Does any of this sound familiar? Two iconic heroes duking it out over two-and-a-half epic hours… Angsty agonising over the collateral damage that ensues… Cameos from multiple costumed crusaders, just to make sure we’re suitably hyped for the next ten movies. But luckily, ‘Captain America: Civil War’ is packed to bursting with the one ingredient its rival superhero smackdown ‘Batman v Superman’ lacked: joy.
Which isn’t to say ‘Civil War’ is threat-free and happy-clappy. This is a film about the violent end of a friendship and the moral questions that come with free will, so it’s hardly a party. No, this is the kind of joy that comes with crafting characters people can relate to, with designing action scenes that spring and spin and bound off the screen, with picking just the right moment for a tension-breaking gag, a pause for reflection or a rousing speech. It's the joy of making a movie for and about people.
We find our heroes at a crossroads. The earth-shattering events of ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ have left the authorities – and many of the Avengers – questioning their role in world affairs. Enter William Hurt’s politician with an ultimatum: submit to UN oversight, or cease all crimefighting activities. Ridden with guilt, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) agrees. But Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) isn’t sold, especially as the first order of business is to eliminate his childhood friend-turned-crazed assassin, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan).
None of this is especially original – the ‘Watchmen’ comics covered similar ground three decades ago. But it’s rich pickings for character conflict, and that’s what ‘Civil War’ cares most about: not just between Cap and Iron Man, but between dimension-benders Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), between old friends Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and between newcomer Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and basically everyone. But fear not, there’s also some light relief in the form of Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and a nerdy teenage Spider-Man (Tom Holland).
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo juggle all these elements impressively: for every awkward franchise requirement (like Martin Freeman’s here-and-gone-again military man), there’s another that slots effortlessly into place – Holland’s introduction as Peter Parker is one of the sweetest scenes in the series. A nagging sense of incompleteness means that ‘Civil War’ isn’t quite as satisfying as the first ‘Avengers’ (it’s all building up to the ‘Infinity War’ two-parter in 2018). But overall, this is Marvel at their best: a pacey, intelligent super-sized blockbuster and a roaringly fun night out.