To me it seems as though the Marvel movies are evolving. The last entry of phase 2, Ant-Man was surprisingly enjoyable and phase 3 started with a bang. Captain America Civil War was every bit as good as we expected it to be. This is less of a review and more a compilation of my thoughts on the writing in Civil War.
By now, we all know the premise: after an intervention gone wrong, the UN decide that the Avengers must be put under control. Tony is in favor of this decision while Steve refuses to give up his independence. The film doesn’t take a side, leaving fans to discuss who was ultimately more right. Both factions have viable and questionable arguments. Seeing those characters I grew attached turn against each other was a compelling experience with genuine emotional impact.
Keeping focus and balancing character screentime: a challenge aptly handled
This is what all writers with large-scope stories must face. The more characters you have and the harder it becomes to give each of them meaningful moments – especially with movies. A common disappointment in works of fiction is when characters get sidelined and grow irrelevant. We barely get to see how they feel about the conflict and even less how they can impact it. As a result the audience is left unsatisfied and bothered by the untouched potential.
In the hands of other writers, Civil War would be a clusterfuck.
Thankfully what we got is a carefully woven story with a clear focus. Despite the large cast, the axis of the plot is still clear and easy to remember. At its core, Civil War is about Cap rejecting the Accords and teaming up with Bucky against Tony who’s after them for UN-related and personal reasons. Add in the other individuals who pick a side based on their views and motivations, and a villain working behind the scenes.
Every character gets a moment to showcase his personality and abilities. Even the villain – who was smartly obscured from trailers, doesn’t come off as an afterthought and gets plenty of scenes. Zemo commands respects; this is a competent villain, not the average evil lord of action flicks. This is a villain that you take seriously when he shows up.
The newcomers make a strong first impression
Captain America Civil War is a very interesting case of superheroes making their debut without it being an origin story. In a busy film with lots of characters, the writing of the newcomers has to be very condensed. With a limited screentime you have to trade quantity for quality.
Peter’s discussion with Tony was brilliant because, on top of being funny, it conveyed everything we needed to know about the character before he joins the battle. It demonstrates his powers and reveals why he chooses to take the role of a “superhero”. Also, it’s refreshing to have a teenager amidst factions of adults.
You don’t need much dialogue from T’Challa to understand he is a no-BS guy who takes his position very seriously. What’s really fantastic about him – apart from being pure badass – is that 1) he shows short but meaningful character growth and 2) the writers were smart enough to save much of his characterization for his upcoming film, which makes it interesting in its own right.
Their motivations for putting on the mask are clearly conveyed and their fight scenes are impressive. The wait for their individual movies is definitely going to be annoying.
Action set pieces are brilliant
The opening part with Crossbones suffered from some shaky cam we could have done without. Thankfully this issue was resolved afterwards and later action scenes are much easier to follow while being really impressive. The hand-to-hand combat has well-thought choreography and you can feel the heavy impact of hits, especially those coming from Cap.
The fights are also clever: brains are used alongside brawns. The superheroes use the environment to their advantage, both for offense and defense. It’s always a blast to see how those characters toy around with or mess up mundane locations and objects.
The airport scene is definitely one of the highlights of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the heat of battle there are still plenty of character beats and each fighter gets to display the extent of his or her abilities. My favorite of the bunch may be Ant-Man which is interesting considering that other individuals are supposed to have more impressive abilities.
Captain America Civil War: Lessons learned
- With a large cast, characterization will have to be compact. Define the essence of the character, as well as where his arc is going, and convey both of these in short but condensed scenes. See Vision who learns how to live like a human.
- How to craft fight scenes: take the time to think up elaborate choreography – a mindless flurry of punches is unimpressive, let characters use nearby objects (see Ant-Man), insert a few character beats (read Ant-Man’s lines), have some unexpected interventions to keep things unpredictable.
- Characterization by contrast: to bring out somebody’s personality, put him against his opposite. T’Challa has a no BS attitude while Clint likes to joke around. And spiderman is clearly the rookie in a crowd of seasoned fighters.
Captain America Civil War lives up to The Winter Soldier while setting a high bar for future productions. I believe the Marvel films are getting better writing. Surely not mindblowing or particularly deep, but there is an improvement over the weaker entries of the MCU.
Will phase 3 carry on and build upon the solid writing of Civil War? I’m eager to find out in future films.
But wait, have I experienced superhero fatigue yet?
Not one bit.
Image credit : 1