Monday, 12 September 2016

Captain America: Civil War - Marvel Goes DC?

What's it about?
Following on from the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, our gang of superheroes find themselves set against each other as 117 countries propose The Sokovia Accords to bring The Avengers under United Nations control as a result of civilian deaths and collateral damage in recent battles. Iron Man, riven with guilt, wants to sign up ... Captain America, suspicious of organised oversight in the wake of Hydra's infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D., wants to remain free to protect and serve. Which side will the rest of them choose?
Who would I recognise in it?
Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Daniel Bruhl, Paul Rudd, Emily Vancamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, and more.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been hugely successful with critics and audiences alike, coining in the cash with gleeful abandon. They're bright, sparky, immensely fun, and the ever-widening world in which they take place is ripe with stories to tell. However, for all their successes, the Marvel movies have sometimes hewn close to pantomime villains and playing it safe with key characters. The third Captain America film, though, takes the moral greys and millennial murkiness of The Winter Soldier to new depths...

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As we have seen elsewhere in this year's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there is a price to pay for all these smash-em-up superhero antics. With heroes come villains, and when buildings are falling all around you, someone's going to get killed. DC have never been afraid to dig deep into the darkness - look at Christopher Nolan's hugely successful Dark Knight trilogy - but Marvel have tended towards fun over furrowed brows.

While still visually bright and breezy, perhaps somewhat rounding off the rough edges of a dark and complex plot, Civil War paints a bleak picture for The Avengers. Loyalties are questioned, internal conflicts flare (e.g. Scarlett Witch) and friends do battle (yet, in the spirit of keeping things bouyant, make sure they're still chums in the heat of punching each other!). However, the shift towards deeper, darker, more complex storytelling - looking outwards to the world around the actions of The Avengers as much as inwards to their moral conflicts - is a welcome one, and parks a tank on DC's lawn. Heck, a lot of people die in Civil War ... even if they're pretty much all supporting bit-players and back story fill-ins ... but the effect these deaths have on those near to them makes for good screenplay meat to chew on. Indeed, a revelatory moment concerning a key figure in the history of the MCU delivers a satisfyingly dark and twisted gut punch.

However, Marvel's main issue, despite all the entertainment they provide, is that the main characters rarely feel like they are truly in peril. Even when someone died in Avengers: Assemble, they were brought back to life in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. You never think someone stands a chance of carking it ... but, to be fair, even in the DC films you can't go around killing off your key players. That said, The Dark Knight packed a shock departure that resonated. Now though, with Civil War, the sense of allegiance amongst The Avengers is at least brought into question and nobody leaves without a mental scar or two. Dark themes and dark times are here.

One of DC's main issues, particularly with BvS and Suicide Squad, is a lack of focus. Too many characters, too many plot strands, too many things to set up. With Civil War taking a leaf out of DC's book in a positive way, they've also been straying a little towards their unwieldy nature. Just look at the cast list - it's vast - and the sheer volume of back story, plot, and set-ups is all-too-much for one sitting. This flick demands at least a second viewing to get all the key issues locked-in, but a sense of efficiency in the characterisation - and relying on previous movies in the MCU to lay a lot of groundwork (e.g. with Ant-Man, who joins The Avengers for the first time in Civil War). They even use other movies outside their control to quickly re-introduce Spider-Man and insert him into the MCU proper. We all know the back story, about Uncle Ben's demise, about great power and responsibility, so Marvel wisely trusts the audience to be caught up with such a mainstream tale and just has fun with the character.

Speaking of fun, when it comes to action Civil War packs a thunderous punch. Inventive use of various martial arts techniques make for rather impressive displays of physical prowess from the likes of Black Widow and (another new introduction) Black Panther, while the epic airport battle screams "splash page bonanza" and tickles fan's fancies with glee.

The villain could maybe use a little more fleshing out, and there's an awful lot to deal with all at once here - indeed, Captain America's third solo film feels far more like a third Avengers film - but Marvel's (safely handled) move towards darker territory breathes fresh life into eight years and counting of the MCU. On its own terms, the Captain America films have been the most consistent out of all the various strands in the MCU, and in the Russo Brothers it has found true talent at keeping a complex balancing act under control. While DC still has Marvel trounced on darkness and villains, the house of the Bat could learn a thing or two from Civil War's ability to handle so many characters, plot threads, and themes this deftly. Good.

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