Civil War Review

Reviews Films


Writer and Director Alex Garland (Men, Ex Machina) delivers a spectacular, confronting and all too plausible take on a fictional modern conflict gripping the United States of America.

Civil War asks, What If? What if the corrupt President (Nick Offerman – The Last of Us) broke all the rules and attempted to create a dictatorship. Abolishing legal process, exempt from prosecution, disbanding authority. How would the collective United States of America respond and which factions would dominate?

It’s the corrupt Loyalist States versus a coalition of The Western Forces and the Florida Alliance. The filmmakers have taken decades of US military tactics overseas and attempted to map it across the US landscape. Journeying through this war torn hellscape is a team of seasoned frontline conflict journalists and a rookie. 

Our tour guides for this misadventure are Kirsten Dunst (Spiderman, Small Soldiers) who owns her role as Lee. Seasoned war photographer, she’s battling years of accumulated PTSD. Lee is chalk to Wagner Moura’s cheese (The Gray Man, Narcos) as Joel. An adrenaline fuelled veteran of the game who gets off on the action. Stephen McKinley Henderson (Dune Part One, Incredibly Loud & Dangerously Close) hitches a ride as Sammy, another seasoned pro working for a rival news brand. Wise and jaded. Finally, Cailee Spaeny (Bad Times at the El Royale) is Jessie. Fresh meat for the bullet storm, wide eyed and aspiring. Jessie is a quick study under the guidance of her new friends and mentors.

Kirsten Dunst as Lee in Alex Garlands Civil War

Garland takes no prisoners with this film. Action scenes hit fast, relentless, invoking anxiety in even the sleepiest audience member. The violence is impactful, use of full frontal close ups to convey shock and the overall sound design is genius. As well as the soundtrack accompanying what you might risk considering breathing space between engagements.

While an easy contender for film of the year, there’s two things letting Civil War down. Firstly, not a lot of context is offered up front about how all this went down. The audience is thrust into the aftermath of a collapsed democracy. This risks confusing the audience as they attempt to put it together across the opening half of the film. Context is there, clues peppered through conversation exchanges during restful periods. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Secondly, the ending of the film is largely deflating. The core trope Civil War relies on, is that it’s a road trip movie. There’s a singular goal for the team and when we reach that goal, there’s little payoff. It’s a little unsatisfying when set against the overall experience of reaching that climax. And what an experience! The inevitable incursion in to DC is prolonged, masterfully shot and edited and a probable future test reel for home theatre salespeople.

Civil War is already polarising audiences across the world. If Garland’s intention is to offer his own commentary and wake-up call for the worst America has offered in recent times, it’s a bold move. There’s subtleties all through Civil War that call back to and critique real world politics and personalities. It’s not overt and walking away from the cinema, one has to reflect whether or not it’s their own prejudices or disposition shining through and making the details fit. This is what works with Civil War, it’ll get you thinking regardless and generate discussion long after the credits roll.

In cinemas from 11th April, CIVIL WAR is 9/10 winter wonderlands. This reviewer can’t wait to catch it again. Get on down to your local as soon as you can, preferably a loud one with the biggest screen.

Luke is writing short stories, screenplays and film reviews when he's not at the day job or looking after the needs of his family. So one Powerball...