By STEVEN ARVANITIS
The Russo brothers delivered an incredibly well-crafted superhero film in The Winter Soldier, placing Captain America in a suspenseful political thriller that stood as one of the brightest stars in Marvel’s cinematic universe, honing the format that Joss Whedon almost nailed in The Avengers. Since 2014, however, many a movie sticking to that rigid format has released, and as such diluted the following films into increasingly bland, risk-averse fuel for the ever-growing Marvel franchises. Civil War, like Age of Ultron, threatens to be different at first before quickly abandoning real stakes for what is a fairly entertaining but ultimately disappointing film.
Starting out with an extended action sequence in Lagos, Nigeria, where the avengers travel through a marketplace at breakneck speeds, gunfire and fast-paced acrobatics in all, to find a Hydra agent that had previously snuck in to S.H.I.E.L.D. This scenario, ending in the accidental destruction of a civilian-hosted building, is the prime example for the divide in ideology between the team. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) feels that the Avengers need a hold over their power, with the United Nations in control over where the team goes and what conflicts they tackles, they could be more effective and cause less civilian casualties. While Captain America feels that they’re already as safe as can be, and shackling themselves to the control of others would ruin what they have built up over the years.
This potential conflict is interesting at first, allowing for character dynamics and emotions to develop in interestingly twisty ways. Each character starts to align with their sides and grapple with what they believe in a superhero through a bloated, yet intriguing 90-minute set up. A universal hearing between all the nations that ends direly helps to flesh out the issue, but just when it threatens to be transcendent, it falls through to chaotic action characterized by many, many medium-shots. Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice fails in similar spots, but its ambitions make it an interesting failure, but a failure nonetheless. This makes it an interesting companion piece to Civil War in seeing what works and what doesn’t with the increasing saturation of superhero films, the pressure to make a continuously grander and expansive cinematic world, the difficulties in managing each film, and making them stand out on their own instead of just being feeds of exposition and plot to lead to the next hyped film in the franchise, never actually succeeding on its potentially fulfilling promise.