With Captain America: Civil War, the Russo brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have achieved the impossible: A multi level story with 10 lead characters that isn’t just an action-fest, but instead offers a thoughtful story which challenges the audience, all the while giving every character a pivotal moment (with build-up and payoff), introducing brand new characters, elevating every film that has come before it and injecting the whole thing with a hefty emotional wallop that keeps the stakes high.
You may have already read other reviews citing this as Marvel’s best cinematic outing yet, and I’m happy to confirm they are all correct, comfortably so. For where the original Avengers Assemble delivered a truly memorable third act, its first half was, in truth, rather sluggish. But here there is no pause for breath; and despite a two-and-a-half hour running time, every minute is used efficiently so that every scene feels purposeful and necessary (take note Batman v Superman crew).
This time out Captain America and the rest of the Avengers face not a battle from an alien race, or even an Earth based super-villain, but instead from within. Following the (somewhat unavoidable) collateral damage caused by their actions when protecting the earth (New York, Sokovia, Washington et al), the world’s governments have come together and created a set of rules which they demand all ‘enhanced individuals’ must sign so that they can be kept in check and their actions accounted for. These rules (known as the Sokovia Accords) become the separating line for our heroes, with Tony Stark leading one group who are for the accords and Steve Rogers standing with the rest against them.
The genius of the story is that both sides make a great argument, and as the story progresses you find yourself switching alliances with every new event/revealing truth. It’s a difficult decision to make, yet make it they have to, and the division between them escalates first to fallouts and then to fighting.
And when the characters fight the Russo brothers come into their own as directors, who have proven themselves uniquely suited to melees with multiple super-powered heroes. It’s not just the choreography (which is bravura), but the way they use a camera to follow the various one-on-one and crowded brawls. Their camera is always moving, yet never loses focus on what is happening. They tilt to follow an overhead punch, they push forward at ridiculous speed to follow a flying shield, and when a certain web slinger shows up, they weave in and out of ceiling joists just to keep up. It is adrenaline cinema that perfectly walks the tightrope of showy, stylish combat and journalistic voyeurism: Barnstorming yet intimate.
But as standout as the action set pieces are, Captain America: Civil War is at its very best when the heroes are out of their suits and finding conflict in the everydayness of their very existence. Like Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 we see that it’s so much fun to watch these iconic superheroes fight conflict with words and ingenuity, and when the punching stops the real consequences come to the fore.
The only questions left are what happens next? And how do they possibly top this?