I admit to possessing a soft spot in my heart for Steve Rogers. The Chris Evans movie version, at least, who returns to the screen once more in Captain America: Civil War.
I was aware of Captain America’s mighty shield-throwing for decades without being a fan of his comic books or cartoons. I thought as much of most Marvel characters, Spider-Man, Wolverine and the Fantastic Four notwithstanding. Yet Marvel Studios 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 a naivete-free purity to how Evans and the filmmakers have approached the character since which borders on amazing.
The First Avenger introduced Rogers with an appropriate adventure serial giddiness. I enjoyed that take, but doubted 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 comic book storyline, then reworks it completely. During an Avengers mission, 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. This 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.
Praising the Marvel Formula
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. Bringing comic book heroes to the big screen, then pitting them against each other, should’ve be enough. Yet critical reception to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (a similar effort by their “distinguished competition”) proved 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 chuckle 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.
Then the train arrives in the form of the inevitable rumble at the Berlin Airport. The ensuing free-for-all is equal parts gloriously fun and surprisingly poignant. I cannot stress enough how watching “Team Cap” square off against “Team Iron Man” is worth the price of 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 should skip the next 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.
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. Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross and Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane get an honorable mention.) The action sequences become a bit cartoony at times, a common problem in most modern cinema. 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