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-[Film Reviews]-, English Language Film Industries, Hollywood

‘Civil War’ (2016): Not Quite ‘The Winter Soldier’ (2014)

captain america civil war retro poster

Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo || Produced by: Kevin Feige

Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeeley || Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Bruhl

Music by: Henry Jackman || Cinematography: Trent Opaloch || Edited by: Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt || Country: United States || Language: English

Running Time: 147 minutes

Enter Captain American: Civil War (henceforth, CA3), the 13th and latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). While Deadpool (2016) was a much needed nut-punch of self-awareness for the superhero subgenre, and Dawn of Justice (2016) was a subversive rebuttal to the continued box office dominance of the MCU, CA3 sticks to what Marvel Studios has done best since 2008 by building quality cinematic diegeses around a cast of colorful characters, all while nailing a consistent tone around crowd-pleasing spectacle.

What makes CA3 one of the better films in the MCU is how the film executes that tried and true Marvel formula in a single, coherent movie. While the satisfaction one reaps from each and every confrontation, each and every one-liner, will depend somewhat on one’s familiarity with the rest of the MCU franchise, cinematic “homework” is not necessary for appreciating CA3 as a whole because most every character, motivation, and conflict is set up and paid off within the confines of this story.

captain america civil war montage

The airport centerpiece.

The secret sauce to balancing CA3‘s large cast and, at first glance, complex and intimidating premise is the script’s focus on the characters and conflicts that matter. Much discussion and praise in social media has noted how “every character gets their chance to shine” and “everyone is balanced perfectly, all the time,” and this is sort of true, but there’s more to it than that. CA3 essentially doubles as an Avengers 2.5, or the dramatic followup to the original 2012 ensemble that Age of Ultron (2015) was supposed to be.

While most of the characterizations are spot-on and the action is a good degree above the MCU median, the inciting incident of the story and the primary morality quarrel from which the rest of the film extends is unbelievable to say the least. I bought Captain America’s/Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) loyalty to The Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) every step of the way, but the Sokovia Accords angle much less so. The Avengers’ debate over the alleged power of the United Nations to do anything with regards to international regulation made for interesting philosophical debate, but it seemed altogether frivolous for the plot at hand.

Another area where the film runs into trouble are in the few larger-than-cameo roles that the Russos were surely obliged to insert given the franchise’s interconnected baggage. Paul Rudd (Scott Lang/Ant-Man) and Tom Holland (Peter Parker/Spider-Man) involve some of the movie’s funniest moments, but they and their entire characters feel out of place in this film and could have been removed from the final cut, and no audience-member would’ve been the wiser.

Bolstering CA3‘s screenplay in spite of this is how most every major character in the film, supporting or otherwise, maintains an arc throughout and/or has their moment to shine. If Age of Ultron was the example how not to balance a massive cast of diverse superheroes, CA3 is the counterexample of how to do it right.

As for the film’s combat-direction, the Russo Bros. live up to their bravado action-debut in The Winter Soldier (2014). Not only does CA3 retain the Bourne-esque hand-to-hand combat and controlled handheld camerawork from Cap’s first sequel, the film further melds a cocktail of zany superpowers from the aforementioned ensemble cast, which react with each other in repeated rock-paper-scissors style confrontations that even 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise (2000-2017) hasn’t yet achieved. This film quietly avoids the bloated apocalyptic threats, alien or robot invasions, and now infamous blue-lasers-in-the-sky that have plagued the superhero renaissance for over a decade. CA3‘s largest set-piece, the airport showdown prominently featured in much of the film’s marketing, is scaled back from even The Winter Soldier’s helicarrier finale. All the action set-pieces are restrained enough to emphasize the personalities fighting within them, and the close-quarters-combat (CQC) stunts remain the Russo’s bread-and-butter to highlight this action movie’s physicality and raw emotion.

My biggest complaints with this movie are surprisingly my main ones with Batman v Superman: Its length and editing. Much of CA3‘s exposition outside its action set-pieces are overwhelmingly dialogue-driven and slow the pace of the movie for no good reason. I haven’t come to expect creative shot-reverse shot techniques from the MCU, since its films aren’t really built to do that, but in a film this long (nearly 2.5 hours), the number of scenes where characters sit in a room and talk at each other accumulates. Every now and then there is a memorable non-action sequence like the tight tracking shot that introduces Peter Parker, or the memorable confrontation between Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Zemo (which does not end in a fight scene) that relies on effective racking focus in several telephoto shots, but most of the thrust outside the action-sequences seem to be powered by the actors and their banter.

The Winter Soldier (aka Bucky Barnes, Sebastian Stan) makes short work of German paramilitary forces during his escape.

To that end, many of the scene transitions are abrupt or awkward cuts instead of smoother fade-ins, fade-outs, or dissolves, the latter three of which seemed to have virtually disappeared from mainstream cinema at this point. This doesn’t help the film’s pacing given its considerable length, and sometimes feel as inappropriate as the excessive quips characters interject when you’d expect them to be pummeling each other. Much of the tarmac sequence summarizes these tonal and editing clashes, as does Spider-Man’s entire unnecessary guest appearance.

Still, it’s hard to get too down on the Russo Bros.’ sitcom-style dialogue or a random interjection of fan-service when the overarching story and characters themselves are so strong, and given how satisfying the numerous action scenes are. The Russos appear to have learned from Joss Whedon’s mistakes in Age of Ultron and corrected course, keeping their focus firmly on Steve Rogers and, to a lesser extent, Tony Stark and Black Panther, while also allowing screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely to build an organic, cohesive, contained narrative around their character drama.


SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Though its direction is less taught and stylized than The Winter Soldier’s, Civil War remains one of the most entertaining pictures in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Its action sequences are varied and intense, sporting handheld CQC camerawork that would make Paul Greengrass proud and superpower one-upmanship that should make X-Men fans jealous.

However… the film remains overly long, blandly edited at times, and over reliant on exposition. Some of the quips are either distracting or inappropriate, regardless of the Marvel label. As fun as they are, Spider-Man and Ant Man didn’t need to be in this movie, and the airport sequence doesn’t mesh tonally with the rest of the story.


? Longing. Rusted. Seventeen. Daybreak. Furnace. Nine. Benign. Homecoming. One. Freight car.

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.


20 thoughts on “‘Civil War’ (2016): Not Quite ‘The Winter Soldier’ (2014)

  1. I personally loved every minute of it and thought the humor worked so well blended with the serious and fun action scenes. These guys really know how to direct characters. They know it’s the characters that the audience is there to see. Might as well do a terrific job on that front first and foremost.
    I can’t wait for Spider-Man, Black Panther, and especially Infinity War!

    Great review, as always! 🙂

    Posted by The Film Editorial | May 7, 2016, 3:23 pm
    • Thanks for the read. Upon rewatching it a couple days later, I tempered some of my enthusiasm in this review, but I remain confident it is one of the best films in the franchise. I appreciate how everybody didn’t make up at the end of the film, and yet it didn’t end on an entirely miserable note, either. It left things open to interpretation, even ambivalent, dare I say. That’s good enough for me.

      Posted by The Celtic Predator | May 14, 2016, 1:54 am
  2. I developed a big downer on this film. I like a decent superhero film, but there’s one element I simply switch off to: the punch up. The sight of twelve heavies running at each other like Millwall fans having a ruck with their West Ham counterparts made me groan inside. It’s been a long standing complaint of mine that too many action films are resolved with a fist fight; here the climactic fist fight didn’t even come at the end!

    In fact, I wonder sometimes what I see in superhero films. I’m not a film snob, I won’t even call them a guilty pleasure, and I admire the way Marvel have created an integrated world of characters and story arcs, filtering into television tie-ins. Someone’s having a ball coming up with all this stuff. But the writer who thinks of a cinematic resolution or a concluding confrontation that isn’t a fist fight will be a genius. It just seems a shame to go to all that trouble creating a universe and constantly ending each episode with a mass brawl.

    Posted by The Opening Sentence | November 9, 2016, 1:47 pm
    • As I stated in an earlier comment, my opinion on this film has cooled since I first saw it opening weekend. I gave it a final watch on home video last night and have come around more to your POV, while I still enjoy the film overall and appreciated its commitment to hand-to-hand combat choreography over endless CGI schlock. The main problems for me remain the incredible inciting incident for the entire affair, and the pseudo-intellectual debate regarding the titular “Civil War.” I adjusted the review above as such.

      As for these films always ending in a fist-fight, I’m afraid there’s just too much formula baked into them; not just regarding superhero films, but blockbusters in general — and Marvel Cinematic Universe films are formula incarnate.

      For me, the lack of resolution from CA3’s final showdown was actually a plus relative to to its predecessors. I liked how there wasn’t any definitive winner this time around; I thought it fit with the overarching story, thematically speaking.

      Posted by The Celtic Predator | November 20, 2016, 7:12 pm
      • I wonder if the Marvel Universe has reached such a peak of ambition that it’s hard for them to decide where to go with it now. Big changes could kill their golden goose, but retaining the formula risks becoming stale. I think this could be DC’s best opportunity to seriously catch up with Marvel, and possibly the right time for Marvel to explore new characters.

        Posted by The Opening Sentence | November 22, 2016, 5:05 pm


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