I never really got into comic books as a kid, so their stylistic elements in big screen adaptations aren’t a part of my artistic appreciation as an adult. It means quite a lot, then, that there is a sequence in Captain America: Civil War that even novices like me can realize comes from a powerful connection to the source material: the splash page. Put simply, a splash page is one big drawing that takes up a full page (or two) of any single comic. It’s meant to really catch the reader’s attention, a sort of aesthetic exclamation point in the middle of the story.
The directing team of brothers Anthony and Joe Russo create at least one moment that is on par with the grandeur of the splash page. In fact, the visual design of the whole film evinces a deep respect and love for their movie’s funny book origin, and its uniquely cinematic qualities. The script, by writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, offers up a fairly straightforward central conflict while successfully bringing together multiple subplots that are all in service of the larger story.
At its heart, Civil War is about accountability. The global community is fed up with the death and destruction that follow in the wake of the battles that our heroes fight. In the Marvel films, things tend to go wrong when the Avengers get involved. Enter U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross to confront the team with the Sokovia Accords. He tells Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Falcon, War Machine, Vision, and the Scarlet Witch that after the loss of innocent life in the battles of New York (The Avengers), Washington D.C. (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), and Sokovia (Avengers: Age of Ultron), the U.N. wants to make the team a governmental agency subject to their oversight. Basically, any action taken by the superheroes who sign up and is approved by the U.N. is sanctioned. The ones who refuse to sign, but still fight under their own authority, will become criminals.
Each Avenger comes down in one of two camps, the natural leaders of which are Captain America and Iron Man. Cap believes the need for the superheroes to act quickly during a threat trumps the need for regulation, and that the red tape created by a legislative body voting to authorize the team’s actions would be disastrous. Iron Man holds the opposite view after he is confronted by the mother of an innocent victim of the battle in Sokovia. The cost of innocent lives has become too great a weight to bear for the brash billionaire, and he is willing to sign the accords to alleviate that pressure.
What these two stances mean in relation to real world politics will likely serve as fodder for countless think pieces, both from the left and the right of the political spectrum. There is already an article on the left-leaning website Salon calling Captain America a “douchey libertarian” for not getting on board with due process and governmental oversight. What’s going on in Civil War is more subtle than that argument suggests by virtue of the fact that these are actual super men and women who can do things normal humans can’t. There are several layers to the movie, and writers Markus and McFeely did a good job of presenting nuanced arguments, and making a thought provoking story.
But the movie isn’t all political pontificating. There is also a healthy dose of very human drama intertwined with the superhuman battles. A subplot involving the bombing of the U.N.’s conference on the accords results in the deft introduction of a new superhero ally. The Winter Soldier, the character and the film, also factors into the story. The former best friend of Captain America, who was programmed for assassination by Hydra, plays a major part in the catastrophically eroded alliance between Cap and Iron Man. Civil War does a good job of not leaving the casual viewer of the Marvel movies completely out in the cold, but a closer study of all the previous installments would help. The one major critique of the film I can offer is that without a more intimate knowledge of the dozen Marvel movies that have come before Civil War, I wasn’t able to fully appreciate everything I was seeing.
That should not, however, discourage anyone from seeing and enjoying Captain America: Civil War. Moments like the one I mentioned at the beginning of this review are well worth the price of admission. The splash page sequence comes about three-quarters of the way in, and it’s a beautiful tableau of the two factions rushing towards each other to do battle in and around an abandoned airport hangar. Much like the incredible visual style of graphic novel inspired movies Sin City or Watchmen, the battle on the airport runway brings the comic to life in a way that is truly awesome. Ant-Man is pressed into service in this civil war, and the Russo brothers’ expert handling of digital trickery used to bring the tiny superhero to life must be seen to be believed. The trademark Marvel humor is also in abundant supply. Civil War offers up as many laughs as it does action thrills.
When I wrote my somewhat lukewarm review for The Avengers: Age of Ultron, one of my readers posted a comment that comic book superheroes are today’s mythological Greek gods and goddesses. I’m not sure if thousands of years ago the audiences of those heroic tales ever felt that one or another story didn’t quite live up to the great characters who populated them. Age of Ultron may not have lived up to the hype that surrounded its release, but Captain America: Civil War certainly does. It’s an excellent chapter in the millenniums old tradition of the human desire to see our best and worst traits writ large in heroes with the kinds of powers we can only dream about. Or make stories about.
Why it got 4 stars:
- Captain America: Civil War is an action-packed, fun time at the movies. Marvel does the big tent-pole summer blockbuster better than just about anyone these days, and Civil War is a great example of that.
- It might have scored higher, but comic book movies have never been my thing, so my own personal taste is a factor here.
Things I forgot to mention in my review, because, well, I'm the Forgetful Film Critic:
- Don't let the two-and-a-half hour running time scare you away. The movie is exceptionally well paced, and it flies by, mostly because of how much it entertains.
- The only reason I was a little let down by Civil War was because of my raised expectations due to Captain America: The Winter Soldier. That picture was also directed by the Russo brothers, and written by the Markus/McFeely team. There is an absolutely bonkers story element in the last third of that movie, with a visual style to match, that I was hoping would be equaled, if not outdone, by Civil War. That was not the case.