“Captain America: Civil War” Movie Review


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     Differences become so clear when you have the opportunity to basically compare two films side by side within a short period of time, which normally may have been years apart.  “Captain America: Civil War” is, yet again, a master’s course in superhero filmmaking so good, it leaves the dark and unfriendly “Batman vs Superman” in a literal scrapheap.  That’s not say the DC Universe doesn’t have the same potential as the ongoing and superior Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it is to say the filmmakers here, Anthony and Joe Russo returning after their debut film “Captain America: Winter Soldier”, understand the critical elements that must be present in order to make this genre work.  First and foremost, the characters must be well drawn and have actual easily identifiable personality traits which allow the audience to instantly relate to them as actual people rather than caricatures drawn up in a comic book.  Second, these stories need to convey real drama, but also be fun at the same time.  In other words, there always needs to be that proverbial wink to the audience telling us the people on screen know we are smart enough to realize that none of this is to be taken seriously.

     The Russo Brothers work here is so supremely confident, that every single action sequence takes place in either broad daylight or very well lit spaces.  They know their characters literally jump off the screen with color and vibrancy and they want to show them off, not hide them.  Compare that to the ultra dark and overly cartoonish action sequences in “Batman vs Superman” and you’ll begin to realize the creative talent behind the camera for the DC Universe, namely Zack Snyder, might be wrong for the job.  It only takes watching the first 10 minutes of Captain America: Civil War to realize this will be the superior film, and it also becomes clear why “Batman vs Superman” was yanked from its original May 6th opening date because no one wants to get in the way of the Marvel machine at this point.  Nor should anyone try.

     If anything, the title is semi misleading since all but two of the main characters in “The Avengers” cast is here and featured prominently (Thor and Hulk apparently had something more pressing to take care of.), including the new additions added to the team in “Age of Ultron”, as well as the introductions of Ant-Man, the Black Panther, and Spider-man as new core members. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely also return for screenwriting duties after having provided the script for “Winter Soldier” as well.  Like Joss Whedon did so successfully with “The Avengers”, Markus and McFeely excel in their ability to ensure each and every character in this film are given ample material to shine, but also take their skills a step further by providing what is likely the best overall story these characters have ever been a part of.  Just when you think the plot is limited to the next action set piece, the story interconnects important scenes from both the first and second acts and hits you with a reveal in the third act that possesses genuine dramatic and emotional heft in a way that is as satisfying as any superhero film I have seen.

     The overriding theme of “Civil War” is an interesting concept quite possibly ripped right out of today’s headlines.  After a group of highly armed mercenaries steal a dangerous biological weapon in Lagos, the Avengers, led by Captain America / Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), are successful in their mission to stop the group before they get away, but not without significant collateral damage that includes the loss of innocent lives.  Now of course there are two ways to look at this.  One would be the prevailing opinion of the governments in the film where they feel the Avengers need to be supervised and have their operations approved and ultimately controlled by politicians.  The other way to view this would be the fact our heroes are simply reacting to the actions of criminals and other threats, and the necessary means to stop these dangerous criminals will sometimes result in unintended casualties.  It’s the classic case of those who live under the safety and security provided by the Avengers are now questioning the manner in which they provide it.  In real life, police are consistently hit both by the public and the media with exactly the same rhetoric, as people tend to ignore the fact that the suspects they are dealing with are the ones who have caused the police to be there in the first place.  Essentially, what the politicians in “Civil War” are asking of the Avengers is the real life equivalent of the police being told they will now be overseen by a civilian review board.  And as is the case in real life, some of the Avengers are all for it, while others are not.

     This disturbing bit of political interference, mainly caused by U.S. Secretary of State Ross (William Hurt), creates a rift between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.).  The situation becomes even more volatile when it is believed Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) aka the Winter Soldier is responsible for the bombing of the United Nations during the meeting that would have the Avengers signing the proposed agreement.  As we know, Rogers and Barnes are the best of friends and Cap doesn’t believe he’s responsible, even though the authorities are hot on his tail which ultimately means Cap will have to fight along side Barnes in order to keep him out of custody.  With Stark backing the plan proposed by the Secretary, he and Lt. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) track down Rogers and Barnes, but the resulting situation leads to an all out war between the now splintered team of Avengers with Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) joining Cap along with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), as they battle against Ironman, War Machine, Vision (Paul Bettany), the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and newcomers Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).

    Going in, there were a lot of questions as to how Spider-man in particular would be introduced and integrated into the film.  Fortunately, the connection the filmmakers come up with that allows for his inclusion onto Stark’s team is not only plausible, it’s also brilliant in that the set up for next year’s new “Spider-man” stand alone film just became an instant must see.  Same goes for the integration of T’Challa and his Black Panther alter ego into the overall plot, which works well as far as his motives and reasoning for aligning with Stark during the battle with Cap.  No doubt, “Civil War” is a massive film with a running time of 146 minutes (Yes, there is a mid credits scene and a good one too.) which sets out to tell at least five major storylines, giving the film plenty of opportunity for numerous important twists as each of these sequences begin to interconnect.  It’s the precise orchestration of these events that give the film such a polished feel.  Even the action scenes become crucial to the various outcomes, which is refreshing after watching too many Michael Bay and Zack Snyder films where the action seems to be there only to impress the audience.  With “Civil War” marking the beginning of Phase 3 in the Cinematic Universe, the Russo Brothers, who will also direct the upcoming “The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1” due in 2018, have created an endless set of contentious relationships between these characters, each of which will certainly ensure plenty of drama in the future as this now fractured team of heroes continues to save the world over and over again. GRADE: A