Monday, May 16, 2016

Movie Review: Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War
Directed by: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo.
Written by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely based on comic books by Mark Millar and Joe Simon & Jack Kirby.
Starring: Chris Evans (Steve Rogers / Captain America), Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark / Iron Man), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson / Falcon), Don Cheadle (Lieutenant James Rhodes / War Machine), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton / Hawkeye), Chadwick Boseman (T'Challa / Black Panther), Paul Bettany (Vision), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch), Paul Rudd (Scott Lang / Ant-Man), Emily VanCamp (Sharon Carter), Tom Holland (Peter Parker / Spider-Man), Daniel Brühl (Zemo), Frank Grillo (Brock Rumlow / Crossbones), William Hurt (Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross), Martin Freeman (Everett K. Ross), Marisa Tomei (May Parker), John Kani (King T'Chaka), John Slattery (Howard Stark), Hope Davis (Maria Stark), Alfre Woodard (Miriam), Gene Farber (Karpov), Kerry Condon (Friday - voice).
You have to hand it to Marvel – and the various filmmakers – responsible for their larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. They are now 13 films – and 8 years - into this franchise, and the quality has been remarkably consistent over that time period. It’s easy to be cynical – and sometimes, I am – about the control that Marvel maintains over each of the films, which often seems to frustrate individual directors – sending more idiosyncratic directors like Edgar Wright off the projects, in favor of more directors with TV backgrounds, who will essentially execute the movies the way Marvel wants them to. Yes, there are differences in how the Russo brothers – directors of this and last Captain America movie – shoot compared to say Joss Whedon, who did the two Avengers films (mainly in terms of action sequences) – but not very much. This series really has become a big budget television series, with only two new, very long episodes per year. You turn up for these movies, pay your money, and like a weekly TV series, you know what you’re going to get before you sit down – and as long as Marvel delivers, you’ll turn up the next time as well. Remarkably, Marvel almost always seem to deliver. This cannot be easy – as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice proved just a couple of months ago. That film was a giant, humorless, confused, overstuffed monstrosity, and has sent Marvel’s rival, DC, and company scrambling back to the drawing board to figure out how to make something better, less cumbersome next time. They could just watch Captain America: Civil War for that. The two films are very similar in many ways, as it ends up setting two superheroes, who should be on the same side, against each other for an epic royal rumble, and brings along approximately 10 other superheroes – some we’ve seen before, some we haven’t – along for the ride as well. Remarkably, it all works – and that’s because it’s building off many of those previous films, so that even though some characters aren’t in the movie very long, we know who they are, and why they are fighting. Most importantly, it maintains a sense of humor throughout. I’ll probably always have mixed feelings on the Marvel movies – because I don’t like how everyone seems to be copying them, with lesser results – but there’s no real denying that they deliver fairly consistently.
The story of Civil War pits Captain America and Iron Man against each other. After the fallout of what happened in Avengers: Age of Ultron – where the villain created by Tony Stark dropped a city, and the Avengers did what they could, saving many lives, but not all of them – and another tragic incident that opens this film, where the Avengers fight against another old foe in an Africa nation – leading to some more deaths – the countries of the world has had enough. They want to bring the Avengers under some sort of control – make them answerable to someone. Stark leads the charge on this – it was, after all, his doing that create Ultron, and his crime fighting may be costing him everything he proclaims to love. Others share his concerns, and quickly sign on. But Captain America doesn’t – he distrusts the government – any government – and doesn’t want to be ordered he has to do something he doesn’t agree with, or be ordered not to do something he thinks he should. This is brought down to a more personal level, when his old friend Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier – is the prime suspect in a bombing that kills some very important people, and needs to be brought in. Cap knows they’ll kill him – and wants to do anything he can to prevent that from happening. In order to do that however, he has to become a criminal.
So that’s the setup – and its one that makes sense because of everything that we’ve seen the Captain American and Iron Man go through so far in this series. One of the most interesting things about this series is how they have portrayed Captain America – a square jawed, old fashioned character who stands for everything America should stand for, who finds himself at odds with much of what America now stands for – the country has changed so much since his WWII days. He has seen SHIELD destroyed, and fought against a high ranking government man who wanted to commit mass murder. His stance makes sense. As far as Iron Man goes, he is tired and just wants his life back. He has done some horrible things – in creating his weapons, and in creating Ultron – and to a certain extent, doesn’t trust himself with the power he has – and doesn’t really trust anyone else either. His position also makes sense. And, for the most part, where the other superheroes come down on the issue – from War Machine to Falcon to Ant-Man to Vision to Scarlet Witch to the Winter Soldier himself – makes sense as well (Hawkeye and Black Widow do seem to kind of randomly choose sides, but whatever).
The movie introduces two new characters to this universe – Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, and both come off well. Black Panther gets far more screen time – as the film quickly sketches his relationship to his father, before they kill him, and his motivations for doing what he does. Black Panther will, of course, get his own movie in a couple of years, directed by Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) – although Coogler is the best director who has ever been attached to a Marvel movie, so I’m practically dreading the inevitable “creative differences” press release. Boseman was the best part of two mediocre biopics – playing Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in Get on Up, and he’s quite good here. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man only gets a couple of scenes – but he’s so good in them, and the portrayal of Spider-Man so fresh and fun – that it actually has me looking forward to his stand-alone movie as well (and thankfully, it seems like Uncle Ben is already dead – so hopefully, we get to skip hearing that story for the third time in recent years).
The action sequences are also really well handled. The big one happens at an airport, where everyone faces off against each other, and while it is fan service (like Iron Man vs. Hulk in Age of Ultron) – it’s still really well handled, a hell of a lot of fun (Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man responsible for much of that) that you don’t much care. The final showdown is much more small scale and intimate – and works all the better for it.
There are a few problems with the movie – of course. Marvel still has a villain problem. We’re 13 films in, and Loki remains the one truly memorable bad guy – and Daniel Bruhl’s bad guy here seems destined to join the ranks of Sam Rockwell, Guy Pearce et al in bad guys we completely forget about by the next movie. I also regret, a little, that we don’t get more of Captain America by himself. His first two stand alone movies are probably my two favorites of all the Marvel movies – and this one basically feels like another Avengers movie – slightly over packed, but still largely enjoyable. And perhaps it’s just me, but I can’t help but hope that sooner or later one of these Marvel movies explicitly address the homoeroticism in the air and have two male characters kiss – there are so many moments where Cap and Bucky stare into each other’s eyes for absurdly long periods of time, that you know if its was a man and woman, they would just get it over with and kiss already.
Basically, though, Captain America: Civil War works very well. It’s fun, fast paced and hugely enjoyable. It’s an example of this genre done right – and after the awful Batman v. Superman, it looks even better than it probably actually is on its own terms.

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