashed by Wonder Woman and a hybrid Tolkien space orc. Civil War’s build up was purposeful, never slow and luckily it featured no mutants from a different story franchise whatsoever.
After Ultron, though, I was worried. That film felt visually messy and dealt with too many characters in a perfunctory fashion. This time around, characterisation is a strength. Yes, there’s plenty of action and it was painful as well as funny, but what they did with characters shows a way forward. As a franchise, you could expect every character to appear, but instead of crowding each scene with them all, or making lame excuses for their absence, Civil War made certain missing persons the motivation for the ones left. And this is how it should be, instead of flippant reasoning for some in Ultron, plot and character are intertwined. Because this is how well told stories actually do work.
In fact, this is the theme: how personal motivations and principles are shaped by loss and absence. It’s about how the legacy of the past infects the present day, poisoning everything.
Being a Captain America outing rather than an Avengers story, principles and politics and the past were always going to be in the mix, and they are, just not in the way you may think. It was less WWII epic and more cold war. Just when you suspect everything is about to be resolved one way, it ‘heads south’ to quote the Cap. It’s definitely cold and stings, but is satisfying enough until the next episode. Yet, even as we all know there is another story, and another ad infinitum, this film still functions as a complete story, with emotional development and resolutions and everything.
Robert Downey Jnr out acts everyone, but then he’s given the meat to chew on in terms of motivation. Chris Evans, as Steve Rogers, wrestling with the past and weight of moral compassdom also manages to get in a some sweet and funny moments that lift the film. His character is always in danger of being too wooden, or too right, but the vulnerability makes it work. The Black Widow has some truly awesome action sequences and as the character that sees all sides, she is no one’s hero and everyone’s point of view. Yet, again Scarlett Johansson presents another case for her own BW film. Do it Marvel. Just do it. And did I mention Black Panther? So much yes for this character.
Civil War also manages to explain much of the missing past for characters, while it also moves the story forward for others. Best of all, everyone gets to have a reason to be there, even Spider Man. Since I haven’t seen a Spidey film since Tobey left, this was a positive re-intro. And while I have yet to see Ant Man, I really, really want to now.
I could say more, and I’m sorely tempted, but that’d mean spoilers.