Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
Following their fantastic work on 2014’s The Winter Soldier, the Russo brothers are back to bring us the highly anticipated third instalment in the Steve Rogers saga. This time though, the results are a bit of a mixed bag. Captain America: Civil War occupies a strange space within the Marvel Cinematic Universe in that it feels like neither a Captain America movie nor an Avengers sequel. Instead it serves as a sort of inbetweenquel that sets up phase three without anchoring itself to any one character.
The plot is incredibly convoluted and while it’s not nonsensical, it could have been a lot more streamlined. Most of the major set-pieces are enjoyable when judged on their own merits, but not all of them work within the framework of the film as a whole. The much discussed airport showdown is certainly excellently executed and a lot of fun, yet it ends up feeling overblown and out of place in a story that’s supposed to be Cap centric.
The narrative would have benefited by keeping the focus firmly on the more intimate conflict between Rogers and Stark rather than worrying about accommodating so many supporting players. The throw-down between Cap, Iron Man and Bucky teased in the trailers is much more dramatic and hard-hitting than any of the superhero-stuffed shenanigans surrounding it.
In fact, many of the strongest scenes are the dialogue-heavy ones exploring the opposing perspectives of Rogers and Stark. Their motivations are made clear and believable, meaning it’s difficult to decide whose side to take. There are actually a lot of instances in which they both come across as rash and unreasonable so that sometimes neither one seems deserving of support.
One thing that is for sure though is that the two lead actors are on fine form throughout. Chris Evans is exemplary as ever as the virtuous first Avenger, it’s just a shame that Rogers often gets lost in his own film. There’s an argument to be made that this story is as much about wrapping up arcs for Iron Man as it is for Cap and that’d be fine if it weren’t marketed as a Captain America movie.
This is probably Robert Downey Jr.’s best performance in the MCU to date. He’s not playing for laughs here, instead he’s portraying an emotionally-charged Tony Stark who demonstrates levels of depth audiences have never seen before. And while that is admirable, it can take precedence over Cap’s story which is frustrating. This is one of many reasons why this movie would have been better billed as simply Marvel’s Civil War rather than bearing the Captain America banner.
Criticism concerning the inclusion of so many characters aside though, Ant-Man and Spider-Man steal the show whenever they’re on camera. Paul Rudd is hilarious as ex-convict turned superhero Scott Lang, stealing all of the script’s best one-liners.
Tom Holland on the other hand proves he’s been perfectly cast as the latest big screen incarnation of Peter Parker, but his introduction is extremely awkward. Recruiting the web-crawler brings the story to a jarringly abrupt halt. However, Holland’s work here bodes very well for Spidey’s upcoming solo outing and is sure to please enthusiasts everywhere.
Fellow newcomer Black Panther’s insertion into the narrative is much more natural and Chadwick Boseman impresses by making the Wakandan prince seem lethal yet level-headed. Another recent addition to the roster who puts on a good show is Paul Bettany. His exploration of Vision’s humanity is intriguing. He also has cute chemistry with Elizabeth Olsen, who succeeds in being sympathetic as the well-meaning but misunderstood meta-human, Wanda Maximoff.
Of the more seasoned MCU stars to reprise their roles, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie and Jeremy Renner all put in characteristically capable performances as Black Widow, Falcon and Hawkeye, respectively. Don Cheadle is back as Iron Man’s best bud War Machine as well, but there’s something about Rhodey’s attitude that leaves him feeling a lot less likable than in his previous appearances.
Sebastian Stan does well as unwitting assassin Bucky Barnes, despite serving as little more than a plot device. The same is true of Daniel Brühl’s Helmut Zemo, while Frank Grillo is largely wasted as Crossbones even though he displays plenty of potential. And on the topic of antagonists, William Hurt picks up the part of Thaddeus Ross effortlessly, exuding the same sense of unease and ambiguity that he exhibited in The Incredible Hulk.
The cast is fairly well balanced given its size and there are genuine attempts made to develop all of the characters to some extent. The problem is that most of it feels inappropriate in what’s supposed to be a Captain America movie and the supporting players who deserve the most attention are usually the ones who are side-lined. The best example of this is Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter. Her budding romance with Rogers is interesting, and key to Cap’s character, but it’s left inexplicably underdeveloped.
Civil War is essentially a film about the state of the MCU as a whole with occasional hints of a Steve Rogers story buried in the background. It is undeniably entertaining and provides plenty of fascinating set-up for what’s to come, but ultimately it’s underwhelming in comparison to its more personal predecessors.
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