A couple of years back, I went into raptures over what was for me one of that year’s most unexpected movie pleasures:
“There won’t be any spoilers in this review because I want you to go to the cinema and love this movie as much as I do. I will, however, give you one warning: I may just make a complete asshole of myself. I may just go totally over the top about how great Captain America: The Winter Soldier is. I may just say that this is the finest super-hero film I’ve ever seen and that I believe it to be the point where the genre comes of age. It’s better than The Avengers and it’s even better than the first Iron Man. Far better. Those were more than just good; but this takes it to the next level completely.”
And now, as the thirteenth entry in the Marvel Extended Universe series, comes that film’s sequel: Captain America: Civil War. The good news is that it’s from the same team as before: brothers Anthony and Joe Russo in collaboration with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Well, after a critical and commercial hit like Winter Soldier why would a really canny company, as Marvel have proved to be, go tampering with that?
And Marvel is consistently turning out something special with this series, aren’t they? Whether they’re playing it straight whilst tackling contemporary issues as in Iron Man; taking a comedic approach with Ant-Man; or blindsiding us with a ridiculously fun space-opera like Gladiators of the Galaxy, their mis-steps can be forgiven by the overall quality of the rapidly expanding mythology-building.
Marvel V DC: Civil War
And since this movie features Captain America/ Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark/ Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) going head-to-head, there is simply no way to avoid a comparison with last month’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. I enjoyed that movie a lot more than most people but make no doubt about it: it is not in the same league (pun intended) as Civil War. This proves, as if there was any doubt, that the slow build-up taken by Marvel has paid off in dividends and makes DCs inclusion of extra characters very quickly look like the rush job to catch up that many said it was.
In the Marvel V DC battle Marvel has its opponent flat on its back on the canvas with a great big frigging Kryptonite spear to the throat. And judging by the stills from Suicide Squad and *groan* Wonder Woman they won’t be getting up any time soon.
So am I saying that Civil War is as good as its predecessor? Nah, don’t be daft: a film like that one, hitting just about every note perfectly, comes along once in a blue moon. But in terms of telling a tale that deftly combines real comic-book action and villains with a story line that you can enjoy reading political interpretations into, it plays a blinder.
There are so many moments that seemed to stand in isolation in their relevant films, harking right back to the first, that come to the fore and even fruition here. More and more the series is resembling chapters in a really epic novel.
I went into it as blind as I could manage in this appalling age where we have ten-second leaks advertising trailers that are advertising longer trailers, and I don’t want to spoil anyone else’s pleasure. But I hadn’t known that there would be so many characters involved here that it could have easily been entitled Avengers Part 3 (mind you, any title would be better than the crap one it’s saddled with) and there is a very unexpected moment involving Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) that is sheer genius.
Nor am I giving anything away when I say that Peter Parker/ Spider Man (Tom Holland) puts in an utterly brilliant appearance in which these filmmakers make you instantly forget the previous aborted attempts at a franchise and accept this one as the real deal.
(OK, he’s maybe a bit cartoonish-looking; but along with why the hell Cap still wears a mask when everyone knows who he is, I’m willing to suspend belief.)
The United Nations is Your Friend.
I did know that the story line involved the United Nations drafting a bill that would put the Avengers and other ‘enhanced’ beings under their direct control – and by Christ don’t you just know what a fiasco that would have descended into in real life! The surprise for me was the way those for and against played out. Hell, I would have put money on Steve Rodgers toeing the establishment line.
The problem of course being that I was harking back to the CA comics of my childhood, where I remembered him almost as boringly ‘my-country-right-or-wrong’ as the big blue schoolboy, Superman. In the context of how the character has grown through the movies, it now makes perfect sense.
I would also have lost on the ever-maverick Tony Stark actually pushing for the agreement and backing the Establishment. As does Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who not too long ago was showing Brady-sized cynicism about governments in particular and authority in general. However, as the teams for and against take their positions so the real strength of the writing shines through.
And talking about governments, the American one – represented by General Ross (William Hurt) from The Incredible Hulk doesn’t exactly come out smelling of roses. Their treatment of Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) at one point is pretty shitty, to put it mildly.
After all, these are soldiers who have put their lives on the line for their country more than once. Still, it’s just a comic book movie; governments would never act like torturing bloody fascist bastards in real life, thank goodness.
A World Free of Jackson is a World Worth Fighting For.
And there is a terrific new character introduced in the form of Prince T’Challa/ Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). Unlike the upcoming *another groan* Wonder Woman I would definitely pay to see this guy in a solo outing.
And yet a further good, good thing about this movie: there’s no appearance from Nick Fury. No, not even a cameo. Sure, he redeemed himself slightly in The Winter Soldier but I can go whole years without seeing Samuel L. Jackson. Whole decades.
As much as anything else — and there’s a fair bit of sub-text in here if you want to go that route — Civil War is about consequences. It’s about the often-tragic results of necessary actions taken. It’s about that most cold and awful of phrases, ‘collateral damage’.
However, unlike DC — who would have turned this into a hand-wringing moan-fest that had you leave the cinema feeling mildly suicidal — Marvel once more walk the line between pathos and humour. And succeed seemingly effortlessly. (Although there is one moment concerning Stark that is so emotionally raw that it’s hard to imagine how even a character as resilient as this one will bounce back from it in a hurry.)
So to take a cue from the movie itself let me knock off on a light note by saying that this film has, in the delightful form of Oscar-winning actress Marisa Tomei, the most attractive Aunt May Parker in the history of Aunt May Parkers. And since Tony Stark seemed to think so as well, let’s upset everyone and have a romance between them – especially now that Pepper Potts is off the scene, with her avatar Gwyneth Paltrow away making a fortune with that weird website for health-conscious billionaires.
And there’s some previous between these two. Back when Downey Jr. was taking lots of drugs and making a movie called Chaplin (where, stoned or not, he was brilliant) he and the lovely Marisa were an item.
I just threw that in for nothing. You’ll thank me for it after your next pub quiz.
Captain America: Civil War. Verdict: if you liked the others in the MEU you’ll love this! Now go you forth and see this thrilling, funny, emotional extravaganza; you know you want to.