Review: ‘Captain America: Civil War’ Might Just Restore Your Love Of Superhero Movies

WAY better than 'Batman v Superman'.

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Captain America: Civil War is proof that the best superhero films are those with relatable crises. Grief, anguish, revenge. All of these, when rendered onto the canvas of a well-rounded character, are so much more potent than the sight of a city crashing into another city or a looming CGI spaceship drawing ever nearer to its fatal destination.

I’m referring, of course, to what bad superhero films do. They often nail the aesthetic, but don’t bother filling in the details with plot, character development and heart. But when Marvel movies in particular are done right (I’m thinking the first Avengers, Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy in particular), they’re gut-burstingly wonderful. They make you remember why you loved heroes in the first place. That’s why Captain America (Chris Evans, a man so handsome he’s all over my dreams right now) is such a great character in the Marvel cinematic universe. He’s basically indestructible, sure, but the poor guy has seen so much loss. He’s incredibly human, as are all the cast of Civil War — even the bad guys.

How To Earn A Fight Scene

Civil War picks up with the current iteration of the Avengers hunting down Crossbones, one of the bad guys from Winter Soldier. There’s some hefty collateral damage, and in response, the world lays down a treaty of sorts: sign up as what amounts to a sanctioned military wing of the UN or retire. This happens at the exact time that Cap’s old war buddy, The Winter Soldier, resurfaces under less than ideal circumstances. Things get very complicated very fast, before spiraling completely out of control in what makes for over two hours of superbly paced, heartbreaking and compelling viewing.

This is an opera of titanic proportions. Each fight is laden with backstory and undercurrents and motives; everyone is throwing themselves into the fray for a very personal reason. This means that when the film does plunge headfirst into action and spectacle, they’ve earned it. They’ve put in the hard work, which means everyone in the cinema is personally invested in every blow traded, every barbed quip exchanged.

Incidentally, this is the exact opposite of Zack Snyder’s latest cinematic prolapse, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, in which completely bungled, two-dimensional heroes make a litany of completely logic-free choices while joylessly pounding the crap out of each other. Their problems are utterly hollow, and their reasoning is devoid of even the slightest hint of thought. Batman and Superman are basically just action figures being smashed against each other by a brat with too much money.

Just try and tell me this isn’t a real scene from the film.

Whats more, I would argue that the entire premise of Civil War works better in movie format than it ever did in the comics. In the title-spanning Civil War event, Marvel basically threw freedom (Captain America) against restraint (Iron Man), with crushing results. Hundreds of heroes and villains butted heads, every Marvel title was affected (to get the whole story you had to suddenly gobble up runs of The Punisher, Spider Man, Fantastic Four, you name it), and people died. Lots of people died. Some of them key players. There’s some brilliant stuff in the comics — usually revolving around Iron Man and Captain America having heated debates about the nature of freedom — but there’s incredible bloat as well. In this filmic version, the Russo brothers have somehow managed to boil everything down to its most vital ingredients without losing any of the potency.

You’ll see Robert Downey Jr.’s charming yet cynical Tony Stark butt heads (literally) with Chris Evans’ eternally optimistic Steve Rogers. You’ll see ludicrous moments like when Captain America is holding onto a helicopter to stop it flying away, flexing like a madman, before switching the position of his arm for maximum swoonage. You’ll see Avengers pitted against Avengers, and yes, you’ll see a bunch of new faces. But it’s all very deliberate. “Because it looks cool” is no reason to have a fight scene, but if you’ve slaved away pummelling characters into fully-realised people over eight years worth of feature films, and if you can use a cool-looking fight to hammer a story point home, then go nuts. And that’s what Civil War does in spades.

Light And Shade

While Civil War is packed with all this complex drama and tragedy, it also throws you some great laughs. Directors Anthony and Jo Russo — who cut their teeth on Arrested Development and Community before moving into the Marvel-verse — have a deft understanding of comic timing and what’s more, they know how to use understated comedy to make those dramatic moments hit twice as hard. The Russo brothers’ use of light and shade is ultimately what makes Civil War pop; two former teammates using humour to mask how pissed and confused and hurt they are about their current state of affairs buoys up the stakes. Levity cuts through the grim-dark dirge of gravelly-voiced gods facing off on the field of battle and turns it into a thoroughly human ordeal.

Paul Rudd’s Ant Man — a loveable ex-thief whose standalone film had a surprising amount of heart — had the entire cinema in fits of laughter during some of the most tense parts of the movie. And woah, we need to talk about Spidey. Yes, this film marks the debut of our new Spider Man, played by an actual teenager this time! Tom Holland is brilliant as Peter Parker. Just brilliant. He’s charming, understated and completely believable; no skateboarding, no Coldplay, no creepy emo dance vignettes. He’s just a kid in a mask trying to do the right thing. Watching him get excited about Tony Stark appearing in his apartment or hearing him geek out over Winter Soldier’s metal arm while in the heat of battle might even make him the truest cinematic Spiderman we’ve ever had.

What you have here is, frankly, the Avengers film we deserved when Age of Ultron staggered out of wherever Joss Whedon lets his films gestate nowadays. It’s proof that a superhero ensemble film can kick unfeasible quantities of arse. It’s proof that no matter how many explosions you throw into a film, the real way to make the climax of a story hit home is to make the motivations of the characters deeply personal and human. And it’s proof that no matter what cynics — or completely reasonable people who were justifiably appalled by Batman V Superman — might think, the superhero genre is still capable of churning out stunning popcorn cinema.

Civil War might be the best thing to ever come out of Marvel, and everyone involved should be punching the air right now. And not each other.

You all done good!

Captain America: Civil War is in cinemas now.

Paul Verhoeven is a Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop creation. He hosts Save Point, writes for TheVine, and is a presenter on Triple J, and tweets from @PaulVerhoeven.