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Film review: Captain America: Civil War adds mistrust and division to Avengers showdown

Robert Downey Jnr and Chris Evans lead Marvel superheroes in split over UN control in a leaner, low-key Avengers film

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 April, 2016, 9:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 April, 2016, 2:33pm

4/5 stars

Captain America by name, Avengers by nature. This latest Marvel movie may be a third solo adventure for the all-American hero Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), but he’s anything but alone. Reuniting all of those spandex-wearing superheroes, bar Thor and the Hulk, for a story that pits Cap against Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr), it’s an impressive feat of narrative juggling from screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and sibling co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo.

All four collaborated on 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and will return for the massive two-part The Avengers: Infinity War, due in 2018 and 2019. On this evidence, that double-header is in safe hands. Unlike last year’s Avengers outing Age of Ultron from Joss Whedon, this is leaner and more low-key. It’s less about citywide destruction or alien hordes being repelled than it is mistrust and internal divisions.

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After a brief prelude in 1991, featuring The Winter Soldier – the brainwashed assassin also known as Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) – the story proper begins in Lagos. An operation to stop the theft of a biological weapon goes horribly wrong, leaving dozens dead and the Avengers under scrutiny. For the past four years, they’ve “operated with unlimited power and no supervision,” claims William Hurt’s Secretary of State, Thaddeus Ross.

With a motion put forward to have The Avengers controlled by the UN, it leaves the group divided. Iron Man’s Tony Stark, War Machine’s James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), red-headed android Vision (Paul Bettany) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are all for it. “We need to be put in check,” argues Stark. And in the blue corner? Freedom fighters Captain America, Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

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The situation truly escalates when a bomb goes off in Vienna, with footage depicting the culprit as Captain America’s old pal, Barnes. Refusing to believe his guilt, Rogers hotfoots it to Bucharest to find him – which is where the movie really heats up. With Cap and his crew now on the wrong side of the law, the good-natured enmity that’s always bubbled away between he and Iron Man now spills over into full-blooded “punch you in your perfect teeth” hatred.

If you were being cynical, you could argue the whole of Civil War is a set-up for further solo outings. Barnes suddenly finds himself facing off with T’Challa, prince of Wakanda (Chadwick Boseman), whose monarch father was one of the bomb victims. Better known to Marvel fans as the Black Panther, his standalone movie is due in 2018. Fortunately, Boseman, so brilliant as James Brown in 2014’s Get on Up, is an elegant addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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There’s a role reprisal for the diminutive Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), who joins Team Cap, and a sneak peek of British actor Tom Holland, appearing for the first time as perennial teenage web-slinger, Spider-Man. Already revealed in the trailer, his appearance is brief but thrilling, enough to whet the appetite for next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. It all leads to an enormous showdown in an airport – a hero versus hero scrap that reaps the benefit of every Marvel movie before it.

If there’s a disappointment – aside from the returning sharpshooter Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) still with little to do – it’s with the film’s de facto villain. Daniel Brühl, as the mysterious Zemo, has his sights set on Bucky Barnes and The Avengers, but is rather overshadowed by all this superhero ego-bashing. Still, with a third-act twist that gets Iron Man all misty-eyed, Captain America: Civil War is a film that puts characters before carnage. Alongside Joss Whedon’s first Avengers, it’s the best Marvel movie yet.

Captain America: Civil War opens on April 27

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