The best Marvel film yet?
Warning- Mildly spoilerific review follows. Well you know it’s got Avengers in and there’s a civil war right?
If The Winter Soldier was a rare example of the intellectual blockbuster, then its sequel embraces both the political and the personal. At a time when Western involvement in sundry conflicts around the world is under more scrutiny than ever, here we have the freedom with which the Avengers operate called into question to the point where they are all asked to sign an accord which means any missions have to be sanctioned by politicians. This sort of thing has been done before in the comics realm but rarely as well or thoroughly as it is here. To the credit of the scriptwriters we understand why each of the team takes the stance that they do and even more importantly the team themselves outline their arguments reasonably because really there is no right or wrong in this scenario. The result is that the film avoids becoming an exercise in super -powered glowering and melodramatic confrontations, it’s about different positions being taken based on beliefs. It is – in the best sense- both big and clever!
It seems almost disrespectful to mention a certain other superhero smackdown but as it was released recently it is relevant to do so. In short this is the way such matters should be handled. Intelligent, involving, amusing and exciting Captain America Civil War is a fantastic spectacle which doesn’t put a foot wrong in depicting what happens when extraordinary people are tangled up in those difficult issues which invariably result from taking a stand, when they are divided within and end up fighting amongst themselves. The result of something like eight years of increasingly interesting films this is even more of a bar setting standard than The Winter Soldier. Despite the presence of about a dozen superheroes it feels natural and fits it’s running time perfectly. It soars where two other caped crusaders lately struggled to rise above the ground.
The choices taken throw some interesting aspects into the mix. Steve Rogers’ former soldier takes the outsider option rejecting international controls while the previously independent rebel inventor Tony Stark is willing to be limited. Both are weighted down by their Avengers related experiences- Rogers’ sense of fair play has been undermined by authorities meddling while Stark is reeling after an intensely personal accusation made of him in the film’s early section. And of course he was responsible for the whole Ultron mess! So both have moved from their starting positions, a satisfying development. This is heightened when the Winter Soldier aka Cap’s old brainwashed pal Bucky Barnes is implicated in an attack on the very conference where this new rulebook is being ratified.
Of course Messrs Rogers and Stark have always viewed the world through different perspectives and this plays out in this film amongst the others. Even in the midst of the inevitable (brilliantly staged) showdown there are still subtle notes of mutual respect which is about as far as you can get from mega slug outs amidst collapsing buildings. That both `sides` still essentially have the same aims is not ignored either.
If the film does show any loose wires it may be in the political department. The depiction of the culture of an invented African state seems slightly hackneyed while the accord that international politicians seem to reach on the issues is something rarely seen in real life. Missing too are the citizens who have been protected by the Avengers; it’s all very well to have the mother of an innocent victim state her case but where are the others whose lives were saved that day? These are in the end small niggles that don’t significantly affect the general excellence of the film.
The most winning aspect of the film though is the witty banter that prevails even when things get serious. It’s here that latecomer Spiderman becomes a genuinely amusing addition too. The dialogue is as good as the action and even though one character does point out how they don’t usually talk so much during fighting, it elevates what is already a stand out sequence into a classic one.
There’s a final stand- off between the Captain and the Iron Man that is not so much about impressing visually but asking us to take a side. When I saw Batman and Superman slugging it out the other month my main feeling was that I hoped the fight did not go on too long. It was as leaden as Batman’s silly heavy boots. This movie’s confrontation is between two characters who we care about and its impossible not to see beyond the costumes and setting.
While Daniel Bruhl’s antagonist may seem somewhat low key compared to the sort of villains who generally inhabit blockbusters his story is satisfyingly parallel to the film’s interest in family matters. Even its resolution is more subtly handled than you’d expect.
The film continually refuses to compromise its ideals and it’s such a pleasant surprise to reach the end and find matters have not been fully resolved and that the conflicts have scarred and hurt beyond any physical wounds. Even more surprising is how deftly the narrative manages to include moments of humanity reminding us that we should be enjoying rather than enduring, a lesson that all blockbusters need to take into account.
If you don’t like this kind of film its possible you may still find things to love in a movie that is restlessly inventive and relevant beyond capes, masks and rocket shoes. If you do like the genre then you will be bowled over by how cleverly it is re-wired and shaped into what may be the best Marvel film yet.