Watching Civil War, I couldn’t help but see it as one half of a fascinating case study. On the one hand there is the DC film universe. Plagued with a fractured and sparse library of movies, its latest entry, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice did very little to instill faith in fans that the franchise was headed in the right direction. Indeed, my colleague ALuckyBum and I mused about its failings for just over an hour. Characters are introduced with little personal motivation or explanation, other characters behave erratically and the storyline overall failed to form a cohesive whole. The Marvel universe, on the other hand, has been carefully constructed over the last 8 years. Beginning with Iron Man, characters have slowly been introduced with their own films; and while some (Iron Man, Captain America) have been more successful than others (Hulk, non-existent Black Widow/Hawkeye films), overall the universe has been built slowly but surely. Civil War is yet another brick in this impressive structure, and one that is sure to leave lasting repercussions in the Marvel cinematic universe.
Before we go any further, I want to assure you that this review is spoiler-free. I understand the hype around this film has reached meteoric heights, and not everyone has the privilege to see it right away. I will be referencing information that should be familiar to fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and will assume that you have watched the previous films – but nothing from Civil War. The images are all pulled from trailers as well. With that out of the way, let’s get to it!
At its core, Civil War is a conflict born of fear and guilt. Following the Avengers large-scale confrontations that left thousands dead in their wake, the government makes its move to reign them in. Tony Stark (Iron Man) faces a crisis of conscience, and is also a bit sore for another reason that I won’t get into here. The Avengers need boundaries, he decides, for the good of the world. Steve Rogers (Captain America), ever the champion of the underdog, sees no need to involve unnecessary red tape. The Avengers are effective because of their mobility and strength, and any delay in their deployment could mean more innocent lives lost: this time due to their inaction. The powder keg for their confrontation rests with James Buchanan, otherwise known as “Bucky” or “The Winter Soldier”. After a series of events seems to put Bucky in an indefensible position, Captain America rushes to his aid in order to spare his friend any more needless suffering as a puppet of Hydra.
While Captain America is doing his best to clear his best friend’s name, Iron Man is putting out fires left and right as renegade members of his squad repeatedly fly in the face of authority. All the while, a more nefarious plot lingers just below the surface as our heroes battle it out with one another.
The story of Civil War flows seamlessly. Sure, it assumes that the viewer has some cursory knowledge of the Marvel universe, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. With so much to cover, one could be reasonably concerned that it would be difficult to cover the 100-issue epic that was the Civil War arc in the comics, spanning across multiple heroes and series. Civil War puts this fear to rest, however, as it skillfully spins its story within 2 and a half hours. Characters are introduced, alliances are formed (and broken), and the plot hits objective after objective as it brings viewers along for the ride.
One thing I’ve come to appreciate is that Marvel has become incredibly skilled at the open-ending. In typical Marvel fashion, the central storyline wraps up neatly enough, but other loose ends are left for viewers to look forward to in the next installment, or set of installments. Like any good page-turner, you will leave the theater ready for your next adventure.
Our central actors (RDJ and Chris Evans) do tremendous work in Civil War, but the standout stars are to be found in the smaller roles. Rudd’s Ant-Man is executed well and offers some bouts of comedic relief, while Paul Bettany’s Vision and Elisabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch continue their respective character development. These roles resonate with us because of their history – we know these characters well from their previous entries, and can appreciate their personalities and motivations. There are two characters, however, that we did not get the chance to meet prior to Civil War: Black Panther and Spider-Man. To Civil War’s tremendous credit, these characters are arguably among the strongest in the film.
Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther is excellently crafted. Spurred to action due to personal tragedy, we get to see him evolve over the course of the film – more so than any of the other characters. His movements are fluid, with some hints at the mystic elements of his fighting style integrated throughout. A reserved and skillful warrior, he will certainly be a tremendous ally in future films, and I’m looking forward to the standalone film slated for 2018.
For me, however, Tom Holland’s Spider Man stood out as the best performance in the movie. Certainly, Tobey Maguire did some great work as Peter Parker in the early 2000s, but since then the mantle of the web-slinging hero has failed to find a proper master. Tom Holland is everything Peter Parker is supposed to be: shy, insecure, uncertain, but still determined to fight for the “little guy”…because he used to be the little guy. His introduction and participation in the film is fantastic, one might even say amazing. If Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor was to be the superhero film’s cardinal sin this year, Tom Holland’s Spider Man is its mea culpa.
The action scenes of the film is your standard Marvel-fare, which is to say that they look spectacular. Once again Black Panther and Spider Man stood out in these scenes, each with their own unique style and movements that complement their abilities. I was also very impressed with Captain America’s choreography in the action sequences. His trusty shield sees some heavy use, and seeing a human being in peak physical shape in action is sure to motivate you to head to the gym!
Not too long ago I wrote a piece that Civil War was going to be a jump-start that the Marvel universe desperately needs. While their universe is certainly broad and better-constructed than their DC counterpart, the previous Marvel films, notably Avengers 2, disappointed a wide swath of the fanbase. The work that the Russo brothers have done in Civil War will no doubt reinvigorate these fans, and bring them back for more as the Marvel Cinematic Universe enters phase 3.
Go, see it now. Oh, and stick around through all of the credits. You won’t regret it.