Director: Anthony & Joe Russo (2016)
Hard on the heels of the showdown between Batman and Superman in Dawn of Justice (2016) comes another super-powered spandex smack down.
This time it’s Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr. facing off as Captain America and Iron Man.
Although nominally the third stand alone Captain America film, it plays like a third Avengers movie and deals with the fall out of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015).
But Civil War lacks writer/director Joss Whedon’s ability to build a strong narrative and offer a spotlight for each major character.
Although the Russo’s bring a harder edge to the action, they haven’t Whedon’s grasp of group dynamics or comedy. They seem unable or unwilling to nurture interesting female characters, which is Whedon’s absolute stock in trade.
Here the blunt banter and sparse stabs of humour seem forced rather than growing organically out of character.
Many jokes seem parachuted in by executives and there are more than a few about gags about ageing. They lend the movie the stale air of a spandex version of Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables franchise.
The ferocious and superbly choreographed opening action scenes are at the very top end of Civil War‘s 12A certificate.
But the story is cluttered with too many minor characters. New ones are introduced to flag up their own stand alone solo movie and there’s a much herald appearance of a rebooted favourite.
Anthony Mackie and Don Cheadle return respectively as sidekicks War Machine and The Falcon. The Hulk and Thor are noticeably absent.
Young Brit Tom Holland steals the film with his wide eyed chatterbox take on Peter Parker.
It’s a shame his Spider-Man CGI alter-ego is so poorly rendered, all the more puzzling as the generally the film looks fantastic in its IMAX 3D version.
A great deal of time is set up the Black Panther (2018) movie. Marvel seem so eager to involve and so self pleased at promoting a black character they haven’t looked too closely at how he’s presented.
Removed of the cowl and claws of Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman is fine in the undemanding role as the urbane and irony free African prince T’Challa.
However he’s prone to beginning sentences with ‘in my culture..’. Maybe people do speak like this but it reminded me of Ron Ely era Tarzan. His dialogue and demeanour seem freshly minted from the preconceptions of the white New Yorkers who created him back in 1966.
William Hurt and Martin Freeman are introduced as part of the Black Panther thread.
While Jeremy Renner gives the most lacklustre performance of his career as Hawkeye, Paul Bettany does some lovely work as the Vision.
The script can’t work out what to do with him or his ill defined powers, so opts for ignoring him whenever it can. Notably during the fighting.
Dragged down into the melee and still without a film to call their own, the only two female heroes are Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch.
At heart Civil War wants to be a hard hitting action thriller. The tone is suitably subdued as the script deals with politically compromised ideals, murdered parents and revenge.
Then it remembers the audience and bursts into blasts of candy coloured action.
Remorseful at collateral deaths of civilians during an Avengers mission, the once independent Iron Man is ready to accept UN oversight of The Avengers team.
Bizarrely for a soldier, Captain America doesn’t agree with operating under a hierarchal command system.
A UN conclave are about to sign an accord to will curtail superhero activity when they suffer a terrorist attack.
Number one suspect is Captain America’s friend turned terrorist agent Bucky Barnes. AKA The Winter Soldier.
Despite being played by the physically impressive Sebastian Stan, he remains an irritatingly anonymous figure.
Captain America is convinced Bucky is innocent and sets off to find him before the CIA do.
This puts him at odds with Iron Man, leaving the rest of The Avengers team to decide with whom they stand.
As allegiances shift and romance blooms across the barricades, loyalties are stretched and snapped.
Meanwhile there’s a sinister plot involving Daniel Bruhl’s shady scientist and a super enhanced elite death squad.
Easily the best part of Civil War is the promised punch up between the host of heroes.
It’s an imaginatively conceived and entertaining executed bout which leaves the heroes damaged and divided.
Unfortunately it happens about half way through the running time, so the rest of the film feels very anti-climactic.
And after two and a half hours of spandex clad action, I was beginning to chafe.