Following on from last summer's double whammy of 'Age of Ultron' and 'Ant-Man', Marvel now finds itself firmly rooted in Phase 3, a darker, more humane place than of the more traditional superhero offerings in the past. Based on the mini series of the same name, 'Civil War' is a broody, mature film that triggers the downfall of the Avengers we know and love; ultimately leaving them in a place in which they will never be the same again.
First and foremost, this is billed as a 'Captain America' film, though the marketing would have you think it's more 'Avengers 2.5 ft. Black Panther ft. Spiderman', but I do think the film aligns itself with Cap's point of view, his emotions and his motivations. The plot has the Avengers confronted with the idea of legal registration on all superhero activity following an accident in Nigeria, caused unintentionally by Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). This causes a split in the group, with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.,) all for the regulation whilst Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is against, causing him to go on the run with former pal-turned-assassin Bucky (Sebastian Stan). The regulation plot is clever, if a little bloated, but it importantly enforces everyone to recognize their own shred of humanity, the team is shown videos of mass destruction caused by the Avengers, people dying, screaming for help. It's unnerving and uncomfortable, but it makes you realize why it would be a good idea without ever being biased toward either Tony or Steve. The film successfully plays up the dichotomy between Tony feeling guilt over the creation of Ultron and the death of many, emphasized powerfully in a scene between Tony and the mother of a young boy who died in the accident in Nigeria, and Steve feeling apprehensive toward Government control especially after the events of 'Winter Soldier'. It is Steve's relationship with Bucky that makes the heart of the film and reaffirms 'Civil War' as his film, their moments together are touching and funny in places, balancing out the dark and serious tone. You root for him, but when Bucky is triggered into his super soldier state, you question Steve's choices. This balance helps pinpoint to the audience that it's not crystal clear who you should side for, as each side has its problems and flaws, but this engagement is done to draw you in and carries an enormous amount of suspense. It works entirely thanks to the directorial efforts of Anthony and Joe Russo, returning to direct after 'Winter Soldier', but like the former film, 'Civil War' is less a superhero film, rather more a film about what it means to be democratic, the politics of the human life and the consequences of revenge.
Not to say there are terrific moments that have the traditional superhero feel. The battle at the airport hanger is probably the most exciting twenty minutes of screen-time in the entirety of the MCU, it's just a shame Chris Hemsworth's Thor and Mark Ruffalo's Hulk are absent from the party. Seeing Paul Rudd's Ant-Man internally damaging Iron Man's suit will get the crowds cheering no doubt, but amongst the action there are genuine moments of hilarity which had the audience in stitches, something Marvel has always had the ability to do, balance the level of serious action and tone with moments of laugh-out-loud comedy and writing. We are also given new characters to play with, particularly Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther, seeking revenge for the death of his father, and the exceptional Tom Holland as a new incarnation of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, recruited by Tony help capture Captain America. There has been buzz aplenty for Holland, the third Spider-Man in ten years was always going to be a tough role to suit up for (pun intended), but he successfully delivers in making the character his own; he's charming, he's geeky and charismatic as hell, given more to do in the screen time he has rather just limited to a quick cameo. It also helps that Holland is still a teenager himself, making the character fully believable and so darn adorable, when he's fighting Cap, he's immediately star struck, as any other seventeen year old boy would be. I highly look forward to seeing Holland again in 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' next year and has most definitely proven himself for the role.
Originally, I felt the villain of the film, Helmut Zemo, was lacking something overall, though I couldn't quite put my finger on it. However, after a few days to think, I think I was expecting the traditional superhero villain, one that wants to end the world and become all powerful blah blah blah. But rather, here we have a character who is very much a product of the world formed by the Avengers, his motivation is born from the chaos and the destruction that follows them and his sole desire is to rip them apart. I won't spoil anything here, but the film does delve into a very humane side of things and following on from 'Daredevil' and 'Jessica Jones' does a clever job in allowing you to empathize with Zemo for just a few moments, he's not a simple black & white villain and you can see why he makes the choices he does. Plus, the film ends on a note of high ambiguity without a real sense of resolution, as the Avengers are still torn apart without showing signs of backing down; it pushes the film in a completely new direction for the MCU, showing maturity and depth but darkly foreboding that not everyone will make it out alive, suggested slightly by the paralyzed War Machine and Tony being pushed completely to the brink by a surprise revelation.
Possibly the most mature offering from the MCU, with a sharp and cohesive screenplay paired with the most impressive action sequences to date, 'Civil War' is a triumph in ticking all the boxes whilst setting up a more dark and unvarying future.