CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR may be the strongest Marvel movie yet, without necessarily being the best. If it IS the best, it is because it is dependent on the stellar groundwork laid down by previous movies. Credit shouldn’t be contained – a relay team has won this race, not just the anchor runner. Instead, it feels more appropriate to say that CIVIL WAR is an incredibly satisfying culmination of the kind of long form storytelling with which Marvel has become so proficient. It’s like the Russos have made an amazing season finale.
That’s not to say CIVIL WAR isn’t a great movie in its own right. It really is. As you’re watching more and more characters peel in and out of the narrative, you keep waiting for the story to stumble or lose focus. Not only are many of your favourites back (sans Thor and Hulk who are on location for RAGNORAK) but the Russos even have the time to introduce Black Panther, and completely rehabilitate an old favourite (more on him later).
Thankfully, for all that, this absolutely feels like a Captain America movie. Marvel have cracked the code in how to bring a potentially cheesy and “irrelevant” character into our world. Steve Rogers is a patriot, but more – he is a soldier of principle and loyalty. In our world of governmental overreach, Steve is cast as anti-establishment. His position is admirable, but also fallible. Resulting in mistakes and giving him cause to question himself. Such a man can only be suspicious when a fluid and morally bankrupt United Nations demand that he and his friends only save those they deem worth saving. Only intervene when in their collective interests. But who is he to decide how such world-changing power is wielded?
This is the key to CIVIL WAR’s success. The #TeamCap and #TeamIronMan is all well and good, but if the conflict isn’t credible, and rooted in their arcs over this movie and previous, then it would amount to very little. Cap is right, but then, so is Iron Man. Stark is the recovering addict, fully aware that his unchecked genius and lack of self control has resulted in much damage. To him, oversight is the minder he needs to make sure he needn’t worry about his own faulty judgement.
The stakes of their conflict aren’t mortal they are moral. The damage is bound to friendship and will have consequences beyond this movie. It may start out as fun (the airport fight is an utter delight, a perfect marriage of character and choreography. I can think of no greater distillation off comic book action than we are treated to here) but it evolves into something far deeper and emotional. A fault of Marvel movies has been a similarity in climaxes, but CIVIL WAR boils it down to the characters. Millions of lives do not hang in the balance. The world is not about to explode. It’s a battle for the soul of the Avengers.
All this, and it even manages to save Spider-Man. Sprinkled in sparingly, but effectively, the web slinger bounds onto the stage with humour and joy – and gives a small speech about what heroism means to him. One which truly sums up why we love the characters both here, and over at the Distinguished Competition.
CIVIL WAR is a fantastically enjoyable movie which also has the nerve to articulate strong themes and hold the morals of its characters to the fire. If there is a downside, it’s only that like comic books generally, the universe must live on in perpetuity, and it will become increasingly difficult to wring out tension and drama. There are SOME early signs of it here, as the movie ends on a note which seems designed to comfort the audience, when a starker (no pun intended) end might have been the braver choice.
But that is a complaint from the spoiled. CIVIL WAR is as good as superhero movies have ever been.
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