3 May 2016

Review: Captain America: Civil War

(Dir: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, 2016)

Expectations were more in check this time. After deep disappointment sitting in the cinema watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier (lengthy exegesis here), it was best to go into Captain America: Civil War with them suitably lowered. Right decision. Just to back track... Winter Soldier felt like such a regression into blandness following Captain America: The First Avenger, one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's high watermarks (at least we now have the Agent Carter tv series!). The first hour was really enjoyable and gripping, then it monumentally jumps the shark at exactly one hour and two minutes. Then once you're slowly recovering from that, it jumps the shark again with the Winter Soldier reveal. Now this may be true to the comics, but the film handles it so badly, explaining away something seemingly illogical in a single sentence. Incredulity ensues... in this viewer at least. It never recovers from this, and even the much touted claims that it's a throwback to seventies conspiracy thrillers never holds true either – what, just because there's subterfuge, it's set in Washington DC and has Robert Redford in the cast? That's reaching. So clearly expectations had been tempered, even more so following the frankly poor Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Should we have expected the key flaws of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to ring true here too? Marvel has had plenty of time to hone things in this universe, so it was surprising to see Civil War go down one of the same rabbit holes... blindly held vengeance. Where that seemed like a bewildering motivator to get those two DC icons fighting each other, it likewise feels as if it's utterly unnecessary here too. For the final showdown to be what it is, based solely around this awkwardly manufactured "v" word, feels like utter bullshit. Maybe there is truth to the idea that the only way to destroy this team is from the inside out, but when it's forced in this manner it never rings true. There's always been mildly combustible differences, but this feels nothing like the culmination of that.

Unfortunately the new lazy cop-out for superhero films seems to be having the heroes fight each other. Ignoring the above mentioned finale, at three quarters of the way through to devolve the film into a twelve character showdown split into two warring sides with cgi overloaded fighting... it's just a waste of what's come before. Yes, that's twelve characters... twelve!! That's double the number of members of The Avengers in the first film, just for context. This serves the story in no appreciable way whatsoever, and sure it might do it for some people, but really it's just boring when there is zero actual threat or chance that it has any consequence beyond wounded egos and further mild rifts in the group. Thank god Paul Rudd's Ant-Man adds some very brief moments of humour, just to remind you that amidst the pointless po-faced "we have to fight each other" nonsense, it is possible to have some fun.

Civil War rarely feels anything like a Captain America film. Sure, he is ostensibly the lead, but most of what's covered here is really just a direct Avengers sequel. The fall-out of Age of Ultron certainly needed addressing, but as the very good opening sequence proves, things can happen in the meanwhile before playing this out in Infinity War, letting a Captain America story run off on it's own (with a smidgen of added Falcon and Black Widow if necessary). What the film did not need was this much Tony Stark/Iron Man focus, the excess assortment of other characters, and not to mention two brand new characters too. Black Panther offers an intriguing taste of the character and I look forward to his stand-alone film, but the inclusion of Spider-Man serves exactly zero purpose here. Of course it's relevant for the "universe" but it is this film we're watching and he only adds bloat (slightly awkwardly it has to be said) to an already long film.

At least for the first half, Civil War is very entertaining, probably more so than Winter Soldier. That well-shot opening action sequence and the globetrotting help, as do some of the scenes of debate (ie trying to bring rational arguments and intelligence into proceedings) and a little bit of heart. Likewise, barely a mention of Hydra is a move in the right direction, as is giving the Winter Soldier (the character that is) some actual context – which if done in the last film would've helped immeasurably. It's just unfortunate that the second half overshadows all of this.

Much to its detriment, Civil War is really Avengers 2.5. It covers ground that doesn't really fit a Captain America film, and it's bloated beyond belief – it certainly does not need two thirds of the characters that are in it. The denouement is utterly disappointing, and it's under the misguided delusion that having your heroes nonsensically fight each other actually serves some rational purpose – and if that's all you're building too, it's a depressing waste of the source material available. It still feels necessary to ask, what was the point of this film? Yet again, Marvel proves that it's the origins stories, divorced of the bigger picture and the wider group of characters, that are the ones worth getting excited about.

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