Strange to think that after the slight disappointment of Age of Ultron, and the perfectly adequate but seemingly unnecessary Ant-Man, I was resigned to believe Marvel Studios had peaked with the excellent Captain America: Winter Soldier.
Boy, was I ever wrong.
Looking at all the balls this film had to juggle, it seemed destined to be a disjointed, muddled, colossal disaster. (Sort of like another superhero film I recently had the displeasure to see.) Think about it: not only did the film have to produce a Captain America sequel expected to exceed or at least equal the standard set by Winter Soldier, it also was a de facto sequel to Age of Ultron, bringing a who’s-who of characters into the mix. Then it had to introduce and establish the entirely new character of Black Panther and reintroduce audiences to an all-new version of Spider-man.
That’s a lot to deal with. But man, did they ever knock it out the park with this one. Seriously, the film surpassed all of my expectations and then some, taking the top spot for my favorite superhero film at this point.
I won’t bore you with a synopsis the trailers have already established, so I’ll jump into highlights with no spoilers.
Highlight 1: The writing
As already stated, the writers had a lot of threads to tie together. That was something which underwhelmed a bit in the Age of Ultron, which suffered from too many plot points that took the audience’s attention away from the main story. Obviously the lesson was learned, because despite the task of working with twelve entirely different and interesting characters (not to mention the supporting cast), they managed to keep a tight focus on the main trinity of Captain America, Iron Man, and the Winter Soldier. There were no bizarre or hard to follow moments in a truly enjoyable blend of action, drama, and humor that continues to be a Marvel Studios trademark.
And unlike another film which will go unnamed, the reason for the disagreement that climaxes into civil war is a valid one. It is a difference of ideology that has slowly developed from the former films and manifests itself in a way that comes across as truly rational. Would the world really sit still and watch enhanced beings battle it out without repercussions or administration? And if you happen to be such a being, can you submit to a body of government which may or may not have your best interests at heart?
At the heart of the struggle is Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier. I truly enjoyed his character in this film, something I wasn’t sure of going in. But the story makes his character a pivotal one, both as a means for the differences between the two sides (oversight vs loyalty), but also as a way to pull the new character Black Panther into the fray. Which brings me to my next point.
Highlight 2: T’Challa
Fans have been clamoring for an appearance by the Black Panther for a while, and he doesn’t disappoint in his debut. Garbed in a nigh-impenetrable costume and possessing heightened strength, agility, and reflexes, Black Panther is a match for most members of the Avengers. Chadwick Boseman does an incredible job with the character, presenting him as noble and commanding yet extremely dangerous, especially when on the warpath for the death of his father. Black Panther steals nearly ever scene he’s in, and should wet audience’s appetites for his solo film. Kudos to the writing team for presenting the character in a way that makes sense for the film without overshadowing the main characters.
Highlight 3: Spider-Man and Ant Man
Any anxieties about actor Tom Holland or yet another incarnation of Spider-man can be laid to rest. In just a few short scenes, Marvel manages to present the quintessential Spider-man with all of the wit and fun, and none of the moody angst that hung over the previous films. I had my doubts about such a young version, but Tom played nicely against the older actors, standing out with his youth and spot-on depiction. Here is a Peter Parker enthralled by a recruiting visit from Tony Stark, and a Spider-man nearly overwhelmed by giddiness when facing the heroes he obviously has nothing but admiration for.
And he is a powerhouse. It was incredibly cool to see him steal the show for a while, battling nearly Captain America’s entire team and proving his worth. You quickly realize how powerful Spider-man really is, while dying with laughter at his boyish quips and dialogue. Really great stuff.
And the movie even makes room for Ant-Man to take the floor, in a scene of enormous proportion that people will definitely be talking about. I love that none of the trailers spoiled that mind-boggling moment, allowing the audience to be staggered when it occurs. I can say no more, other than Paul Rudd makes the most of his character’s moments.
Highlight 4: Everyone else
This review would go far too long if I broke down every character. There are a lot. But as mentioned, no one really gets lost and everyone has something to contribute. Some might point at Vision, but I can understand the dilemma in the use of his character, which suffers from being simply too powerful, which is probably also why Hulk was conveniently absent. Fortunately Vision’s interactions with Wanda create an interesting but not distracting development which will no doubt bloom in future installments.
I really enjoyed the camaraderie among all the characters, obviously benefited by the actors’ many films together. You feel that these people truly like and care about each other, which ups the ante when the characters have to face off. Black Widow continues to make a case for her own title film, and stalwarts like Hawkeye and War Machine round things out.
Highlight 5: The action
I truly admired the intense fight scenes in Winter Soldier, something that Civil War continues and even kicks up a notch. I believe the action in this film is the most dynamic I’ve seen in a comic-book movie, and what I really loved was the clarity. No murky, muddled scenes of massive destruction or blurry, hard-to-follow battle scenes. There is a megaton of action in Civil War, and from start to finish I was pinned to my seat. The final battle of Bucky and Cap vs Tony is both brutal and heartbreaking, especially in view of the film’s climatic revelation.
The only nagging thing:
I suppose if there’s any cause for complaint in this film, it would be Baron Zemo, the ‘villain’ of the movie. I put quotes on villain, because let’s face it: he barely makes a ripple. He serves the purpose of having someone be responsible for the chaos, but I truly hope there are bigger plans for his development. Baron Zemo is much more colorful of a character in the comics, and hopefully will make a more threatening appearance in the future.
Still, that’s a small demerit against the juggernaut of pure entertainment that Civil War is. Five stars, folks. Five stars.
When Bard Constantine isn’t consumed by pop culture, he writes gritty futures and far-flung fantasy. See more at bardwritesbooks.com