Before I get into the meat of this review, I have to disclose that I have no allegiances with Marvel. I have always seen their movies as products rather than movies, and the fact that they are now pumping out multiple movies per summer is doing nothing to change my mind. Some of their more recent efforts, like Guardians of the Galaxy, Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man didn't really win me over, and I was expecting them to begin to go on some downward slope. Hot on the heels of watching DC's equivalent, Batman v. Superman, and being thoroughly unimpressed, I wasn't expecting a whole lot from this one. Perhaps it was the lowered expectations, but Civil War proved me pretty wrong in my pessimistic anticipations. Although this movie still feels far too artificial to elicit any sort of real emotional response from me, I can safely say that I was pretty entertained by the ride the Russo brothers (who directed The Winter Soldier) provided me.
The plot of Civil War is pretty simple, and parallels with Batman v. Superman's a little bit. Acknowledging the destruction the Avengers have caused, world leaders decide to congregate and create the Sokovia Accords, which basically serves to keep the Avengers in check. Captain America doesn't necessarily agree with this, while Tony Stark is heavily in favor of this development. Bucky Barnes is involved in some destructive catastrophe, and Cap goes looking for him, effectively going rogue in the process. Tony Stark is sent to look for him, and this sets up some very expensive destruction sequences and detailed set pieces.
I feel like the plot to this movie is pretty empty and forced, and I feel like the initial incident of Batman v. Superman was a lot more personal and resonated with me a lot more. There are no real personal elements to either character's arcs here. By introducing a forced conflict with the Sokovia Accords, it doesn't feel like much is at stake here. While it is passively hinted at, it would have been much more effective if Cap and Iron Man were at odds because Ultron was Iron Man's creation, and he almost caused the apocalypse with the grave mistakes he made in creating him. It's certainly not developed enough, however, and it makes the heroes feel distant from the audience, and it greatly blunts the emotional impact the story could have. I would have loved to have seen Tony Stark accept his vulnerabilities and express regret over what he's done, rather than coolly passing it off in a vain attempt to spare his self-worth like he has. It would have added something to his arc and would have introduced a much more polarizing divide between viewers. Unfortunately, the stakes aren't personal enough and have to be much more general to reel in viewers, so we are stuck with the Sokovia Accords.
The ideological divide between our two protagonists is compelling enough, though not really thoroughly enough to resonate for more than twelve minutes. While Tony Stark doesn't really have much of an arc going on, Steve Rogers has more tough calls to make for his friend, Bucky, and I feel like this adds more of a human element to his character. While this decision was made plenty enough in The Winter Soldier and it doesn't feel new at all, it's still something that can connect with the humanity of the audience and therefore make him a somewhat relatable character. Although he's far too much of a saint to be completely human, I do feel like he's a man that is disconnected with the world because of his absolute desire to do good and is desperately trying to hold onto the parts of his past that gave him validation, which is why he risks so much to find and reconnect with Bucky. Cap acknowledges that is superhuman abilities separate him from the rest of humanity, and he is trying so hard to hold on to the one person who can give back some of his humanity. Since this mindset strongly contrasts Tony Stark's self-pride and embracing attitude towards his heroic tendencies, this creates a tangible divide between the two characters. Whether I completely fabricated this separation myself or the writers really intended it, it added a lot to these two characters for me, especially Captain America.
It must be addressed, however, that Civil War is significantly more morose than previous entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Brooding cinema isn't necessarily something I mind, and in fact it's something I prefer (Margaret is one of my favorite films of all time, and it has not one optimistic moment) but I don't know if it has much of a place in comic book movies. Sure, it adds more dramatic weight and adds depth to the characters, and I have no qualms with adding contemplative elements to a summer movie in order to make it more thought-provoking. Much like Batman v. Superman, however, depressing elements are added in order to evoke forced drama that doesn't hold much weight, and sags the movie down as a whole. I'm not saying that every comic book movie has to be cheery and overly funny, because that makes the ordeal entirely too artificial and saccharine. However, we are dealing with a movie that, when all of that special effects budget is stripped away, is about two men in pricey Halloween costumes pretending to fight in front of a green screen. Adding forced weighty elements in order to appeal to the brooding teenager crowd definitely takes away from the experience. If you're going to add ponderous elements to the story, do it in such a way that adds to the characters or raises the stakes. Watchmen does this perfectly, I think, and makes every character seem vulnerable and human, and their woes are easily related to and the depressing elements surrounding their already agonizing lives add to dramatic tension. Making Tony Stark slightly moody for no reason at all, however, adds nothing to the story and makes the experience mildly less pleasant.
If you remember from The Winter Soldier, the Russo brothers tend to make their direction a lot more fast-paced and visually exciting. Unlike Joss Whedon, these two employ handled cameras and lots of zooming in and out to make the action seem like it's happening faster than it is. Their efforts in The Winter Soldier with this type of camerawork and direction isn't bad, and definitely makes the events seem more gritty and more barebones, and it really worked in that movie because it was trying to be more of an espionage thriller than a comic book movie, and that sort of camerawork conjures memories of the Bourne movies, which are full of shaky, handheld camerawork. In this movie, however, it feels less compelling because of the lowered stakes. The Russo's rely way too much on undercranking the camera to make it look like the events are happening faster. It actually becomes kind of irritating after a while because of how dynamic the camera is and how these two feel the need to constantly evoke the feeling that something is happening, even when absolutely nothing important is happening. I feel like these two could have used some restraint and just used a Steadicam.
Alright, I've gone on about technical details long enough, you guys are probably here to learn how well the characters you love are portrayed. Well, good news, folks, because all of the characters are given a lot of justice here, with Tom Holland's portrayal of Spider-Man really standing out. While he isn't in the movie a lot (and is probably pretty expendable) he is by far the best portrayal of Spider-Man the big screen has ever see. He is witty, likable, and strong, and he is definitely the best character present in this movie. Black Panther is very satisfying as well, and his origin story doesn't feel forced or like it sags the movie's pace. His presence in the movie definitely feels justified. Vision, however, is given a very insulting supporting character presence that contributes nothing tangible to the movie, save for some laughs when he's dressed up in a sweater or something to that effect. It is a strong contrast to his contributions to Age of Ultron, and it is incredibly disappointing. The main villain, Zemo, is very much forgettable. His motives are palatable enough, yes, but his plans are weak and require far too many "eureka" moments to come to fruition. Daniel Bruhl's performance is also pretty generic and lackluster, and it feels like Marvel Studios doesn't really know how to create compelling villains. The returning characters all feel familiar and their writing is consistent, which is actually quite impressive considering how many movies they have appeared in under different writers. Their human elements are all still very present, and I appreciate how they all interact with one another in very familiar ways.
The conclusion to this movie is also pretty disappointing, where too many coincidences fall into place and the resolution to all of the conflicts feel forced and unearned. All of the buildup that has occurred within the movie is just sort of disregarded and left to waste. Any sort of compelling elements that were present within the story just sort of fade, similar to how they do in Batman v. Superman. It's emotional enough, I suppose, but it adds more conflict than necessary and tries far too hard to raise the stakes. While it's not some sort of overblown, special effects-heavy apocalyptic showdown that the previous two Avengers movies had, it's still sort of disappointing. It's devoid of energy. I appreciate that the climax is compelling for a while, but one too many coincidences occur and some more conflict is shoehorned into the mix, and that initial emotional response is left to fade, and that's a very sour note to end the movie on. Considering a most incredible Airport scene just 45 minutes earlier left me with a feeling of triumph and excitement, I am even more disappointed by the underwhelming conclusion. If that feeling of excitement would have stayed, my opinion of this movie would have been very different.
I know this review consists mostly of complaints, but despite that, I had a pretty alright time with this movie. It disappointed me that it wasn't as compelling as it could have been (much like Batman v. Superman) but it is still a very entertaining movie, filled with (usually) well-filmed action and good performances. I think you should go out and see it, and if you're a fan of Marvel's movies, you're probably going to love it, especially the Airport scene, which is filled with fan service. I probably hold comic movies up to too much scrutiny, and perhaps I'm looking for too much when I go and see these movies when they are just entertainment and nothing more. While there are a lot of human elements that are missing (especially when compared to The Winter Soldier or The Avengers) from this one that would have heightened my enjoyment of the experience, I can safely say that this one entertained me enough to warrant a recommendation. But you didn't need that, you're going to go see it anyway.