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Captain America: Civil War

Entry updated 8 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (2016). Studio Babelsberg and Marvel Entertainment present a Marvel Studios production. Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely from the Captain America Comics by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and the subsequent Civil War storyline by Mark Millar (2006-2007). Cast includes Paul Bettany, Chadwick Boseman, Daniel Brühl, Don Cheadle, Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Tom Holland, William Hurt, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Sebastian Stan and Emily VanCamp. 147 minutes. Colour.

The thirteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is as much a sequel to Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) as it is to the two previous films in the franchise, Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), and one which cements "Phase Three" of Marvel Studios' ongoing campaign to fill the Cineplex with its Superheroes. The distillation of the fractured complexities of the post-Cold War geopolitical landscape into a frame-by-frame mash-up of Political thriller and Graphic Novel is effective.

The film is three fights. The middle of these, between two teams of Avengers who disagree about the appropriate degree of international oversight following collateral damage from previous missions, is better directed than any previous sequence in the Marvel cinematic series. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo – hastily attached to the project following successful pre-screenings of Captain America: The Winter Soldier – relay the wisecrack-Superpower-effect cycle of the original Marvel Comics with little or no reduction in pace to consider either the black and white moral code of the first team, led by Captain America/Steve Rogers (Evans), or the tortured conscience of the other, led by Iron Man/Tony Stark, whose hubristic yet increasingly self-aware dramatic arc is ably communicated by Robert Downey Jr with very little dialogue. Action is character, friendship is meaning and the viewer takes part by choosing sides.

A year after the defeat of AI Ultron in "Sokovia", Captain America, Falcon (Mackie), Black Widow (Johansson) and Scarlet Witch (Olsen) kill several humanitarian workers while preventing the theft of a biological Weapon from a laboratory in Lagos. US Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (Hurt) tells the team the United Nations will establish an oversight committee to control the Avengers. Hawkeye (Renner), Falcon and newcomer Ant-Man (Rudd) go rogue in support of Captain America, who is sure old friend "Bucky Barnes" – the eponymous "Winter Soldier" and central antagonist of the previous film in the trilogy – has been framed by faked security footage. War Machine (Cheadle), Vision (Bettany), Black Widow, Black Panther (Boseman) and a teenaged Spider-Man (Holland) side with Iron Man, who feels responsible both for the creation of Ultron and the resulting deaths in Sokovia.

Helmut Zemo (Brühl), a Villain here without his signature mask from the comics, tracks down Barnes's old HYDRA handler and discovers a red book with the Soviet star emblem containing the cryptonyms that grant him Hypnotic control over the Winter Soldier, facts which Barnes himself reveals to old friend Captain America during a rare moment of lucidity. Zemo wants access to a Siberian HYDRA base filled with similarly brainwashed super-soldiers kept in cold storage. The same date keeps cropping up: "December 16, 1991". Games are played with the affections and affiliations of various team members before the central battle occurs at Halle airport outside Leipzig, a showpiece affair designed to demonstrate the efficacy of newcomers Ant-Man, whose shifts through sizes (see Great and Small; Miniaturization) prove beneficial, and Spider-Man, who gets the best lines. Iron Man's team prevails but Captain America and the Winter Soldier escape before being followed to Siberia by an almost contrite Iron Man, who has since discovered evidence that the Winter Soldier was framed by Zemo. HYDRA footage reveals the true significance of "December 16, 1991": a Batman-style origin story for Iron Man involving the Winter Soldier in the death of Stark's parents. Stark's rage – based in adolescent impulses common to Marvel storylines and foreshadowed in previous films as anxiety disorder rather than the alcoholism of the original Iron Man comics – boils over and he damages both the Cyborg arm of Winter Soldier and Captain America's signature shield in the resulting three-way contretemps before having his own armour disabled by Steve Rogers. Post-credit scenes restore faith in the fractured post-war elite, as the Winter Soldier is returned to the safety of Cryogenic suspension and Spider-Man given new Technology to play with by indulgent uncle Tony Stark.

Captain America: Civil War is a flirtatious spat between members of an exclusive club who in fact agree on the fundamentals of their own superiority even as they disagree about to whom they are most responsible. Deaths are reported rather than seen and, as with the demi-Gods of Ancient Greece, it little matters whether Zeus or Apollo utters the call to arms. The fun is in the taking of sides and in the utter lack of moral consequence to anyone but individual members of the Avengers. As a piece of Mythology, however, it is convincingly rendered and technically accomplished to a degree that surpasses any previous film in the Marvel franchise. The computer generated imagery is credibly integrated into the action via syncopated sound effects and in-camera responses, and the verbal firepower balanced nicely with the physical exploits of the Avengers by a fast-moving screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who also worked with the Russo brothers on Captain America: Winter Soldier. It also preserves the existing McGuffins of the Marvel Cinematic meta-plot – there is small doubt that the elite will pull together to face the world-sized threat of Thanos foreshadowed in the after-credit sequence of Avengers: Age of Ultron and the Marvel Studios homebrew Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – and solidifies the financial basis of the overall endeavour. The film took close on a billion dollars at the box office during the first two weeks of its release, with articles about its allegorical implications appearing in sources as diverse as The Economist – "The Avengers should agree to be placed under UN supervision" – and Pacific Standard magazine: "The Post-9/11 Ethics of Captain America: Civil War". The craving for a simpler political landscape goes deep. [MD]


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