You can draw all kind of political parallels from Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War. Right vs left, libertarian vs statist, Stronger In vs Brexit. It boils down to this: are you on the side of the faceless bureaucrats who want to stifle our fundamental right to undertake covert operations on foreign soil, or are you a staunch defender of Captain America’s right to throw his shield wherever he damn well pleases, so long as it’s still painted red white and blue?
In the opening scenes The Avengers are on a mission to retrieve some super-villain hokum-pokum from Lagos, which goes horribly wrong and kills lots of people. This makes some men in suits absolutely furious, jogging their memories about the Avengers doing stuff like flying an aircraft carrier into the east coast, or making an entire country float about making a mess. The madness must stop: either you remain in the EU or you have to stop avenging things.
The superheroes are split right down the middle, which is convenient because it makes for a relatively even fight, and also surprising because Tony Stark’s “We have to join the UN” argument is so clearly right. He has the backing of Scarlett Johanssen’s Black Widow, Don Cheadle’s War Machine, Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and Paul Bettany’s Vision. On the opposing side are Chris Evans’ Captain America, Jeremy Renner’s Hawk Eye, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man (far better as a lesser member of a group than in a stand alone film), Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon.
The schism is actually a bit of a fudge – there are no real ideological differences, just a squabble over practicalities. But it allows for some brilliantly choreographed fight sequences, including the promised royal rumble, which is an astonishingly tight piece of visual storytelling; frenetic but never confused (Michael Bay take note). What’s more, every punch carries with it a fistful of hard-earned emotional weight, forged over many hours of cinema.
When people aren’t hitting each other, there’s a decidedly Bond-esque flavour to the proceedings, with lots of Cold War flashbacks and snowy Soviet bunkers and evil Europeans (tonally similar to comic writer Ed Brubaker’s work on Captain America, which is a big inspiration).
This is the first Marvel film to feature Spiderman, with the character finally being rescued from his exclusive deal with Sony Pictures. I liked Toby McGuire in the role and I really liked Andrew Garfield, but Tom Holland’s portrayal is a masterclass, smart but naïve, cocky yet unsure of himself: this is the definitive cinematic Peter Parker, which bodes well for his upcoming solo film. Fellow newcomer Black Panther is also great, feeling like he’s been a part of this universe for far longer than five minutes.
Civil War is the culmination of almost a decade’s good work (Iron Man, Marvel Studio’s first film, came out in 2008). Within the tightly controlled framework of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s near-perfect, topping even Joss Whedon’s Avengers Assemble and up there with James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s well acted, well paced, well shot. It gets right all the things that DC’s super hero face-off Batman v Superman messed up.
But at the heart of Zack Snyder’s BvS, underneath the bloat and the gibberish and the mistakes, was a willingness to sacrifice forward-planning and conventional wisdom in the quest to create something… different. Civil War, meanwhile, is happy to play the hits. But when the hits are this good, it’s hard to argue.