Film Reviews
Captain America: Civil War

‘Captain America: Civil War’: Bombastic Earnestness

Bloated, compelling, jaw-dropping and fun at the same time, Captain America: Civil War ranks among the best of the Marvel Studios superhero entries

I admit to possessing a soft spot in my heart for Steve Rogers. The Chris Evans movie version, at least. As with most Marvel characters (Spider-Man, Wolverine and the Fantastic Four notwithstanding), I was aware of Captain America’s mighty shield-throwing for decades without being a fan of his comic books or cartoons. Yet they hooked me with Captain America: The First Avenger. It happened the minute Evans, as the scrawny pre-Super-Serum version of Rogers, told Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) the reason he wanted to join the army. There is an innocent, naivete-free purity to the way Evans and his filmmaking cohorts have approached the character since then which borders on amazing. The First Avenger introduced Rogers with an appropriate adventure serial giddiness that made me doubt the character would ever work in a modern setting. It did, as it turns out, in both The Avengers and the wonderfully subversive Captain America: The Winter Soldier. (Hail Hydra!) Now Rogers returns in Captain America: Civil War with a new challenge: can he retain the spotlight in his own movie while fighting for it against what appears to be the entire Marvel roster of superheroes?

Captain America: Civil War in a Nutshell

As in The Winter Soldier, Civil War takes its cues from a famous Marvel comic book storyline and then reworks it completely. During an Avengers mission led by Rogers, powerful new member Wanda “Scarlet Witch” Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) inadvertently causes some very public collateral damage. Between that and the fallout from Avengers, The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron, the governments of the world have decided it’s time to put the superheroes on a leash. They draft a treaty the team must sign guaranteeing they won’t perform derring-do without oversight. Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), broken hearted and feeling a bit responsible over past victims of his actions, is fine with this. Not to mention that the events of Iron Man 3 left him in no mood for solo counter-terrorism antics. Cap, however, surprisingly disagrees, even more so because his brainwashed buddy Bucky “Winter Soldier” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is wanted for the terrorist bombing of the Sokovian Accords event. The patriotic hero and his posse unwittingly go rogue to save Barnes, which forces Tony and the rest of the “sanctioned” Avengers to go out after them. If that wasn’t enough, the plot also includes at least three revenge plots while it test drives two new Marvel Cinematic heroes with upcoming franchises of their own.

Team Cap in Captain America: Civil War
“Team Cap” in Captain America: Civil War. (SOURCE: Marvel Studios.)

After submitting myself for nearly a decade to the Marvel Studios formula and its variations, I find their efforts quite admirable and consistent in a Pixar sort of way. You’d think that just bringing comic book heroes to the big screen, then pitting them against each other, would be enough. Yet critical reception to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (a recent and similar effort by their “distinguished competition”) proves otherwise. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, as well as screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, make you care about the lives and struggles our heroes face. You never doubt for a second the motivations of any of the characters, especially the leads. When Stark tells Rogers how he’d like to punch him in his perfect teeth, you get the joke and also feel for them both. This isn’t the witty, playful repartee of yesterday. Conflict is looming, the band might be breaking up and neither man can seemingly stop the incoming freight train.

Team Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War
“Team Iron Man” in Captain America: Civil War. (SOURCE: Marvel Studios.)

So when it arrives in the inevitable rumble at the Berlin Airport, the ensuing free-for-all is equal parts gloriously fun and surprisingly poignant. I can stress enough how watching “Team Cap” square off against “Team Iron Man” is worth every penny you pay for admission. Any extra enhancements you add—3D glasses, moving seats, a liter of Jack Daniels Honey Bourbon—will neither add or distract from the blissful out-of-body experience you will feel when the good guys start punching each other while asking themselves if they’re still friends. “A good, clean fight”, boxing ref approved and fit for all ages. Then, just when you thought the fight is over, the movie’s climax offers one smaller in scale but larger in stakes. The roster, in case you’re wondering, is as follows: (“SPOILER ALERT”: Anybody who managed to avoid all marketing material for this movie and wants not to have character appearances revealed should skip the rest of the paragraph. Also, I hope your underground bunker was comfy.) In this corner it’s Captain America, Winter Soldier, Sam “Falcon” Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch, Clint “Hawkeye” Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Scott “Ant-Man” Lang (Paul Rudd). In the other corner it’s Iron Man, James “War Machine” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Vision (Paul Bettany), plus newcomer Prince T’Challa a.k.a. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Rookie of the Year Peter “Spider-Man” Parker (Tom Holland), finally part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War
SPOILER! Spider-Man is home in Captain America: Civil War.
Click here while watching the picture for the full effect. (SOURCE: Marvel Studios.)

Captain America: Civil War is right up there among the best of the Marvel films. It isn’t perfect, but its wrinkles are ironed out by all its good qualities. Marvel Studios has yet to find a villain that is truly memorable, despite Daniel Brühl’s compelling effort as Baron Zemo. (Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is as close as they’ve come, with Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross and Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane getting honorable mentions.) The action sequences become a bit cartoony at times, a common problem in most modern cinema, but at least the are entertaining and easy to follow. Add to that some great touches—like a seriously jaw dropping moment that surpasses the Ant-Man film’s young Michael Douglas sequence—and you have plenty of spectacle to gawk over. What makes Captain America: Civil War or any of the Cap films special, however, isn’t bombast but earnestness. Yes, the Marvel Studios films are becoming a bit bloated and their plots are starting to get convoluted, but they obviously still care for their characters and their audience. We live in a world fit for heroes of either the dark, snarky or potty-mouthed variety as proven by the worldwide grosses of Deadpool, Dawn of Justice and every single appearance of Downey as Iron Man. So the fact that the Marvel Cinematic Universe can fit such a straight man as Captain America into its lineup, and make it compelling each and every time, is nothing short of a miracle.

Now showing only in theaters.

Movie title: Captain America: Civil War

Movie description: Bloated, compelling, jaw-dropping and fun at the same time, Captain America: Civil War ranks among the best of the Marvel Studios superhero entries.

Date published: 2016-05-06

Director(s): Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Actor(s): Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Scarlett Johansson, Daniel Brühl, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Paul Bettany, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Emily VanCamp

Genre: Action, Adventure


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