Is this Marvel’s greatest hour?
To start, let’s kick off with a bit of a retrospective. In 2008 Iron Man surprised the world – a superhero film packed with action, warmth and wit was a relatively new concept. The fact this one had a brilliant storyline along with making a hero most people outside of comic book fandom did not know/care about into someone they wanted to see even more of – that was the truly incredible thing. Skipping ahead several movies we then arrive at Avengers in 2012 which managed to bring the Earth’s mightest heroes together in a way that gave the entire ensemble space to shine. Captain America: Winter Soldier shook things up in 2014, showing that comic book movies could be more than just punch ups. They could come a espionage thriller editions too. Last year’s Age Of Ultron was ultimately a disappointment (though not in terms of box office) as it was too po-face and side piece-y. Now, one week ahead of the USA, we have Civil War. Civil War fixes the problems of Age Of Ultron, takes the smarts of Winter Soldier, the high-stakes suspense of Avengers and the character driven focus of Iron Man. In many ways it is one of the best Marvel movies yet, but is it really the five star perfection the majority of reviews are touting?
One year after the events in Sokovia – Steve Rodgers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Sam WIlson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) are in Nigeria trying to prevent the theft of a biological weapon. In the process Wanda loses control of her powers and a building is destroyed, killing several people. It’s the final straw and the governments of nation’s from around the world demand that the Avengers be held accountable for their actions. The United Nations puts forward the Sokovia Act which would put a governing body in charge of monitoring and policing the world’s growing inhuman population. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is in favour of signing that act as he has become all too aware of the consequences of their past actions. Steve, having become distrustful of government after the fall of S.H.I.E.LD, firmly disagrees. When Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Steve’s childhood friend who was tortured by H.Y.D.R.A and forced to become an assassin, becomes involved what was once a a fracture becomes a break – forcing the Avengers to take sides. United they stood tall but when divided who will be left standing?
This film is pretty superb. It balances humour with action, characterisation with big set pieces, superpowers with humanity. The end product is pure cinematic escapism, with some big questions being posed along with some laugh-out-loud gags. For instance that age old mantra from Spiderman’s Uncle Ben ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ – if you are the one in possession of great power and you do not use it (however unintentionally) responsibly, who should you be accountable to? If you are capable of destroying cities, constantly having to make life or death decisions, should you have permission? All of Marvel’s past films have led to this point, where tough unanswerable questions slot in with huge/gigantic/speculator action sequences.
However, going somewhat against the tide here, I don’t think it’s perfect. Though its ambition is admirable and mostly successful it is a watching experience akin to going to your favourite restaurant, having your favourite meals but for some reason there is a delay between courses. There are some wonderful/brilliant/extraordinary moments, but then there is a bit of waiting around before the next wonderful/brilliant/extraordinary moment. In many ways this just goes to show just how could the wonderful/brilliant/extraordinary moments are, that they are of such a high caliber that the momentum cannot be maintained. It could also be a by-product of the film’s running time, which clocks in at 147 minutes. Going back to my eating-out analogy perhaps the portion size is overly large, the chef’s eyes were bigger than my belly, and that skimming a bit off the plate may have made for a more satisfying experience.
Saying that does not ignore or take the shine away from the incredible fest that this film offers. It may just be Marvel’s most mature film yet, displaying its spectacle and smarts with great confidence. The central debate is hugely topical – so much so that Batman V Superman featured simillar just a few weeks back. But this film is the antithesis of the fatally flawed BVS:DOJ (which confused dark with murky). Civil War has an edge to it – the Airport fight-out sequence between the two newly-split allegiances easily earns a place in top five scenes in a Marvel movies. Then there’s the new depths added to RDJ’s Tony Stark, a man who seems to be enjoying the continuing evolution of his character. His authority plays a role in his relationships with his fellow Avengers, in his fraternal alliance with Steve Rodgers and most excitingly hints at what looks to be a legendary rapport with the latest incarnation of Spiderman (Tom Holland). Holland is a breath of fresh air to the franchise – he’s cheeky and full of energy, a blend of nerd and cool which neither of the previous film versions seemed to capture. The brewing mentor/mentee relationship between he and Tony Stark is one to truly get excited about.
Without question this is the best Avengers movie yet – even if the name itself doesn’t lend itself to that. By having the pre-colon say Captain America it almost implies it is a stand-alone movie. It’s not. Although it is Cap’s conflicted conscience which drives the majority of the plot the film is made by the ensemble. Is it the best Marvel movie yet? Instinctively, after great internal battle, I have to say no. In terms of viewing experience I rank Guardians of the Galaxy far higher and in terms of cerebrality Winter Soldier wins. However, this does not take away from what a spectacular is for the most part. It never feels overstuffed, joyfully introduces new heroes and pays great tribute to our existing heroes.