In the ever-expanding and increasingly more colorful Marvel Cinematic Universe, there have been two characters that have kept the human and emotional core grounded within these fantastical stories – Captain America and Iron Man. In Captain America: Civil War, the philosophical differences between these two heroes spark a "war" that drives a rift through an Avengers team that we have seen evolve and mature in multiple preceding films.
The title is very misleading, as most of the film deals with the buildup of the central conflict, setting up two new heroes (Black Panther and Spider-Man), and constructing a meaningful follow up to the excellent Winter Soldier as it pertains to Cap's (Chris Evans) relationship to his friend Bucky/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). While it succeeds in part to do these things, Civil War is a mish-mash of the grounded reality of Winter Soldier and the comedy and brevity of the Avengers films. Needless to say, this combination of conflicting tones and an overabundance of characters does not pay off.
Here is what the film does well. Spider-Man, played by Tom Holland, is the best incarnation of the web-slinger since 2004's Spider-Man 2. Despite being obviously forced into the narrative to serve literally one action set piece, Holland is able to combine the light tone of the character with the weight of an emotionally conflicted teenager. His costume is also great, featuring moving eyes that accentuate his mannerisms. Likewise, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) gets a strong introduction that is interwoven into the main narrative and is the most badass Marvel hero put to film yet by Disney. There are also some interesting developments with Paul Bettany's Vision that was introduced in Age of Ultron.
However, with how well the film handles its supporting characters, its main heroes are woefully underserved and underdeveloped. Captain America has next to no arc in the film at all. He takes a stand and roots himself as the film's moral center (albeit a shaky one at best) and does not change as a person or see his decision have dire consequences on his friends. On the other hand, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) takes a couple of dramatic turns throughout the film, many of which seem rushed, especially in the third act. Their main reason for fighting each other is ultimately based on too many jumps in logic for it to seem genuine – and that goes for the entirety of the fighting in Civil War.
It's not a spoiler to say that the Avengers pull punches on each other (we have seen plenty of it in the trailers). This, again, feels inauthentic to what a legitimate war would be like. If the characters aren't 100 percent invested in the fighting, why should the audience? The action itself (apart from the airport scene – the only part of this film that will be remembered), is filmed sporadically and is a far cry from the action depicted by the same directors (Anthony and Joe Russo) in Winter Soldier. The Russos employ a strange mixture of sped-up frame rates and hand-held photography to portray most of the hand-to-hand combat in the film – an effect that comes off as disorienting. Enormous title cards yell at the audience every time a location changes in the film and the overall cinematography and direction of the film comes off as bland and unimaginative when not in action.
Perhaps the biggest failure of Civil War is its effect on the rest of the MCU. For a film branded as it is, Civil War is largely inconsequential and retroactively makes previous films (notably both Avengers films and Winter Soldier), something they were not. The whole crux of Civil War's plot revolves around the assumption that the Avengers are not government sanctioned and that they have caused massive collateral damage. Civil War seems to ignore S.H.I.E.L.D.'s role (a government agency) in the Avengers or the multitude of times the heroes have evacuated series prior to engaging their foes. It's a weird dynamic since viewing these prior Marvel films is a prerequisite to watching Civil War.
The fact is that the Avengers are never going to be able to be controlled by a government agency. When Thanos comes knocking, you bet the Avengers aren't going to ask the United Nations if its okay that they defend the planet. This makes Civil War seem more like an exercise than a necessary or relevant development in the story the MCU is attempting to tell, both on a large scale and with its characters.
On the whole, Civil War doesn't develop its main players in meaningful ways and instead forces them into situations purely for fan-service. It's a film that teases greater socio-political themes, but falls back into doing what has worked for audiences since the MCU was created – colorful characters exchanging banter while fighting each other. But hey, Spider-Man was really cool, wasn't he?Our Rating: Note