Soon after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the threat of unrestrained superheroes is once again the subject of hot debate. With a charter set up to bring the superhero team under the control of the United Nations, Captain America goes rogue in protest and it’s left to Tony Stark to bring him in, with the help of a few of his friends…
Since Chris Evans’ Captain America isn’t interesting enough to carry a film, it makes sense to use his solo outings to develop the wider story of the MCU. Indeed, this was The Winter Soldier‘s greatest strength. This film could just as easily be called The Avengers: Civil War, since it’s undoubtedly and ensemble film and is substantially better than the most recent Avengers film.
Far more coherent than the most recent team flick, the long construction of the world these characters inhabit pays off as they are finally free to drop in and out of each other’s stories with precious little back story required. As such it’s free to offer a narrative of conflict sustained through its entire running length, rather than the token head-to-head of another recent superhero film.
Where the newcomers of Age of Ultron felt horribly under-developed, this time everyone’s given something to do, including Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) on loan from Sony. Holland is already my favourite version of the web-slinger to date, with his youth and humble beginnings providing an interesting contrast to the experience and wealth of Stark. And Black Widow now has another couple of Avengers to try and sleep with.
All this is very embarrassing for the miserable failure that was Batman v Superman. DC spent years building up to the ‘gladiator match of the century’ as a direct challenge to Marvel, and have now been outdone on every measure by their rival franchise just a month later in a film with remarkably similar basic premise but a level of quality in the execution that Zack Snyder is just not capable of. Where the conflict of BvS was bewilderingly under-explained, Cap 3 feels comparatively fleshed out, and this is without an hour and a half of confusing, boring dialogue.
The same moral issue of unrestrained power is there, but it recognises that it’s a comic book movie first, and its main duty is to entertain. And on this it over-delivers on the promise of the trailer, particularly in the centrepiece action sequence which dwarfs the token punch up between DC’s wooden-faced tough guys.
Its biggest flaw is the plot with the Cap’s old friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) which feels like re-treading the ground of The Winter Soldier. It also skips over pesky questions of why the secondary heroes choose the side they do, to get straight to the fighting. But there’s enough development in other areas to make up for it. It’s got the light comedy and knowing winks we’ve come to expect, but also goes darker than some of its predecessors.
After a couple of lacklustre outings (Iron Man 3, Age of Ultron) Civil War should be the kick up the backside the MCU needs to be reinvigorated, and kick in the teeth DC needs to ditch Zack Snyder and learn how to make superhero movies.