Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen
Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Runtime: 147 minutes
Release Date: 29th April 2016 (UK)/6th May 2016 (US)
Matt C: There are a number of reasons why Captain America: Civil War works so well, and why it provides a new peak for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but perhaps one of the most pertinent is that it feels like a real culmination of everything that has been put in place since Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark uttered the immortal words "I am Iron Man" back in 2008. Marvel has been able to cultivate its audience through twelve movies that exist in a shared universe, offering characters that never remain static but organically grow and develop over the course of time. Because we've invested in the various individuals that make up the Avengers (and beyond), and seen how their dynamics have shifted and matured, we now have enough built-in emotional attachment to them so that when something causes a schism within the group, picking a side isn't quite as easy or clear-cut as choosing between the hastags #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan on Twitter.
The plot only stripmines the bare bones of Mark Millar's comic series of the same name (so, thankfully, there are no Thunder Gods being cloned from hair follicles), eschewing the secret identity angle (because the MCU obviously doesn't have many of those) and instead taking the idea of the government (or, in this case, the UN) having ultimate control over the Avengers. Tony Stark, still reeling from the guilt of the Ultron debacle that ended up decimating Sokovia, thinks the team needs to be kept in check, so is happy to sign on the dotted line. Steve Rogers, the 'Man Out of Time' who has seen enough in the Modern Age to know that government agendas blur black & white/right & wrong into areas of grey doesn't want to see his team being told which fights they should be fighting. Throw in the reappearance of Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier, and a villainous plot running through the background, and you find a situation that eventually leads Cap and Iron Man, along with their respective supporters, to violent loggerheads.
There's enough justification for arguments on both sides to make it difficult to shift all sympathies in one obvious direction. It's a Captain America movie, so inevitably it's more weighted towards Rogers, but not to the extent that you would find yourself rooting for him over Iron Man without any questions. But, no matter how many cast members are being juggled, it is most definitely a Cap movie: the focus is on the Sentinel of Liberty, with his friendship of Barnes and disagreement with Tony being the primary motivating factors that propel the narrative forwards. That's not to say anyone gets lost in the mix, and the genius of the film is how it finds time to give every character their turn in the spotlight. It's busy without being crowded, and it helps that there's already a familiarity with most of the cast, although that certainly doesn't prevent Chadwick Boseman's thoroughly convincing turn as Black Panther or Tom Holland's infectiously enthusiastic appearance as Spider-Man from making a significant impact.
After such an impressive first foray into the MCU with the exceptional Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Russo Brothers turn things up a notch with a directorial control over their vast cinematic canvas that they make look effortless. They gradually move from the rough kineticism of The Winter Soldier to more grand, overtly superheroic action sequences across the course of the movie, with a confidence that is breathtaking, casting away any doubts that they are the right guys for the Infinity War project. And so the fight scenes go from close-up and brutal to ones that seem like they're ripped straight out of the comic books, to a level that almost beggars belief. It's an exhilarating ride that never lets up, but more than that, it's an emotional ride too. And it's Evans and Downey (both excellent) who take us to places we've never been with these characters before, and it's heartwrenching to watch things escalate to the point where the final confrontation is almost unbearably intense.
At this stage, Marvel seem to be near untouchable. If you're not on board with these films already, this isn't going to be the one to convince you, but if you've already signed up then Captain America: Civil War is not only a new high watermark for what a superhero movie can be but it also makes it clear that Marvel are not prepared to rest on their laurels and lets things coast along. If this is the trajectory they continue to move along then the future is theirs for the taking. 10/10