Archives for 2016

When Heroes Collide – Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War: Review

civil-war-poster-3by Aaron Einhorn
We’ve come to a time where superhero movies are no longer rarities that come along every now and again, but to the point where they are a regular part of the cinematic landscape. Case in point – when Marvel began creating their own films in 2008, the previous year had only given us the poorly received Spider-Man 3.

Here we are less than ten years later, and Captain America: Civil War is the third big-budget superhero film of the year, with another four yet to come. Which means it’s a great time to be a geek – because if you don’t like a given superhero film, there’s another one coming along soon enough.

Comparisons between Captain America: Civil War and Warner Brothers’ Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice are almost impossible to not make. Both movies feature the greatest heroes of their respective universes battle. I’m going to do my best not to draw direct comparisons between the films, because they’re very, very different. BvS is trying to kick off the DC Cinematic Universe while Civil War is the thirteenth film in an ongoing series. This of course means that the stakes are very different – instead of two heroes fighting on their first meeting, instead we see a team of heroes that have history being torn apart. They’re completely separate films, and so I’ll do my best not to compare them.

But of course the real question is “Does Captain America: Civil War live up to the hype?” Well, read on to see my thoughts.

Synopsis

After another incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by a governing body to oversee and direct the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps, one led by Steve Rogers and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Tony Stark’s surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability.

The Feature

Civil War begins with the Avengers in action again, tracking down Brock Rumlow (former Hydra-mole and Cap’s faux friend), who is now known as the mercenary Crossbones. This current team of Avengers is slightly lower powered and lower-profile than the team we saw in action at the beginning of Age of Ultron, but they’re still powerful enough that they unexpected collateral damage can occur during their battles and one such incident is enough to provoke the creation of the Sorkovia Accords.

In short, the governments of the world have become concerned about the abilities of the Avengers coupled with their relative lack of oversight. Their desire is to put the Avengers under the control of the United Nations.

Obviously, this decision tears the Avengers down the middle, with Iron Man, War Machine, Black Widow and the Vision being in favor of the accords, while Captain America, the Falcon and Scarlet Witch are afraid of being used as political tools.

Into this tense situation, enter Bucky – the Winter Soldier – still looking for keys to his past, and still wanted for atrocities committed while under the control of Hydra. When the Avengers are sent to take Bucky down, Steve and his allies can’t help but get involved, which brings them into conflict with their former friends.
In addition to this already heavily crowded film, we also see the introduction of T’Challa, King of Wakanda and the Black Panther, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s version of Spider-Man, the return of Hawkeye to the team, and the addition of Ant-Man for Cap’s side.

The film picks up steam from here on to the climax, with heroes battling one another while realizing that they’ve been manipulated, and when we finally reach the climax, the Avengers may have been irreparably damaged. At least until The Infinity War.

The Good

The list of things that are good in this film could almost be the entire review. We’ll begin with the script. Unlike the comic book version of Civil War, this script does a remarkable job of keeping any of the heroes from having to pick up the Idiot Ball to justify the conflict. Although this is unmistakably Cap’s film, and our sympathies are supposed to lean towards him, the perspective of Tony Stark and his allies makes sense – and the reasons for the conflict, and each betrayal or changing of sides – make sense.

Next is the cast. We’ve had time to get used to these actors in their roles – so much that it’s hard to imagine a version of Tony Stark that doesn’t look like Robert Downey, Jr. The veterans in the cast have grown into their roles, and Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, RDJ, Jeremy Renner and Don Cheadle are all comfortable in the skin of these heroes, which allows the emotion to be conveyed realistically and effectively. They never feel like they’re acting – it’s easy to just get lost in the performances. They are well matched by the other returning heroes, and Sebastian Stan, Paul Bettany, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd and Emily VanCamp all fit in easily next to them.

But it would be irresponsible to mention performances without addressing the two newest heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa/Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Bosemna provides a delightfully nuanced performance as the Warrior/Inventor/King, and his Black Panther commands attention every time he appears on the screen. This is a character who is equally compelling in-costume or out, and proves himself to be a statesman ready to match the intensity of Tony Stark while still being a warrior capable of going toe-to-toe with Captain America. I am eagerly awaiting seeing more of him when Black Panther arrives in 2018.

As for Holland? While his introductory scene feels like it was cut a bit short (we see very little transition between his recruitment and his battling alongside the other heroes), this kid nails Spider-Man in a way we have never seen in live-action. He takes everything that worked from Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker with the best parts of Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man and synthesizes them into a perfect whole. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man may have helped start the superhero movie craze, but based on what we’ve seen so far, I think that 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming will be the Spidey film fans have been waiting for.

On top of a solid story, and a fantastic cast, the last good thing that has to be addressed is how well balanced this film. With a cast this large, it would have been very easy for Captain America: Civil War to collapse underneath its own weight, and for the leads to get lost in the shuffle. That doesn’t happen. While every character gets moments to shine, this is not Avengers 3. It is very much still a Captain America film, and the movie is focused on Steve, Tony, and Bucky. This is incredibly impressive.

The Bad

Captain America: Civil War does a great job of giving us hero vs. hero conflict in a way that is believable and doesn’t force us to start cheering against any of the heroes we’ve grown to love over the past dozen films. But it doesn’t do quite as well with giving us conflict between the heroes and the villains. Crossbones is almost wasted in his initial scene in this film, and it’s unlikely we’ll see him again. For one of Cap’s most feared foes, I expected better. He doesn’t get much more credit than Batroc did in Winter Soldier, which I also thought was criminally underusing the character.

I could forgive this, if they had managed Zemo better. But they didn’t. This Zemo isn’t a long-time Hydra operative, nor does he have the legacy connection to one of Captain America’s WWII enemies. He’s a modern villain with modern motivations rooted in the previous films, and there is no sign of his classic costume. Zemo – and especially the actions he took with the Thunderbolts – has been one of my favorite Captain America villains for over a decade, and I feel like he was wasted here. Rather than co-op a classic villain, they could have just made him a new character without losing anything. Considering how we’ve seen other Captain America villains handled – including the underuse of the Stuckers in Age of Ultron and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I was really hoping for a better treatment.

There’s also a romance in this film that very much feels shoved in. The characters – and their relationship – deserves a better treatment. This is doubly annoying because we see a different relationship forming through the course of the movie and handled masterfully and deftly.

The Ugly

I gave mention to how well they avoid having the heroes pick up the Idiot Ball earlier in this review. This is true. That said, there is a phenomenal example of Cap grabbing the ball and not letting go near the climax of the movie. It’s realistic enough to imagine that Cap might’ve said what he did at that point – but it was glaring enough that I had to lean over to my wife at that moment and exclaim “Or, you know, don’t say that and start fighting your best friend again.”

Also, while this may be personal, I found that the 3-D effects led to a lot of blurring during the film. When I saw clips of action at home on TV during Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I was astonished at how much clearer it was.

Final Thought

At the end of the day, Captain America: Civil War didn’t manage to become my new favorite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. That honor still goes to Winter Soldier. That said, being my third favorite of these movies still puts it head-and-shoulders ahead of almost every other superhero film that has been released as of yet.

I’m unsure when I’m going to get back to see this movie. I’d like to see it again (not in 3-D this time), but as mentioned, this is one of the darkest entries from Marvel to date (although it doesn’t hold a candle to any of the Netflix series). And while I don’t think it’s too dark for my daughters to watch, it is a film I think I’d like to be able to pause to explain elements to them when they see it.

That said, Captain America: Civil War was a deeply satisfying experience, and it’s a movie I highly recommend.

Bonus

There are two things that every Marvel movie is expected to have, and I’m happy to say that Captain America: Civil War includes both stingers (one mid-credits and one at the very end of the credits), and a cameo from Marvel CEO Emeritus, Stan Lee. This time around, Stan comes in near the end, and while his cameo is slightly less hilarious than some of his others, it’s still deeply satisfying.

The mid-credits stinger is a bit of a miss for me – in that it feels like it belongs as a part of the main film, not as a tease for future films. The post-credit stinger is a more traditional tease which helps move us towards Spider-Man: Homecoming. Both are entertaining, and well worth sitting through the credits for.

(Disclaimer: I was provided a free preview pass screening to attend Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War. I received no other compensation for writing this review, and all opinions and views expressed are my own.)