Review: Captain America: Civil War
Read Paul Shirey's review HERE
PLOT: After their latest mission sees the death of innocent civilians, the Avengers finally have to reckon with the damage they cause even in the service of good. Additionally, Captain America has to protect his friend Bucky Barnes from several people who want to see him captured or dead, while a brilliant new villain plots the end of the entire team.
REVIEW: With the exception of Loki, the villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have by and large been the weakest - or at least, most uninteresting - characters to populate the films. In a way, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR was a necessity: a movie unconcerned with world-threatening bad guys and more focused on the increasingly damaged - and notorious - heroes, and the tensions and tolls bred by their actions. Yes, there's still a villain giving our protagonists plenty of agita, but he functions predominantly as a plot device, and he hardly leaves an impression. This movie is about a family running headfirst into a cataclysmic disagreement and doing what families so often do: fight.
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, who crafted CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER into an immensely satisfying paranoid thriller, CIVIL WAR is a sensational piece of entertainment, an action epic with personal stakes and serious costs for our costumed heroes. The screenplay deftly juggles a ton of characters and gives almost all of them a few moments to shine, no one really gets the short shrift. If the crowded roster of Avengers weren't enough, the filmmakers have added two more superheroes, a few bureaucrats (a couple of them returning from past films, at least one new), a handful of villains and a lot of frightened civilians. This movie is jam-packed with characters and information, and though it's certainly long, it never feels too long. That's because it's so much damn fun.
Those aforementioned frightened civilians are why these good guys are fighting amongst each other. After years of trying to stop psychos from destroying cities, the Avengers have come to recognize (thanks to some pushing from the government and their own personal bouts of guilt) that even when they're helping to save society, they're helping destroy a little piece of it. After a successful mission in Nigeria stops Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo) in his tracks, there are still casualties to be spoken for, especially on the part of Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who's still a newbie at harnessing her powers. The Secretary of State (William Hurt, reprising his role from THE INCREDIBLE HULK) wants to put the Avengers under the control of the U.N., something Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is in favor of because he - of all people - thinks they've gone far too long not being in check. (It doesn't help that he's recently been guilted into it by a grieving mother.) Captain America (Chris Evans) disagrees; even though he recognizes the price of what they do when they're in action, he thinks the worst would happen if they were being held down by outside forces. Isn't the point of their exceptional abilities to utilize them whenever necessary?
It's a fascinating conflict, dealt with much more thoughtfully here than in BATMAN V SUPERMAN, which felt the need to bog us down in misery in order for us to understand the grave issues at hand. One of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR's strengths is it's able to contemplate earnest topics while keeping a relatively light tone. A lot of that comes from well-timed humor, since the characters (and the movies) don't always take themselves too seriously. The best moments in these flicks come from the interplay between the characters, and as always the actors on display are killing it, genuinely appearing to enjoy each other's company and playing off one another effortlessly.
As Cap and Tony attempt to come to an agreement, and the other Avengers begin to fall in line with one allegiance or the other, plenty of grim matters force their hands. Cap's old pal Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is on the loose and still dealing with the fallout of his Hydra brainwashing; is he going back to his terrorist ways or can he now be considered an ally? Add to that a sinister loner (Daniel Bruhl) who's collecting information on Bucky for unknown (but safe to say... evil) purposes, toss in a vengeful new superhero (Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther) who's gunning for Bucky and anyone who stands in his way, and you've got a gaggle of problems that will push the Avengers into a bigtime fight. And when that fight comes, it's a doozy.
The amusing thing about this battle is that the stakes aren't exactly sky-high. We know these friends aren't going to kill each other; they know they're not going to kill each other, it's basically one gigantic pile-on in the backyard, no one willing to budge. That lends the scene a lighter air than most of the other symphonies of destruction; some of these guys actually like getting the chance to pummel the other. Bringing in Spider-Man (Tom Holland, a terrific addition) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, who steals every scene he's in) - both of whom are mostly tickled by the experience - adds even more levity. But it's Black Panther who isn't playing around, and the character's furious attacks on Bucky and Cap help bring the scene back to reality when it threatens to get a little too off-the-rails. (It's not as if The Avengers haven't squared off against one another before, of course, but this scene kills those other instances by a large margin.)
For all its weighty themes, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is a joy to watch; the Russo brothers once again prove they're as adept with action as they are with humor, and when this movie kicks into high gear it barely lets you take a breath. The storyline resonates because we can actually see both sides; Cap is right because the Avengers should take it upon themselves to help whenever the occasion calls for it, while Tony is right because flying "weapons of mass destruction" are pretty dangerous, no matter how noble they are. (In fact, you might find yourself seriously frustrated with Cap in this one for various reasons, an interesting decision on the filmmakers' parts.) It's a big budget spectacle, but it also makes us contemplate and reassess protagonists we've grown very familiar with over the years. That's a pretty neat trick.
The weak link is, again, the villain. Daniel Bruhl gets nothing to do of note, and while the character's motivations are compelling (it's refreshing that he's not just another "I want to rule the world" baddie off the assembly line), his sequences have no intrigue or excitement. He also suffers from the symptom many villains in these movies have, which is an overly-complicated agenda that would work much more easily if he took out a few steps. Once you analyze his plan it doesn't really hold together; there were simpler and more effective ways to go about it.
But, that's a nitpick in the larger scheme of things. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is simply a grand old time at the movies, and when there are this many splendid characters on the screen at once, it's actually hard to complain about a thing.
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