Let me preface this by saying that superhero movies usually aren’t my thing. I used to look forward to them and still find some to be extremely well done–Iron Man 3 is way underrated–but I just cannot muster up any excitement anymore for this bloated assembly line of a franchise. The thing is, at least Marvel’s got the formula down pat; DC’s assembly line right now probably consists of a bunch of shitty workers standing around some plastic table praying to their Lord and Savior Zack Snyder. Anyway, I’ve nevertheless grown tired of that (albeit efficient) Marvel formula, especially after enduring the terrible Age of Ultron and really feeling like my life was slowly slipping away with each passing scene. Then came a formula-breaking attempt in Deadpool, a movie that ended up just expediting the disintegration of my life by tearing my soul out of my body and smashing it to pieces with a sledgehammer. Then came Civil War, and I thought it’d just be a huge, overstuffed mess that was more of the same. Well, I might’ve been wrong on that last one.
Of course, “more of the same” doesn’t necessarily have to be a criticism, as it’s all just a matter of personal taste. What I do really like about Civil War, though, is the fact that it breaks the superhero formula in very effective ways. For instance, Daniel Bruhl’s Helmut Zemo is the “Big Bad” of the film, but he doesn’t really fit the type of role that, say, Ultron did. He’s really just a guy with a believable personal motive. What this film understands is that raising the stakes doesn’t necessarily mean widening the scope of a plan or trying to save the entire world. Instead, stakes can be raised if the action is derived from certain character beats, from people we know and care about. The Russos shoot the action scenes well, but those scenes don’t mean a damn thing without a foundation for why we’re watching these conflicts in the first place. The stakes feel higher, the emotional beats hit more often, and the action means something. Ultron gave us a ‘what’; Civil War makes an effort to delve into the ‘why’. Even the endings are significantly different in that the former reverted to the status quo, whereas the latter feels like it’s actually moving toward something important.
The ideological divide between the two Avengers camps in Civil War isn’t the most complex conflict I’ve seen depicted in film, but it works in that it splits these people up in believable manners. Most impressive is the script’s ability to juggle the unreasonably large cast, giving each character moments to shine while also developing the central Captain America-Iron Man conflict. Newcomers Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) and Tom Holland (Spiderman) fit in nicely with the team, and Paul Rudd has some fun moments as Ant-Man. Honestly, I have no idea how this even works. Even with 2.5 hours, the number of characters in this is why terms like “overstuffed” exists. And yet, for the most part, everyone actually feels like part of the movie. Kudos to you, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.
Civil War‘s greatest accomplishment, however, is an extended battle sequence at the Leipzig Halle airport. It’s simply unadulterated fun, featuring the Avengers team fighting amongst themselves as they quip and punch and assist and try to beat each other into submission. It’s action that means something given the context, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun as its own spectacle. I don’t know how enthused I am for future installments of the franchise, but if the airport sequence is any indication, maybe there’s cause for anticipation. Only time will tell.
Also, Chris Evans’s biceps make me feel inadequate.
Photo credit: Marvel, Captain America