Captain America: Civil War review

Heroes clash in the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: Civil War. Here's our spoiler-free verdict...

You have to hand it to Marvel: there aren’t many movie franchises that can cut from a bruising fight to a superhero contemplating whether or not to put paprika in the meal they’re preparing. That superhero happens to be Paul Bettany’s Vision, a character capable of displaying godlike powers in battle, yet happily sports a dapper white shirt and black sweater ensemble when he’s cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

Such is the elasticity of the Marvel brand in the hands of the right directors; in this instance, it’s the Russo brothers, back in the saddle following Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a thoroughly satisfying mix of conspiracy thriller and CGI action banquet. Civil War is more of the same, yet this instalment feels, if anything, closer to an Avengers sequel than a Cap sequel – this is far more of an ensemble piece than Steve Rogers’ top billing might suggest.

Then again, comics fans already know this. Civil War is, after all, about a decidedly pronounced difference of opinion; the calamitous events of previous Marvel movies – and an explosive opening sequence in Civil War – leaves the world nervous about the Avengers’ powers and lack of accountability. A treaty signed by over a hundred countries – designed to block the Avengers from using their powers without the UN’s say-so – leaves the team divided over its merits. Tony Stark, stung by the loss of life in Sokovia at the end of Age Of Ultron, thinks the Avengers should sign the treaty.

Steve Rogers, similarly galvanised by his own sense of justice, believes the Avengers should remain unfettered by the whims of corruptible politicians. Battle lines are swiftly drawn, and a war of words soon devolves into an outright war of independence, with the likes of War Machine, Black Widow and Vision siding with Stark and Falcon, Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye aligning with Cap.

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Naturally, there’s lots more to Civil War, yet the plot remains brisk even with the film’s hefty 150 minute duration. This is partly because the Russo brothers again manage to make their action set-pieces build from the intimate (in Marvel terms) to the sprawling and explosion-laden. The grit and gloom of ordinary-looking locations, from dingy bunkers in Siberia to run-down tenements in Berlin, contrast pleasingly with the slick costumes and square jaws of our heroes.

Similarly, the slabs of action you’d expect are contrasted by some occasional yet effective moments of suspense. The signing of German actor Daniel Brühl (Good Bye, Lenin!, Rush) proves to be a canny one here: as the main villain of the piece, his performance is charismatic and refreshingly restrained – where some actors would chew the scenery, Brühl goes for quiet, tightly-wound anger. One of Civil War’s underlying themes is that ordinary people can be twisted or fooled into doing ugly things; as result, everyone character has a logical motivation for their actions – even Brühl’s villain.

Like The Winter Soldier, Civil War explores all kinds of current concerns – terrorism, the misuse of military might, state control – with a lightness of touch. The specifics of Sokovia Accords treaty may go over some younger audience members’ heads, but it’s not the film’s aim to beat us over the head with capital-M messages. Civil War simply suggests that some battles aren’t simply good-versus-evil, and that decisions made in the past can affect the present in dire, unforeseeable ways.

It’s this satisfying mix of heavy and light tones which keeps Civil War feeling fresh. It’s action-heavy, particularly in its opening and closing acts, yet writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely find plenty of moments where the characters behind the symbols and fancy outfits are given a chance to shine. In some instances, these are the bits that stick in the mind the most; Tom Holland’s new Spider-Man is introduced not with a bang, but in a captivatingly loose, natural-feeling scene which somehow makes the character seem as though he’s been in the MCU all along. There’s a spark of quirky chemistry between Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany in their scenes as off-duty Wanda Maximoff and Vision. Then there’s newcomer Chadwick Boseman, prince of Wakanda and agile superhero Black Panther. He gets a pretty spectacular early sequence where he sprints after a motorcycle, but again, it’s a scene he shares with Bruhl’s villain that reveals a human, compelling side to both characters.

As a comic book movie, Civil War feels more nuanced and less bludgeoning than Batman V Superman – another 2016 about titans with differences of opinion. As a Marvel movie, it’s better paced than Age Of Ultron, which felt top-heavy with CGI destruction. This isn’t to say that the beat-downs and fist-fights in Civil War don’t feel repetitive on occasion – there are only so many ways you can kick a stunt actor into a wall – but there’s a vim and imagination to the film’s bigger moments which really sets them apart.

In short, Civil War delivers the spectacle that movie-goers will expect, but remembers that it’s the characters that are the Marvel universe’s greatest strength. The Avengers may be superheroes, but they all have quirks we can all recognise – from Stark’s egotism to Vision’s ineptitude in the kitchen. It’s these human touches that make Captain America: Civil War such an entertaining two-and-a-half hours, and an effective launch-pad for yet more movies to come.

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Captain America: Civil War is out in UK cinemas on the 29th April.


4 out of 5