Friday, 29 April 2016

Captain America: Civil War

It is eight years since Iron Man first graced our screens, introducing the world to a Marvel Cinematic Universe that has continued to grow both in its cast but also in its scope. With Captain America: Civil War it feels like the universe has reached a definitive high point.

With this many characters jockeying for screen time, it would be easy for the threads to become tangled, but the Russo brothers have masterly built a thriller which gives everyone a place in a jigsaw puzzle that under lesser hands would have fallen into disarray. It’s near impossible not to make comparisons to the other big Versus movie of the year, and to say there is little to no comparison would be an understatement. This is a vastly superior film

From the start it is important to note that while the cast list would suggest otherwise: this is squarely a Captain America film and not Avengers 3. I was lucky enough to see the film as a triple bill screening alongside First Avenger and Winter Soldier, and viewed that way you realise that these movies stand not just as a technical trilogy but actually a three part story. This is the evolution of not just Cap, but of Bucky too, as they build from being young adults in Brooklyn to take on the roles destined for them.

Like Winter Soldier before it, this has all the elements of a great spy thriller, with the superhero backdrop as Rogers must work under the radar to try and prove his friends innocence while Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo tries to frame and discredit him at every turn. 

While it draws on many elements of the graphic novel bearing the same name - the need for Superhero supervision leading directly from a deadly superhero inflicted explosion being an obvious one - this story is unafraid to jump off from this starting point and packs plenty of surprises too, and for that it deserves a lot of credit because none of these plots feel forced.

Right back to Avengers Assemble it has been clear that Rogers and Stark are peculiar bedfellows, both sharing very different world views. The further on through the story we have got this has only exemplified, with Stark's guilt growing deeper with every passing calamity. As the mother of a dead boy chastises him for his role in the Battle of Sokovia, he finally reaches a breaking point. While his Ultron project may have failed to put the shield around the world, he cannot sit idly by any longer, realising something needs to be done. 

He is not entirely without fault of course - he (like many) wrongly believes in Bucky's guilt after the UN is bombed, and refuses to listen to Cap's explanation that there is a darker force at work, and this is where the two men's stories will separate at last. Iron Man is ready to be the soldier the world requires, while Captain America instead evokes the very thing Dr Erskine saw in him way back in 1942, that he will put what is right above his orders every time. 

He is ultimately a good man, even if that means he cannot be a good Avenger, or a good soldier. The emotional crux of the film, as the final battle reigns down is the moment he realises he cannot kill Stark. He will defend Bucky to his last breath, even giving up his role as Captain America if needs be, but he cannot kill Stark. 

The film also marks the first appearance on film of Black Panther, as well as the long awaited appearance of Spider-Man in his rightful place alongside these heroes, and both is handled perfectly. Boseman’s Panther is a master warrior, introduced in the throes of an epic chase through the streets after telling Black Widow simply that he will kill Bucky himself if needs be, to avenge his late father. He is a stoic if somewhat silent protector for his people, and it will be interesting to see the character grow when given his own stage. 

Without harping on too far in comparison between this and BvS, the reason this succeeds where the latter failed is that it is bursting to the seams with fun, something Dawn of Justice lacked entirely. The film is sidesplitting in its gags, and they just keep coming and coming and coming. I feel certain I need to see the film again because in laughing so hard I will have missed others. 

While everyone from Ant Man to Falcon have their moments, nowhere is this more true than in the introduction of Peter Parker.

Seeing Stark visit him and Aunt May (nice to see a very different take on May - “aunts come in all shapes and sizes”) was a nice touch because it made it feel real. If he had simply turned up on the tarmac at the airport something would have felt missing, but now we have seen just enough of his world to make us want to come back for more. This is a Spider-man far younger than any we have encountered on screen, but the fresh faced Holland steals every scene he is in. 

When we get to the true introduction therefore at the airport, we can take a step back and see the sequence through his eyes. These are character’s we have known for years so we forget just how majestic they are. Yet to see this young guy in their presence, desperate for approval - but at the same time holding his own with enough quick talking smarts to put even Stark to shame - puts the entire sequence into perspective, and also helps further Stark’s point (while inadvertently also pointing towards Cap’s). Children are following them. They have to hold themselves to a bigger standard.

It is also telling that Daniel Bruhl is by some margin the most understated of Marvel villains. There are no electric whips or red skulls here. He is just a man. A mercenary who’s very goal is to turn the Avengers upon one another. He doesn't need an arsenal of weapons or gadgets or even an ability, he just needs to light the fuse and watch as they blow the hell out of one another. 

This was a wise move on the part of the Russo’s because ultimately Zemo is of only a passing importance. He is the catalyst for the fight to come, rather than being the end game. The audience is here to see Captain America and Iron Man do battle, and when the film reaches its inevitable climax (with a reveal that has been perfectly portended while not overtly spoiled throughout), that is exactly what we get. 

This has been the point the franchise has grown to over many years, cracks showing in our heroes ideologies running all the way back to their first joint adventure in Avengers Assemble, but here that story reaches a tremendous climax, and the jumping off point for something new. 

The Avengers have ripped each other apart, half are jailed, the other half broken physically and mentally, and it will now be the job of Phase 3 on the MCU to see exactly how we rebuild from here to get our heroes back on side by Infinity War.

For now though we can just sit back and enjoy the ride as we reach the absolute high point of a story eight years in the making. 

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