Part 13 of A List to Marvel At
In the first shots of Tony Stark in Civil War we see him in his youth, a quippy young man, close to the demeanour we saw in the scenes that started this universe in the first Iron Man. That face soon gives way to the character now, someone exhausted, ragged, feeling guilt over the events done to him and he has caused in that time. It’s also representative of a large proportion of this movie’s tone, carrying the weight of multiple events and the humorous snark hiding more emotional goals.
The set up of the government wishing to impose authority on the Avengers, Tony Stark being pro and Steve Rodger being against, is such that someone not caught up on these movies could grasp the core conflict. But if have been in for the long hall and recognise people like General Ross as a key character from The Incredible Hulk, the movie’s underlying pleasures of being the 13th film will come off as even more affecting. Captain America: Civil War strengths come from its serialisation, not in spite of it.
And that big Captain America title is still important. Iron Man might play the important ideological opposition, being the most well rounded Robert Downey Jr. has played him since the first film, and like many an Avenger in Civil War get his own arc, put this is still predominately a Captain America movie. So much so that you could watch just the Captain America movie’s and get a complete story. And with Buck Barnes so crucial to the plot it’s even more a “Winter Soldier” movie than The Winter Soldier was. Both sides are on some level right, and that is what makes the conflict so interesting. Hell, Captain America can even come across as the villain on occasion, which allows Chris Evans to play even more depths to his character (though this is “villainy” not like Iron Man’s treatment in the crappy Civil War comic, which this movie thankfully only takes the central concept). The personal of each character feeds into the political, that of responsibility an accountability, and so does the vice versa occur.
Those themes of responsibility and accountability also help introduce the new characters into this world. Chadwick Baseman as Black Panther, son of the leader of fictional country Wakanda, balances authority and intensity with ease, calming and respectful for some, and for others hunting for blood. This raging quiet stands him apart from the quipsters around him, and beyond just race makes him a unique proposition for his upcoming movie. Then of course there is the friendly neighbourhood hero so many are glad to be brought into this world, and rightly so. It is hard to judge based off only two scenes, but this is the closest the genius teenage wise-mouth of Spiderman has been translated to the big screen, and Tom Holland makes an immediate, endearingly awkward impression. Spiderman operates in this movie in much the same way as Quicksilver in X Men: Day’s of Future Past, being a catalyst for action, but that means the movie doesn’t feel crammed with his inclusion and serves as the ultimate trailer for his movies to come. The two scenes in this movie made do what I haven’t done in nearly ten years: I loved Spiderman again.
So many of the Avengers, like Black Widow, The Falcon and odd couple Scarlett Witch and Vision, get their own strange appropriate arcs that would be too comprehensive to cover here. And other cameos like Ant Man make for memorable lines and set pieces, with him in particular being more endearing than in his own film. They then all meet together in an airport sequence for what is certainly the most fantastical, most epic, and quite simply best action sequence that is in a superhero movie. And beyond the fantastic visuals (the IMAX cameras used for this scene mean these shots sit still) what is crucial that we understand every character’s position and relationship. We care.
Having said that though not every action sequence was of this calibre. The handheld sequences that made up some of The Winter Soldier are intensified here to nausea, and the 3D IMAX screening I was in exacerbated this as a problem to the point of occasional incompressibility. Also, these movies have never had the most memorable scores, which help to give those scenes and the rest of the movie a certain iconography.
Speaking of memorability, Baron Zemo does fall again into Marvel’s problem of the unremarkable villain. But for the first time ever a Marvel film takes that currently unfixable issue (until they can have Spiderman’s villains back) and uses it to a kind of advantage. Because Baron Zemo is nothing remarkable, he’s just some guy. More specifically guy who after tragedies found faith in the HYDRA doctrine and exists now to systematically turn the team of heroes against each other. In some regard then this is the most accurate depiction of a “terrorist” in a blockbuster movie. But that fog of war stuff is all subtext of course, part of the course when it comes to films with Tony Stark in them.
The main issue with his character though, and a certain chunk of the movie, is that although his motivations are clear the movie keeps that and his plans close to its chest, until the final few scenes, and his plan comes off as somewhat convoluted. Also this big third act shift, whilst an emotional and personal gut punch that I will not spoil, serves like the twist in The Winter Solider to shrink some possibilities of this universe down, and also like that twist takes away some of the ideological nuance, a problem which feels a bit bigger than that movie being so close to the climax.
But that final act of reveals, and also juggling a large cast, makes this a key one for revisiting. With the emotional stakes never being as high, Civil War feels just like that, a war. But it never stops being exhilarating, it doesn’t lose sight of the people, and although not as focused as Captain America: The Winter Soldier never loses sight of its shield wielding icon.
Now we wait to move on to Stranger things…