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Featuring more superheroes than any Marvel movie before it - albeit with Thor and Hulk as notable absences - Captain America: Civil War is an all-action superhero brawl! With so much of the cast returning, and two new superheroes to introduce, not everyone could get the same amount of time. But who shone? Be warned:
12. War Machine
Over the course of Civil War, nobody takes more damage than War Machine! He's a heavy-hitter in the airport brawl, and his new War Hammer is an interesting touch. Unfortunately, Don Cheadle's character doesn't really get an arc in the film; he's played as a sidekick for Tony Stark, and the scene where he gets shot out of the sky is more about its impact on Tony than anything else. I was disappointed to see that the repercussions for Rhodey look to be minimal.
Although Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye returns, it's largely to show how the conflict is escalating. That said, there is one subtle element that's absolutely superb; his interaction with Scarlet Witch. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Hawkeye's words stirred Scarlet Witch into action. It makes sense that his appearance would draw Wanda into the fight.
Let me first say that I'm a tremendous fan of Anthony Mackie's Falcon. I particularly love the way he uses flight as an actual power rather than just a means of getting from A to B - the opening scenes where he attacks Crossbones' goons are outstanding. Unfortunately, the MCU's Falcon suffers from the same problems you get in the comics. He's largely a sidekick, and while the interaction between Mackie and Chris Evans' Captain America is tremendously fun, it doesn't give Falcon a character arc at all.
Perhaps one of the most interesting characters in Civil War, Vision makes his entrance walking through a wall rather than using the door! I love the way he's struggling to connect with the human race, highlighted by the oddly formal clothing he wears when 'out of action'.
The seeds of a relationship between Vision and Scarlet Witch are fascinating, and so very true to the comic book interpretation. Unfortunately, with the events of Civil War taking place so early in their friendship, I doubt we'll ever see the full-on romance that became such an intriguing part of the Avengers comics.
That said, Vision is easily one of the characters set up most effectively. He discusses the Mind Gem with Scarlet Witch, and leaves a tantalising question about just how much he's in control of his own actions. That really comes to a head in his "distraction", when he takes what could only have been a kill-shot against the Falcon. I'm disturbed at the lack of consequences for Vision - he was seriously out of line by the end of the airport battle.
For some fans, Ant-Man is an absolute highlight of Civil War. I get it, I really do; Paul Rudd shines in his every scene, and he just feels like he represents a fan-boy introduced into the world of superheroes. When he comes face-to-face with Captain America, he has a sort of awkward enthusiasm that really makes you laugh out loud. Later, his childlike glee as he rampages through the airport is tremendous.
That said, fun and CGI don't make for a character arc. I find it hard to believe that Scott Lang - who loves his daughter so very much - would so easily choose to become a fugitive, unable to see his daughter. This film has definite repercussions for Ant-Man and the Wasp.
7. Black Widow
I admit that I'm a huge fan of Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, and I maintain it's practically a crime that Marvel haven't given Black Widow her own movie. Black Widow is a strong presence in the film, delicately balancing on a tightrope between choosing a side. Her duel with Hawkeye feels almost like play-sparring - neither Avenger's heart is in it - and when she finally makes her choice, it's no surprise.
Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans are a dream team, and that's never more visible than after the funeral. The quality of acting on display in that moment is heart-warming, showing both characters at their very best.
6. Scarlet Witch
In the comics, Scarlet Witch has a habit of making a mess of things; she kicked off the "Decimation" arc, created an alternate-reality, and nearly wiped out the mutant race! Although Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch is yet to do anything on that kind of scale, she still brings chaos in her wake. It's hard not to feel sorry for her when she makes her critical mistake early on in the film.
I think Olsen captures something beautifully fragile about Scarlet Witch. Her interactions with Vision are so very effectively done. It's wonderful to see that the MCU has such strong female characters.
5. Winter Soldier
Sebastian Stan returns as the Winter Soldier, and in truth he kind of dominates the film. As before, the dynamic between Stan and Chris Evans is electric, and he captures the character perfectly. There are some really disturbing moments that add emotional depth to the Winter Soldier; the idea that he can remember everything he does while under Hydra control is horrific, and there are strong hints that he doesn't believe himself to be worth saving.
Winter Soldier's action scenes are phenomenal. Given that so much of the film revolves around him, he has easily more action than any other superhero - including a great sequence where he faces off against some of the MCU's best warriors. He's superb.
Although Tom Holland's Spider-Man isn't exactly necessary to the plot, he absolutely steals the show in every scene he's in. Holland channels the vibe of 'early Spider-Man', adding in an element of 'wide-eyed fanboy' that serves to make him particularly endearing. The film makes the smart choice of giving us Holland's Peter Parker first, saving Spider-Man for later, and giving us the chance to fall in love with this latest portrayal of the world's most iconic superhero.
An odd subtext not explored in the film, though, is that Iron Man is seriously out-of-line for bringing Spider-Man into the action. I mean, he's taking a fifteen-year-old kid into a situation he knows is escalating, where one of the fugitives is possibly the deadliest assassin the world has ever known. No wonder when asked how old Spider-Man is, Stark pretends not to know.
3. Black Panther
There are times when a studio gets their casting so very right. I'm delighted to say that Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther is one such casting choice; from the moment we first meet T'Challa, at the signing of the Sokovia Accords, he stands out. He has a tremendous character arc, one tying in directly to the central themes of the film - consequences and vengeance. The resolution is so very, very effective, and sets him on a path that I can't wait to see explored.
Giving us our first glimpse of Black Panther in this film is a stroke of genius, because it pits Black Panther against some of Marvel's best. As a result, we immediately realise just how brutally effective a warrior Black Panther truly is. Black Panther comes close to stealing every scene he's in.
2. Iron Man
There have been times when Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark has been portrayed as an irritating ego-maniacal eccentric, and I've been left irritated. This film, thankfully, isn't one of them. Downey plays a much more sombre and reflective Tony Stark than we've ever seen before, and there's subtle dialogue tying together his character arc from Iron Man 3.
Iron Man's character arc in this film, though, is shocking in the twists that it takes; in the final battle, we know Cap has to win because if he doesn't, Stark will become a very different man. The film's script is ruthlessly intelligent in its portrayal of Stark, finally tying him in to the theme of vengeance that runs throughout the narrative.
1. Captain America
But of course, the star of the show is Chris Evans' Captain America. He's the centre of the film - as he should be - and he allows himself to be a foil to highlight the best and worst of all the other superheroes around him. There are beautiful moments - his brief battle with Spider-Man, the grief and loss as he talks with Black Widow, and the tense conversation as he comes within a hair's breadth of signing the Sokovia Accords. The Steve Rogers of Civil War is a principled man who actually does come close to sacrificing his principles, but ultimately stands by them. He's dynamic and inspirational, committed to getting the job done, and with an innate distrust of authority.
We don't yet know whether or not this will be Chris Evans' last rodeo as the Star-Spangled Avenger. I truly hope not; there's definitely room for him in Avengers: Infinity War. But if it is, then this is a wonderful film to go out on.
So there you have it! I've never seen a superhero film so effectively handle such a massive cast, but Civil War pulls it off with an ease that's remarkable. Almost every superhero has great character moments and a definable arc, to the extent that this film feels almost like a love-letter to the MCU.
The one problem? Now I have to wait till Doctor Strange to see the next Marvel Studios movie!