As a big comic book fan, and especially Marvel, I’ve been hotly anticipating this film ever since it was announced. Whilst I knew from the offset that it would only be ‘inspired by’ the comic series, and wouldn’t be a direct adaptation (after all, none of the Marvel films have been completely accurate versions of comic book events – and why should they? Don’t you want some surprises?), I was still enthused at the idea of the film, especially as the Russo Brothers would be sticking around to direct. They had already shown, in Winter Soldier, their adeptness in crafting a multi-character film without it being bogged down at any point, so I was excited to see how they handled a film which would bring so many characters, old and new, to the screen.
Obviously there was a bit of trepidation. Last year’s Age of Ultron highlighted how the ‘perfect Marvel scorecard’ is far from that, and was a bit of a damp squib, seeking to replicate things we have already seen rather than delivering something genuinely spectacular. But the trailers looked strong, and that Spider-Man reveal made me giddy with joy – at last a version that doesn’t seem to be wearing moulded plastic, and who looks like he swung straight out the pages of the comics.
Now, before I continue, I’ve seen a load of reviews which felt the need to compare this film with Batman v Superman, often as an excuse to further bash that film. Whilst I can see the tenuous links (both comics…both see one hero fight another), it would only be akin to spending half a review for Star Wars Force Awakens comparing it to Star Trek Into Darkness – they have similarities, but are different entities. So I won’t be doing any of that. My thoughts on BvS can be read elsewhere on this site, let’s just leave it at that shall we.
For those who have been living under a multitude of rocks, Civil War sees the ideologies of Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Steve Rogers (Captain America) pitted against each other when reactions the destruction The Avengers leave in their wake prompts the nations of the world to introduce the Sokovia Accords, restricting the use of abilities and powers without authorisation. Cap sees it as a hindrance to the team being able to help, and also worries about the potential abuse of the team on missions for the wrong reasons, whilst Tony believes it is the best solution, seeing himself personally responsible for some of the innocent deaths caused by their antics. Events occur which bring The Winter Soldier, Buck Barnes, into the news, and this ignites the feud between the pair to higher levels. As we know from the trailers this leads to a forming of sides between the pair, and the inevitable fight.
However….that isn’t the whole story, and there is a lot more bubbling under the surface in this film that we haven’t been told during the bombardment of marketing. Don’t worry, I’m not going to drop casual spoilers here (you know my philosophy – if it ain’t in a trailer, it ain’t in my review), all I will say is that the plot is craftily woven around the action spectacle, and will surprise, shock, and manipulate your loyalties to Team Cap or Team Stark throughout.
So, if I can’t delve into the spoilerific story, let’s look at the handling of such a large cast. Writers Markus and McFeely definitely have a handle on Cap himself, having been the guys behind the previous two films, and as they showed with Winter Soldier they can craft a plot that draws other characters in without any of them feeling shoehorned into proceedings. There is a natural placement feel to all the old faces who return, and the new faces slide into the plot gracefully, especially Black Panther (played by the excellent Chadwick Boseman) who is introduced and progressed to ‘costumed hero’ quite rapidly, but quite naturally in the circumstances of the film. No slow origin needed, just straight to it. Same goes for Spider-Man, after all, does anyone not know who he is? Whilst the inclusion of Spider-Man seems a slight unnecessary (as I mentioned, this isn’t a direct copy of the comic, so Spidey was never needed), it does fit well and introduces a new take on the character in such a great way that it fits. Ant-Man being included is perhaps the only element that feels a little forced, but when it comes to iconic moments on screen during the big fight, you can’t help but love that he was brought in. The Russo Brothers, handling their second Marvel film, had to ensure they played it all well, and made the story flow, and they do an excellent job, delivering a film that even at 2 hours 27 mins feels like it rattled along at a strong pace. Never a dull moment, there is always something driving the plot forward, and the interspersed moments of hard action are as thrilling as you would expect from the guys who gave us Winter Soldier. Their manner in controlling so many characters on screen in an effective way – and it is worth pointing out that the characters fight as teams in the big moments, using each other’s abilities to great effect, showing that they aren’t just all having individual fights in the same place – bodes well for their next Marvel project, Infinity War Parts 1 and 2, which will see pretty much everyone from the films to date come together to take on Thanos.
Action and effects are skilfully handled, although we have another instance of ‘creeping de-aging effect’ much like we saw done to Michael Douglas in Ant-Man, which is almost a good effect but then looks bizarrely ‘body-snatcher-esque’, breaking you from the film to stop being creeped out (you’ll know the scene when you see it). Admittedly it is better than casting a younger actor who looks nothing like the main star in order to do a flashback, but the technology isn’t quite there yet. The rest is as stunning to watch as Winter Soldier was, with that same texture and colour palette. The airport smackdown glimpsed in the trailers is a brilliant action thrill, with some defining moments throughout, but it is not the main focus, nor (in my opinion) the best moment on screen. There are so many stand-out moments (mostly spoilerific…so no clues here) that you would have to be truly cynical to walk away from the film disappointed.
A final nod to the musical score by Henry Jackman, which never overpowers the film, but as good scores should sits in the background, rising to a crescendo at key times, and aiding the overall story emotionally. There are a few moments where it seemed to be inspired by Blade Runner’s theme for some reason (seriously, I heard a slow play of notes that it took me a few minutes to identify, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t Vangelis inspired), but why not be inspired by greatness?
All in all, Civil War is the big event film that Avengers 2 should have been. A thrill from start to finish that never outstays its welcome, and proof that Marvel have still got it (and maybe evidence that the reshuffle that took place behind the scenes last year is paying off). Not copying previous films, not echoing similar beats, it simply delivers.