Captain America: Civil War is officially the best-reviewed superhero movie of all time, with a staggering 98% “fresh” rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
That’s ahead of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (94%), and even better than Pixar’s The Incredibles (97%). But is the Russo brothers’ film really the European white truffle of comic-book movies, or just cleverly crafted celluloid candy floss, sweet to the taste but utterly lacking in nutrition? Here are some talking points you might want to consider.
The slick, seamless universe-building
If Bond production company Eon ever decides it needs to replace long-term 007 flame-keepers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, they could do worse than hire screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who have overseen all three Captain America films. Rival studio Warner Bros tried to set up an entire comic-book universe with the clumsily configured Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, shoehorning in a new Batman and Wonder Woman alongside hints at Aquaman, the Flash and Cyborg, while also deciding that the caped crusader had to have an almighty battle with the man of steel. Marvel faced a similar task with Civil War, which features debuts for the new Spider-Man and Black Panther as well as a huge amount of fleshing out for characters such as the Vision and Scarlet Witch, yet never feels in the least bit clunky. The movie even, just about, leaves the door open for Steve Rogers and Tony Stark to reconcile in time for the events of 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War – Part One. And all without a shonky “your mum has the same name as my mum!”-style moment of epiphany.
The understated villain
One of the most impressive things about the Russo brothers’ Captain America outings is the manner in which they take things down a notch or two on the supervillain front. It’s never a bad thing to have the odd Norse trickster deity or multitudinous omnipotent artificial intelligence in your back pocket for the next Avengers movie, but Iron Man and his pals can’t continue to battle ever more preposterously conceived megabaddies or the audience’s well of amazement will begin to run dry. The main bad guy in Captain America: The Winter Soldier was arguably not the title character at all but Robert Redford’s turncoat Shield boss, Alexander Pierce. This time around, the author of all the former Avengers’ pain is Daniel Brühl’s Helmut Zemo, whose meticulously planned goal (borrowed from The Killing Joke-era Joker) is to prove that our superhero pals can be pulled apart and turned against one another with just a few swift feints of devious planning. Did the whole thing hold together for you?
Tom Holland’s debuting wallcrawler may not have played the pivotal role in the superhero spat that he did in the comics, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t one of the star turns of Civil War. Holland’s portrayal of a brutally green, teenage take on the webslinger suggested he will be a fascinating addition to the Marvel universe. As Spider-Man, he was more than a match for his superhero elders in terms of both balletic athleticism and searing badinage. The key difference from the Sony movies, surely, was that Spidey now has something to do: territory to swing into that doesn’t involve rehashing the whole “with great power comes great responsibility”/death of Uncle Ben origins story for the umpteenth time on the big screen. Instead he can swap banter with Iron Man, fend off Robert Downey Jr’s dodgy yummy granny jokes about Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May and begin learning about this whole superhero thing from someone who’s been there and bought the planet-saving T-shirt in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming. Can 2018 come soon enough?
Black Panther’s Afrocentric heroism
Chadwick Boseman was a hip-wiggling, groin-thrusting tour-de-force as James Brown in the 2014 biopic Get on Up, and his soulful, charismatic turn in Civil War suggests the feline superhero otherwise known as King T’Challa of Wakanda is not going to be content with a supporting role in the Marvel cinematic universe. The ultimate noble outsider, Black Panther surely came out of this almighty bust-up with more dignity than either Iron Man or Captain America. The kingdom of Wakanda will need to be handled with care in Ryan Coogler’s standalone 2018 Panther movie if it is to be a genuinely Afrocentric story rather than a mess of developing world stereotypes. But if this is what the next Marvel phase looks like, the prospect of seeing more of the fictional African nation on the big screen just got a whole lot more tantalising.
What no superhero cull?
If Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron felt a little crowded with costumed titans, Civil War at times resembled the superhero equivalent of one of those Guinness book of records attempts to cram as many people as possible in a phonebox. Ahead of 2018 and 2019’s Avengers: Infinity War parts one and two, Marvel has heavily hinted at the deaths of major characters. But there wasn’t so much as an impaled Phil Coulson to get pulses racing in Civil War. Constantly introducing new heroes into a shared universe means older figures will have to take a Hulk-style break, at the very least, or be written out. Did the Russos dodge this bullet to avoid attracting fan anger over the death of favourite heroes, or are they holding off to mow down an entire legion of costumed titans in the upcoming double-header?
This article was written by Ben Child, for theguardian.com on Friday 29th April 2016 14.56 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010