Monday, May 9, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

Review by Bob Ignizio

After all the mass mayhem, destruction, and death of the previous Marvel Cinmeatic Univers movies, most notably the two AVENGERS films, some people in that fictional world are justifiably concerned about super powered individuals taking the law into their own hands. The last straw is an incident in which The Avengers fight a bad guy who sets off an explosion to kill Captain American (Chris Evans). Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) uses her powers to move the blast away from Cap, but several innocent bystanders are still killed.

The United Nations wants oversight of these costumed crusaders. Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), riddled with guilt after being confronted by the mother of another casualty of a super powered throw-down, thinks this is a good idea. Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans), while recognizing the responsibility the heroes bear for this collateral damage, doesn’t.

There’s no time for these two heroes to sit down and discuss their differences like adults, though. It looks as though Cap’s old WW2 friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), turned into a super powered, mind controlled assassin during the cold war and given the name Winter Soldier, is back to his old murderous ways. Evidently he set a bomb that goes off during a meeting on the superhero oversight committee, and among the dead is the King of Wakanda, whose son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) vows to seek vengeance in his own costumed guise as the Black Panther.

Cap wants a chance to talk to Bucky first, but U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) thinks the Soldier is too dangerous and needs to be taken out permanently. Tony/Iron Man wants Cap to stand down, but obviously that isn’t going to happen. The rest of the Avengers (minus Thor and Hulk, whose whereabouts are unknown) choose sides, and not surprisingly more of the exact kind of mayhem that everyone was so concerned about ensues.

On the surface level, it sounds pretty dumb and incredibly cluttered. Thanks to screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely the direction of Cleveland boys made good Joe and Anthony Russo, the end product is actually quite smart, coherent, and entertaining. There is substance and an appropriate gravitas to the material, as there was in the previous collaboration by this team, CAPTAIN AMERICAN: THE WINTER SOLDIER, but there’s also a great deal of humor, adventure, and all-around fun to be had.

When your main character is a walking symbol of America and you bring up issues of how he and his team, regardless of their good intentions, often leave death and destruction in their wake, it’s not hard to draw real world parallels. The film doesn’t make things too on the nose or too black and white, though. Both Cap and Iron Man have valid points, and it would be hard to pin either one of them down to one specific, real-world political ideology or another. That could easily feel like a cop out thematically, but this film is more about getting the audience thinking about these issues than telling them exactly what to think. This is Cap’s movie, though, and it shouldn’t be too surprising that it ultimately tilts its support in his direction.

Are there problems with the movie? Sure. The big superhero slugfest arguably goes on longer than necessary, even if it is fun. And speaking of fun but unnecessary, the debut of the new Spider-Man (Tom Holland) very much fits into that category. It’s obvious he was kind of shoehorned in once Marvel got the rights to use their own character back from Sony, rather than being an integral part of the story as he was in the original comic book source material. There are other logical issues, and no doubt one of those obnoxious and unfunny “Everything Wrong With” youtube clips will be posted soon (if it isn’t already) to list them all, but suck nitpicking misses the point (see Hitchcock, Alfred – “icebox scene”).

With all the hero vs. hero action, the villains here are almost an afterthought, which might seem a negative to some viewers. In particular, comics fans will certainly be familiar with the name Zemo, but the character played by Daniel Brühl bears little resemblance to his comic book namesake. Regardless, he’s exactly the villain this particular story needed, and even if he doesn’t engage with the heroes directly very much, he proves far more dangerous to them than any giant robot or power-mad Norse god has in past films.

The other super characters, with the aforementioned exception of Spidey, never feel like they’re in the movie just for the sake of cramming everybody in. Winter Soldier, T’Challa, Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are clearly the major supporting players, with everyone else (including the as yet unmentioned Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Don Cheadle as War Machine, Paul Bettany as The Vision, and Paul Rudd as Ant Man) getting just the right amount of screen time to serve their purpose and give the audience the expected payoff of a superhero battle royale.

And yes, of course seeds are planted for future films. But unlike AGE OF ULTRON, most of them feel organic to the story being told. No clunky “Thor in a weird cave having a dream sequence” scene here. Martin Freeman’s character didn’t seem particularly necessary, but he didn’t waste enough screen time to harm the film, either. And hey, it’s Martin Freeman. Who doesn’t like seeing Martin Freeman?

There’s also the issue of integrating characters, plot points, and concepts from previous movies into this one in such a way that audience members who might have forgotten about them (or never known in the first place) can understand the current story, all without bogging things down with too much exposition. I think the film makes the right choice by not rehashing too much, but I can’t help but wonder if someone fresh to the world of Marvel superheroes on film might feel a bit lost.

Overall, though, I was very much impressed with CIVIL WAR. After the disappointing AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON I was worried this would repeat the mistakes of that film, trying to juggle too many characters and set up too many future projects in a clunky way. Thankfully, the film never loses its focus on Cap and Iron Man, and their ideological differences. And despite the somewhat serious themes it deals with, CIVIL WAR never feels too dark or grim, preferring to entertain first, while still giving its audience some food for thought. 3 ½ out of 4 stars.

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