CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
Civil War is the third of the Captain America films, following Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). That said, Civil War ends up being less Captain America 3 than it does The Avengers 3. What we have is essentially an Avengers film in all but name. There are certain bits of the Captain America mythos that are present in particular, the expansion of the Winter Soldier storyline and reintroduction of Bucky, as well as the start of his relationship with Peggy Carters daughter Sharon. More than that though, the film offers a wide line-up of Avengers characters, as well as the introduction of others that have not been part of the action before.
The film adapts Civil War (2006-7), which was widely publicised as a major event in Marvel Comics (although was notedly not preceded by Captain Americas name). Civil War was a seven-issue limited series, as well had continuity and lead-up that ran through over two dozen other Marvel titles. In the storyline, the US governments efforts to implement the Superhero Registration Act, which would compel every superhero to reveal their secret identity, pits The Avengers against each other. The dramatis personae contains a massive line-up of Marvel characters far more than we get in the film including the X-Men, The Hulk, The Punisher, Luke Cage, Sub-Mariner and even several super-villains. The series ends with Captain America being killed, Tony Stark appointed head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avengers split into two new groups The Mighty Avengers and The New Avengers, consisting respectively of those who chose to be registered and those who did not. The film keeps general faith to the Civil War storyline, strips the line-up down and jettisons many of the peripheral pieces of plot. More interestingly, there is no US Superhero Registration Act and the film is less concerned about secret and public identities than it is UN oversight over superheroes (which tends to dig awkwardly into issues of US unilateralism and surprisingly enough rewrites Captain America as a libertarian), while that story has also been blended with the Winter Soldier plotline.
The film mounts an impressive line-up of characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We get all the familiar ones from Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, The Falcon and War Machine. There is the omission of some regulars such as Thor, The Hulk and Nick Fury apparently because Nick Fury added nothing to the story, while the others made the battle too powerful. Paul Rudds Ant Man, who appeared only a few months earlier, makes his debut as a member of The Avengers and we get to see him as Giant Man (which technically was an alternate guise adopted by Hank Pym as opposed to Scott Lang). Paul Bettanys Vision and Elizabeth Olsens Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, both just introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), are now full-fledged members of the group and we see the embryonic beginnings of the relationship between them that culminates in marriage according to comic-book canon. Chadwick Boseman turns up as Black Panther, who was the first ever Black superhero in 1966. (The film gives mention of his homeland of Wakanda, has his father TChaka killed and Wakanda is mentioned as the source of vibranium but oddly we get no explanation of Black Panthers powers although you can imagine that that was held over for the Black Panther standlone film that has been announced for 2018).
The major new introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe this time is of Spider-Man. Before the MCU began in 2008, copyright of various characters was held at different studios. 20th Century Fox owns X-Men, for instance, while Universal holds the rights to The Incredible Hulk but has been happy to lease them back to Marvel. The rights to Spider-Men are held by Sony who have made various stabs at the characters the Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire trilogy beginning with Spider-Man (2002) and the reboot duology starring Andrew Garfield starting with The Amazing Spider-Man (2012). With the most recent Spider-Man films The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) being inexplicably regarded as a flop (even though it was the twelfth biggest box-office film of its year), Sony decided to reboot Spider-Man for the second time in less than a decade and have recast the part with Tom Holland for the announced Spider-Man Homecoming (2017). When I read about the premise for Homecoming that of recasting Peter Parker as a high-school student it seemed like the flailing desperation of a studio trying to milk further mileage from a property by rewriting it for a younger demographic. In one of their smartest decisions, Sony decided to accept Marvels offer of conducting a crossover and premiere Hollands Spider-Man here. The result is a stroke of genius. The best scenes in the film (outside of the action sequences) are actually those with Holland who makes for a nerdily enthusiastic Peter Parker who leaps into the web-slinging action with gung ho while giving geek lectures on the tensile strength of webbing and taking inspiration from that old movie The Empire Strikes Back . It makes me highly excited to see what Sony do with Homecoming now.
A lot of people were calling Captain America: The Winter Soldier the best Marvel movie yet the same ones, it seems saying the same about Civil War (and just about every Marvel film until the next one comes along). I had mixed feelings about The Winter Soldier. The Russo Brothers kept the action going at a fast lick but not enough of it felt like it stood out when the film was over. With that in mind, Civil War left me surprised. The Russos have upped their game from The Winter Soldier by a quantum level. The film exists as one giant superheroic punch-up much the same as Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) did six months earlier but far less grim and dour in tone. The kinetic pace of the film is exhilarating. It hurtles from one sequence to the next the opening fight through the marketplaces of Lagos; the dazzling seat-edge sequences with various people on vehicles hurtling through a road tunnel in Germany; and the climactic dust up in the Soviet cryogenic bunker that pits The Cap and Iron Man at each others throats with lethal regard. The films showcapper however is the sequence at Leipzig airport with all of the superheroes assembled furiously fighting one another around the runway and terminals, leaping from overhead struts, crashing airplanes and other vehicles down on another. Its the sort of thing you watch superhero films for.
Where Captain America: Civil War is slightly less than a great Marvel film is much of what happens outside the action scenes. Take them out and it would be a fairly ordinary film. What made The Avengers work probably the best of all the Marvel films so far is that the camaraderie, humour and playoff between the characters made the film. The action element there was secondary to that and never anything truly earth-shattering. The Russo Brothers dont quite seem to have their fingers on the pulse of what Joss Whedon did well the humour and character interplay between the characters here is muted, apart from the scenes when Tom Hollands Spider-Man enters the show and mostly the superheroics are left to carry the film.
(Nominee for Best Actor (Tom Holland) at this sites Best of 2016 Awards).