As I opined on Twitter a couple days ago, the concept at the core of Marvel’s Civil War comic was not an unsalvageable one. The premise, discussing and addressing the outside the law nature of the superhero genre is actually one I’m pretty interested in. It’s bold, to say the least, to examine the tropes and cliches at the core of your genre, and try to divine what kind of world view they wind up supporting.
The execution, thanks mostly to some bizarrely incompetent character work from writer Mark Millar, is where things fell apart. The need to keep the conflict escalating forced all the characters to act like bickering, super powered children. This seems like a fairly major issue, and obviously it is, but going into this movie, I wasn’t sure how one would go about fixing it, at least not while keeping it action packed. So I was curious to see how this movie would handle the issue.
The movie kicks off in the wake of Age of Ultron, with Captain America (Chris Evans) hunting down terrorists alongside Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). During the mission, a mistake is made by Scarlett Witch and half a building is destroyed. Amidst the destruction, the state department decides that the Avengers need to be reigned in, and the UN agrees, drafting the Sokovia Accords to put them under UN oversight.
Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) decides to go along with it, because he feels guilty for Ultron, but Captain America feels like it’s a bad idea. But, when the UN meets to ratify it, the meeting is bombed, killing dozens including the king of the isolated African nation of Wakanda. After the attack is blamed Captain America’s missing friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan), the newly crowned King of Wakanda T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) takes it upon himself to hunt him down, while Captain America tries to protect him.
Civil War is a movie packed to the brim with different ideas, characters and concepts, some of them quite good, some of them more mediocre. The big problem is that there’s just so freaking many of them. In addition to enough raw plot to fill at least two movies, Civil War is tasked with introducing two new superheroes and an entire new country, not to mention bringing in a bunch of characters who haven’t had a ton of screen time (Hawkeye, War Machine, Winter Soldier, Scarlett Witch) and it winds up more than a little overstuffed.
The best of the new elements is easily Black Panther, although for reasons that are odd. On paper, I’m not certain he should work. His costume looks more than a little silly, his every line of dialogue is incredible blunt and on the nose, and the movie never feels like explaining his power set but Chadwick Boseman sells it so f**king hard that it works. It’s really impressive to see him force a character as vague as the one he’s given to work, and he’s an incredible find for the MCU on the whole.
On the other end of the spectrum is Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. It’s not that Holland is necessarily bad, but his character is entirely extraneous to the plot and the movie is so damned please to have him there that it keeps devoting unnecessary screentime to him. I’m pretty sure he has more screentime than Scarlett Witch, and her actions drive the plot. Holland also isn’t a strong enough actor to sell the overly talkative and frankly, more than a little annoying, dialogue he’s handed.
Aside from that, the movie is still overstuffed, flitting back and forth between the registration storyline and the Bucky storyline from scene to scene, until the Bucky story finally overwhelms the plot at the midpoint and the registration is dropped until the denoucement. It makes the story awkward and unfocused, in a way that Winter Soldier really wasn’t.
But it’s still a pretty solid piece of movie making, thanks mostly to a cast who are skilled and into their characters enough to overcome the occasionally awkward script. It certainly does a better job handling its characters and story than Age of Ultron did, and a much better job handling its conflict than the comic it’s based on did. Even if by the end I was starting to lean Team Iron Man.
The action is a big part of the draw, and it’s certainly impressive. The opening action beat is a little mushy due to over editing, but the big fight at the airport is quite intense and complex, and the finale is extremely engaging. The editing and cinematography, outside that first scene, are clean and easy to follow, even the geography is occasionally loose.
Of course it has other issues. The biggest, aside from an occasionally weak script and pacing that seemed to be moving too fast for the events to have the intended impact, is the lack of an interesting villain. I guess since the premise of the movie is hero fighting hero it doesn’t need one, but it does have one, and he’s just not very good. His motivation is theoretically sympathetic, but it comes in way too late for it to make any impact and Daniel Bruhl, who plays the villain, doesn’t manage to sell the level of genius required to pull of his ridiculously overcomplicated plan.
Whenever I return from a film, especially a superhero film, my friends inevitably ask me how it was. And this time around I’ve wound up telling everyone it’s better than Age of Ultron, but worse than Winter Soldier, a summary I will stick by. And for what it’s worth, the gradual moving of pieces in this installment towards the next big MCU event do have me genuinely interested where it’s going. So, as useless as it is to review an MCU movie, Civil War has my approval.
Elessar is a 26 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he’s pretty sure Tony didn’t just whip out the Hulkbuster armor to be sporting.
– great action
– solid acting across the board
– Black Panther is pretty damned awesome
– story is overstuffed at times
– Spider-Man isn’t very good
– script is kind of weak