The unseen powers that be have declared it taboo to compare Civil War with a certain BvS. It is quite interesting the parallels that rear their head as the film unravels but ultimately, these two films differ where it matters. Whilst BvS wields a consistent tone but incoherent plotting and storytelling, the reverse applies to Civil War which remains a step ahead of audiences but really struggles create an atmosphere to elevate the story. Mind you, I reckon I tend to lean towards the latter.
Our directors here, The Russo brothers, surprised and excelled with the Winter Soldier, a film that saw Captain America/Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) take centre stage in an intelligent thriller but here, much like a certain tabooed film, he is pretty much sidelined by more imposing characters, commercial touches and a different shade of Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark. This film has at its core a split between the Avengers brought on by the desire of governments to restrain the Avengers and subsequently arrest Cap’s best friend, the tool of war that is The Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan).
Before all this though, The Russos attempt to answer the question posited by Naija Twitter asking how superheroes would fare in the urban chaos that characterised third world cities like Lagos (or LaHgos in this case). It turns our Avengers, Black Widow (Scarlett Johanson) and the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) especially, manage just fine in the human traffic as they ramp it up to save the day with some exceptionally choreographed action sequences. For Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), however, things do not go too well. She ends up blowing up a bunch of Wakandan nationals hence the international backlash which ushers in the Sekovia Accords asking the Avengers to defer oversight to their government and the United Nations.
The film overplays the ridiculous conceit that the collateral damage brought on by the activities of the Avengers outweighs saving the human race from a global Gestapo or an alien invasion or a world-ending meteorite but alas, when the incredibly petty General Ross (William Hurt) is projecting his dislike for Bruce Banner on you, Mother Teresa could come off as Typhoid Mary. That said there is an interesting real world question as to whether civilian casualties negate the righteousness of a seemingly noble cause and Vision (Paul Bettany) provides some inspired philosophical moments that question if the Avengers attract the challenge of powerful and nefarious entities – a yin-yang type dynamic.
The focus on the collateral damage nudges us into the crux of this film – loss. There is a cloud of loss hovering over the heads of some of our key characters and it showers emotions of guilt, fear and vengeance. Stark, for example, has his life falling apart. Pepper Potts seems to be out of the picture and he appears to have been stung by his episode with Ultron. However, an encounter with a grieving mother really squeezes the out the guilt and strengthens his resolve to see the Sekovia Accords passed. We also have T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) who spends a chunk of this film driven by a righteous drive for vengeance following the death of his father. The script, however, doesn’t dig into the workings of Rodgers who is pretty much hits one beat – ride or die for Bucky.
Rodgers’ commitment to Bucky wouldn’t seem so bizarre if the Russo’s looked to explore their dynamic and provide some desired emotional payoff but that never comes. Outside, Rodgers’ devotion to Bucky, we are never really convinced as to why a boy scout like him would be against government oversight (maybe events in Winter Soldier) and he almost comes off as a hypocrite but no one calls him out on this fact. This leaves us with the discrepancy in ideologies that results in the clash between Team Cap and Team Iron Man. Is the film asking us to choose between the two like the marketing suggests? Not necessarily as the use of “Civil War” is ultimately a bit of an overstatement.
Some of my misgivings with Marvel lie in the overwhelming product they have started to serve in some of their films and Age of Ultron was the number one culprit. Incredibly infuriating. However, it turns out pushing product instead of character doesn’t sting as much when it executed with verve and wit. The hyped airport scene really serves no purpose but to assemble the Avengers for a spectacular CGI sparring bout that is filled with glorious gags seamlessly intertwined with the kinetic action and choreographed sequences on display. The Russos find no difficulty in giving each character their moment in this airport scene and don’t sleep on Paul Rudd as Ant-Man; he steals the airport showdown.
More hype enveloped T’Challa, who holds prominence here primarily because he has a solo film coming along. Some cite him as the best part of his film and rightfully so. T’Challa hits some refreshing beats and carries himself with the entitlement of the royalty he is. The world building around T’Challa raises expectations for his solo film as we are given a taste of the supremely advanced Wakandan tech and his imposing elite female enforcers. The Black Panther is undoubtedly cool on the action front but T’Challa’s best action moments come when he is not in costume where he evokes images of Jim Kelly or the Jeet Kun Do-inspired Bashibo Brown. Outside Stark, the more compelling narrative arch will be found in T’Challa’s drive for vengeance and the satisfying resolution presented in that regard.
Still on the proxy marketing front, there is also the small matter of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who does nothing to bolster the core story but leaves you drooling for Homecoming. Parker here is a six-month veteran of crime fighting and he actually carries that burden of losing Uncle Ben in the authentic cadence of a nerdy teenager as exemplified by how the script conveys the obligatory “with great power comes great responsibility” moment. This is effectively his origin story handled as well as the best of them. Seeing Spidey in full web-slinger mode also made me wonder if this incarnation of Spider-Man presents an interesting opportunity for Sony-Marvel crossover with Deadpool.
It’s a shame audiences will come out of screenings hailing the likes of Black Panther, Ant Man and Spider-Man who actually have nothing to do with the story. Cap should have top billing but he never convinces. The core story in front of us, whilst admittedly well told by the Russos, is lacking stakes and emotional punch. I’m not asking for a rehash of the Civil War graphic novels but this conflict is pretty limp despite the massive resuscitation that sparks up Stark for a gripping finale that will have you on the edge of your seat but is eventually negated by a hugs and kisses resolution. We know the Avengers and the MCU have turned a major corner following the events here but it never feels that way.
A better told Civil War story would not need a villain but I guess this film has to employ one to keep us guessing. Daniel Bruhl as Helmut Zemo is one of the better Marvel villains (which isn’t saying much) and he too aligns with the theme of loss. We come to learn he has interesting motivations that unfortunately provide most of the contrivances and plot holes. The screenplay, like on other fronts, opts for compromise by serving as a Zemo who is ostensibly a rancorous Special Forces operative instead of the vicious neo-Nazi wielding an excalibur he is supposed to be.
Satisfaction is always subject to expectations. I would be lying if I said Civil War wasn’t what I pretty much expected; popcorn fare held up by a series crowd-rousing components. Marvel never really misses with humour as but the action, outside the Lagos sequence, is actually disappointingly gimmicky given the tight assured fight scenes in Winter Soldier. The Russos do a great job juggling the large cast and making each one seem relevant and there is also enough time to play around with thought provoking ideas but Captain America’s handling smacks of compromise and still leaves me feeling robbed. I bet I would feel differently about this film if it was called Avengers: Civil War instead of what it actually is.
By: Delali Adogla-Bessafirstname.lastname@example.org/Ghana