As is tradition at this time of the year, our writers have been voting for their favourite movies. In fifth place? It’s Civil War…
5. Captain America: Civil War
Heroes fighting heroes was a recurring theme at the multiplex this year, but it’s not Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice or X-Men: Apocalypse that we Den Of Geek writers voted for. Instead – in alignment with both the box office leader board and the critical consensus – it’s Captain America: Civil War that won our hearts. The bust up between Chris Evans’ Cap and Robert Downey Jnr’s Tony Stark was everything we’d hoped for; the epic payoff, four years after the star-spangled man and ol’ shell head first rubbed each other up the wrong way in The Avengers.
Marvel Studios reunited The Winter Soldier’s behind the scenes dream team of Joe Russo and Anthony Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for Civil War, and once again they smashed it out of the park. The billboards for the movie were emblazoned with review quotes like “The best Marvel movie yet”, and it was often nigh on impossible to argue against that sentiment. Even if your own ranking differs, you’ve got to admit that this one of the most impressive achievements the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever brought to cinemas.
The success of Civil War hinged on its unmatched ability to balance tones: the fact that the iconic airport scuffle, with all its primary coloured splash page joyousness, could exist in the same movie as Crossbones’ opening attack on the Lagos Institute For Infectious Diseases truly is an accomplishment worthy of praise. We’ve always been told that you can have either have a fun superhero movie or a gritty one, but here the Russo brothers threw out that rulebook and gave us both. This is a movie in which Spidey quips endlessly and Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang larks about as Giant-Man, and then a short while later we see Daniel Brühl’s Zemo on a rooftop about to blow his brains out.
Speaking of Zemo, he was the first Marvel villain in a good long while that can hold a candle to Loki. Tom Hiddleston’s mischief-maker looms large over this interconnected mega-franchise, but Brühl’s performance – and the stellar script that enabled it – really shone, offering up a different sort of villainy. Not one rooted in a mad quest for power or the possession of an Infinity Stone, but instead revolving around a personal vendetta and a cunning plan – to get Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to destroy each other, because there’s no way a mortal man could take them out. Finding a way to get that fight started led Zemo to some shocking stuff within HYDRA’s archives; stuff that means Cap and Tony can never be BFFs.
Zemo wasn’t the only new character to make a big impact, either. Part of the fun of Civil War was the chance to clap our eyes on Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and Peter Parker for the first time. And Holland did not disappoint in either department: the quip count in the airport battle was off the charts (“You’ve got a metal arm? Cool!”) and Spidey got some eye-catching action moments (taking down Giant-Man using a Star Wars-inspired idea was a personal highlight), but perhaps the most enjoyable scene with Holland was the sequence at the Parkers’ apartment in Queens, where Peter found Tony Stark chumming up with Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May and ended up in a very awkward bedroom chat. Seeing this teen Peter battling with his angst opposite an MCU mainstay like Downey was pure wish-fulfilment for me.
There was also Black Panther, of course, with Chadwick Boseman sizzling in the role of T’Challa. When a man who dons cat ears before heading into battle can become a cool character in the live action realm, you know that Marvel Studios is doing something right. As with Tom Holland, though, Boseman’s performance was most potent when the mask came off, as he brought a quiet, simmering air to the character that totally got us on board with the idea of a solo movie.
This was a packed film, and Marvel Studios’ longest one yet, but for me it didn’t sag at all. There were a lot of moving parts, and they all worked together to keep pushing the story forward, with moral ambiguities and massive action scenes dovetailing with each other to keep us entertained visually and engaged mentally throughout. And, of course, there were plenty of classic MCU one-liners to get us giggling before/after/during the drama. Speaking of giggles, The Vision’s dress sense was a chuckle-worthy addition to the canon.
Civil War needed those lighter moments, because it’s the Marvel movie with the murkiest debate at its core: ‘Team Cap’ and ‘Team Iron Man’ weren’t just marketing slogans, they were differing philosophies on individual accountability and the need for government control. It’s a debate that split families, friend groups, offices and the Avengers right down the middle. And when you add to that stories and conflicts that have been growing in the MCU for years – Tony and Cap’s barely concealed ideological differences, Bucky’s dark past, and Tony’s tendency to create all his own problems – you’ve got characters we know and care about clashing over an argument that feels totally necessary and a long time coming.
After Ultron, the Chitauri, the incident in Lagos and all the damage done in their solo films, it’s undeniable that the Avengers can’t carry on unchecked. But you can see why Steve Rogers distrusts the system after Winter Soldier, particularly when Bucky’s safety is in question. All these issues came to a head here, and the results were dizzyingly awesome to watch. The airport battle brought comic book panels to life like never before, and then the Siberian final fight between Tony, Steve and Bucky presented the MCU’s most brutal bout to date. Littered around these scenes were cool new characters and big ideas.
This was the culmination of everything Marvel Studios has thrown at us so far, and whether or not you think it’s their best movie yet, I think most of us can agree that Civil War was one of 2016’s most entertaining blockbusters, combining both awesome action and conflicted characters. Top stuff.