One of the big strengths of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is its ability to transition smoothly from genre to genre with each new film. The only problem with this approach is that when characters crossover to each other’s adventures, the tone can become uneven.
It’s a tribute to Captain America: Civil War then that it pulls off a difficult trick, balancing Avengers action, Winter Soldier political thriller and Ant-Man comedy so well, with only the occasional jar along the way.
The plot itself is slightly uneven. After the events of the last Avengers movie, the UN decides that maybe it’s not such a great idea to have unchecked caped lunatics running around and blowing things up wherever and whenever they like. Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man, wracked with guilt over the innocents who were caught in the crossfire, is all for this. Chris Evan’s Captain America… not so much. The whole thing is obviously a ploy to get them to fight (both by the writers and the movie’s villain) and Cap’s convictions actually ring a little thin. There are a number of moments where you find yourself wondering how the characters could be so monumentally self-absorbed that they wouldn’t talk things out at any point, but instead, fight they do.
And this is where the movie excels. We begin with an Avengers team chasing after a terrorist cell led by Crossbones, a crazed neo-nazi whose lack of a working nervous system allows him to trade punches with supersoldiers along the way, and the whole thing is thrilling. Black Widow kicks a mass of ass, The Falcon becomes a genuinely dangerous soldier rather than a thin man in a hang-glider, and there’s overcranked kung-fu all over the place. People fly through walls, get trucks thrown at them, are hurled out of windows and buildings are lasered in half.
In less assured hands it would become overstuffed, but there’s actually so much going on that your eyes are glued to the screen. It’s busy enough that the movie’s Big Event – the arrival of Spider-Man – comes as something of a let down. It’s a quiet, understated scene in the middle of a whirlwind of fists.
On the other hand, a mass punch-up at an airport takes on new life as Spidey dorks out over meeting other heroes, mouths off, and generally acts like an awkward teenager. There’s also an unexpected twist when Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man… does something new with his powers.
Highlight the next line if you really like SPOILERS: Yes, he turns into Giant-Man. And hits War Machine in the face with a Jumbo Jet wing.And it’s fucking awesome.
The villain of the piece, Helmut Zemo, could be more of a threat. If only because comic book fans will be expecting this guy:
Instead, we get an ex-soldier with a grudge and a knack for manipulation. He’s supposed to be a more realistic threat, and it works to an extent, but I can’t help but think I’d have preferred someone in a cloak. Speaking of which, we also have The Vision lurking here. Occasionally in said cloak, but more often in a nice sweater. Paul Bettany does a great job with the character, bringing quiet nobility that’s never smug, despite his massive power-level.
If all this weren’t enough, we also get actual character arcs for The Winter Soldier himself, and Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, who again, could have sailed close to dangerous stereotyping if handled poorly, but instead shines as a noble, principled and absolutely-fucking-deadly combatant. It’s a thrill to see him take on a variety of Avengers and give them a damn good hiding.
Overall, there is a shit-ton going on here, and it does struggle to contain it all. Light laughs as three hulking superdudes cram into a VW Beetle are at serious odds with one character being paralysed from the waist down, but it just about gets away with it all, and contains enough thrilling moments to keep things moving. Not the finest Marvel film, with some revelations that connect characters actually making the universe feel smaller rather than more impressive, but damn good fun. 4/5