“Captain America: Civil War” – a superhero face-off for the ages

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From the official Marvel site

This review will mention some plot details, so watch out if you don’t want to be spoiled.

I have great affection for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Despite the fact that the whole thing is a corporate enterprise at its core, the movies and characters that have come out of it have given me much joy over the years and made a huge world that works more often than it doesn’t. “Captain America: Civil War” is basically the movie equivalent of of taking out all your action figures and violently slamming them into each other, but in the end our heroes must face real world consequences and we get a chance to see them as people rather than idols. We realize that all that slamming hurts them in the long run.

The superb “Captain America: Civil War” is among the best of the Marvel films I’ve seen. It is able to juggle big themes and many characters in such a smart way that I’ve never seen before. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo (who also directed the very good “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) are brilliant at what they do, and have brought the best out of the story and its characters.

The story is one that could easily become messy if in the hands of incompetent directors. When an effort to stop an enemy in Nigeria goes bad and the Avengers cause collateral damage, the government decides that the group has to go under the government’s control, under a bill called the Sokovia Accords. This splits the group into two camps: those who support government oversight, led by Tony Stark aka Iron Man, and those who support staying independent, led by Steve Rogers aka Captain America. Rogers is also trying to clear the name of his old friend Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier, after he is blamed for a U.N. bombing in Vienna, Germany when various countries meet to discuss the Accords. All the while, a mysterious man named Zemo lurks in the background, operating on his own agenda against the Avengers.

If this sounds complicated, it really isn’t when you watch the movie. The script is very well written, explaining everyone’s reasoning for what they do and why. Although “Civil War” is two and a half hours long, it never feels that way. It moves along in brisk fashion, never becoming boring or lagging.

The cast is in top form as usual. Although I don’t agree with his viewpoint, Chris Evans is as good and full hearted as he always is as Captain America, and we feel bad for him even if we don’t agree with him. Robert Downey Jr. is devastating in most of his scenes as Tony Stark. He has been through so much and lost so much that we feel the weight of everything he has been through simply through his performance.

Among the teams, the minor characters shine as well. Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch is becoming one of my favorite characters. Just the way she is in charge of her own destiny and her magical powers making her among the most powerful of the group makes her extremely intriguing. She has a number of beautiful scenes with Paul Bettany’s Vision, setting up a romance that happened in the comics. Olsen and Bettany are lovely together, and Bettany shows Vision’s efforts to be more human, which are hilarious, such as wearing slacks and a sweater over his purple skin and cooking to cheer up Wanda even if he’s never eaten before.

As the enigmatic Zemo, Daniel Bruhl is quietly menacing and cold, and his very good performance justifies the poor excuse for why he does what he does. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan could make a whole other movie out of their great and funny interactions as Sam Wilson (aka Falcon) and Bucky Barnes. Stan also surprised me by making me care about Bucky so much more than I did in the last few films. Scarlett Johansson is awesome as usual in the role of Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, and her character ends up making a choice that changes things for Team Iron Man.

However, the real MVPs are the new additions. Black Panther and Spider-Man are both phenomenal and their actors are great additions to the MCU. The always wonderful Chadwick Boseman brings regality and appropriate seriousness to his role as Black Panther. Even with his fake accent, Boseman adds intensity and pathos to a part that could be one-note in the hands of another actor.

Tom Holland is shaping up to be a great Spider-Man. Despite being the youngest person to take on the role (Holland is 19 at the moment), he seems to have a better understanding of the character than those who came before. Even so, I wish he had been in the movie more, as he is not given a lot of breathing room in the big airport sequence, and although he is quite funny in costume, its a little rough around the edges. With that said, one of my favorite scenes in the whole movie is his introduction, which shows Stark recruiting him as Peter Parker, and Holland is charming and likable throughout the whole sequence. He talks with his hands, dumpster dives for computer parts, and is the definition of youthful energy. I am very excited for both Holland and Boseman to be in their solo movies.

Some characters feel oddly disconnected from the narrative though. Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter is appealing, but it seems as if her only purpose is to make out with Cap and then leave. Martin Freeman is always a welcome addition, his character Everett Ross just feels like a set up for future films (a trap “Civil War” falls into on more than one occasion). While I love Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man to death, he’s in the movie probably less than Spider-Man. I honestly forgot that Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye was in the movie every time he was off screen (although he has funny lines, Renner doesn’t deliver them with much charisma). Although her death is affecting, Peggy Carter seems thrown out of the way to make room for her niece Sharon. Marisa Tomei shows up for only two minutes as Peter Parker’s (younger than usual) Aunt May, which feels like a waste of her talents.

This film is also an achievement on a technical level. The fight scenes are well choreographed and the sound design that accompanies them is top-notch. My favorite thing that the directors chose to do is have locations and the time period in HUGE LETTERS ACROSS THE SCREEN. The effects of people’s superhero costumes could use some perfecting, but they are never so distracting that you are taken out of the movie.

The airport sequence which acts as the centerpiece of the film is probably one of the best superhero action scenes from the last decade. Every character gets time to shine and the sight of all these people on screen and fighting just left a childlike grin on my face. Go see it for yourself.

If there are some criticisms I could give, it’s that both Captain America and Iron Man come off as huge jerks at different points. Cap comes off as majorly hypocritical. I remembered a conversation between him and Stark in “Age of Ultron” in which Cap says, “every time someone tries to stop a problem before it starts, innocent people die.” Then the beginning of “Civil War” is Cap and Co. accidentally killing innocent people while trying to stop an enemy. He talks about the idea of collateral damage as a casual fact of life, not something that he could have probably prevented. When it comes to Tony, while I love his interactions with Peter Parker, it seems a little sketchy for him to recruit a minor to basically do his bidding in a fight against adults where Peter could get seriously hurt. When a huge reveal is made about Tony’s past, he basically throws all the morals he supported throughout the whole movie out the window in order to fulfill his own sense of justice. While Cap and Stark have mostly well defined views through the film, it’s moments like this that calls their ethics into question, even if Evans and Downey sell these moments as best as they can.

As well, it seems like the Marvel movies are becoming like a television show. You can’t really watch this film without having seen at least “Age of Ultron” or “The Winter Soldier”. You might not be able to watch “Black Panther” or “Spider-Man: Homecoming” without having seen their introductions in this film. Calling this movie a “Captain America” movie seemed kind of pointless, if only for the sake of finishing his trilogy. Tony Stark seems as much the main character as Steve Rogers is. Perhaps just “Marvel’s Civil War” would have been a more appropriate title.

With all those critiques out of the way, let’s address the elephant in the room. “Civil War” is a better and much more coherent movie that “Batman v. Superman”. While that film did have some saving graces (Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman), it ultimately failed because of a muddled script and poor direction. “Civil War” does not suffer from those problems. Even with the sometimes shady morals, “Civil War” didn’t make me feel as if my patience or hearing was being tested. Even with the darker tone, this is a much more jovial film than “BvS”.

“Captain America: Civil War” is pure superhero entertainment. It is probably Marvel’s best since the first Iron Man. It is one of the best superhero movies in general. While it does go to darker and deeper places, “Civil War” knows what the people want, and it gives it to them. Even if these films are becoming a business, it is a business I will happily keep investing in if they keep making movies as good as this. This is a superhero film at the height of its power. See it if you haven’t already.

Note: There are two credits scenes. One in the middle and one at the end. Don’t miss the second one if you want a glimpse of things to come for a certain web-slinger.


Final Verdict: 9 out of 10

“Captain America: Civil War”

Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action, and mayhem.

Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo

Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Daniel Bruhl, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Emily VanCamp, Martin Freeman, Marisa Tomei, John Kani, John Slattery, Alfre Woodard, Stan Lee, Hope Davis, Kerry Condon.