With nearly every review of 2016's Captain America: Civil War talking about how it succeeds in precisely the ways Batman v Superman failed, for me to do the same would feel like piling on at this point. So I’d like to talk about how Civil War succeeds in all the ways Batman v Superman failed. Because I want to kick it when it’s down. When one of the cynical contraptions designed to keep money flowing through unimaginative douchebags falls down we should put as many nails in its coffin as possible. And Civil War is a marvellous piece of Marvel in its own right and I enjoy recognising that even more.
Unlike the the deck stacked against Superman from the beginning of the film, where we only see the collateral damage and very little of the saving Superman’s meant to be doing, the Avengers have a good track record of saving people. Age of Ultron even had Captain America specifically talk about getting civilians out of harm’s way. But when you’re toppling buildings left and right at breakneck speed, some casualties are inevitable. These superheroes are weapons of mass destruction and some U.N. oversight is pretty reasonable though Tony Stark needs to meet with a grieving mother of collateral damage before he’s convinced.
Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow asks William Hurt as a government rep what happens if the Avengers simply don’t agree to U.N. oversight. Which speaks to an ironic fact that manifests over the course of the film in a natural way—the U.N. can impose laws on superheroes all they want, and presumably they’re already bound by the same laws that govern civilians, but when the only people who can stop a superhero when he or she decides to go rogue are other superheroes, then whether or not the superheroes agree to those laws seems like kind of a moot point.
Except, as Paul Bettany’s the Vision points out, it leads to some dangerously arrogant thinking. Shouldn’t the Avengers at least agree to making the symbolic gesture? The fundamental argument here is between two very real, very old ideological perspectives: is submitting to the law abdicating personal liberty or is it recognising the responsibility inherent in it? Spider-Man’s in this movie but he never says, “With great power comes great responsibility,” thank goodness.
Todd Holland is great in the role, by the way. I love that they’ve put him back in high school and of all the film incarnations this one feels most like the original comic book character in the early 60s. Here’s the awkward kid really excited by all this weird stuff with a genuine desire to do good. He beautifully brings in a reminder of the original motivation to be a superhero, something Batman v Superman completely lacks. The adorable scene where Tony Stark and Peter Parker meet presents wonderful chemistry between the actors with Robert Downey Jr.’s Stark being something like an older brother; a mentor but one who has to take a pause—which the innocent Peter doesn’t see—when the kid reminds him what’s important without trying.
Robert Downey Jr., at this late stage, brings the most interesting performance and character to the film. Just when one might have been justified in thinking both were worn out, Stark is not only the most conflicted character in the film, hidden under a desperate layer of bravado, but he presents the most convincing argument for and against the regulation of superheroes, unintentionally, with his actions. The movie reminds us—in a way that, again, Batman v Superman failed to—just what it means to be personally affected by that collateral damage.
Chadwick Boseman is good as Black Panther and he’s the one who most internalises the struggle over the justification of vengeance. I wasn’t impressed by Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch in Age of Ultron but under the guidance of the Russo Brothers she becomes the dark opposite of Peter Parker, a young person with great abilities who’s already had to face the fact of how dangerous she is. Olsen’s very effective, her scenes with the Vision working very well, almost as well as Anna Paquin in the first X-Men movie.
The writing, the action scenes, the characters—in every way, Civil War crushes Batman v Superman. There’s one more aspect I’d like to draw particular attention to: the casting. Not only is there no-one grievously miscast in the way Ben Affleck was, Civil War benefits from the MCU’s tradition of pitch perfect casting it’s enjoyed since the first Iron Man. There’s no-one better suited for the role of Tony Stark than Robert Downey Jr.; Tom Holland is the perfect slightly weird, straight shooter kid; Paul Rudd’s face somehow reminds me of ants, even. And Scarlett Johansson, well. You just can’t go wrong with her. Okay, she probably shouldn’t be cast as Miss Havisham but for anyone in her age group, let’s say.
Twitter Sonnet #870
The bending choc’late coats the ground at dusk.
The party ends with grapes again so late.
A leg protrudes from awls affixed to husk.
Appropriate, the tool permits the gate.
A push at odds was deemed a pull of space.
Now checked unpaid-for shirts cay they’re striped.
A maple tear descends from plastic face.
Through hearts the music beep was roughly piped.
When ants and spiders danced the world was won.
The war of conflicts fell to mouse’s ears.
In cookies brought from home there’s never sun.
In dreams of phones the thumbs were all in tears.
At twenty feet the walls will disappear.
An age’s bowl was broke for time’s vizier.