Friday, May 06, 2016

Civilized Discussion

Captain America: Civil War has arrived, a sequel to both two Captain America films and two Avengers films (and, arguably, three Iron Man films and a handful of other Marvel movies besides). It is stuffed to bursting with characters, a plot of its own, continuations of ongoing story lines, and set-ups for future movies. It's an extremely difficult balancing act to pull off, as evidenced by the fact that even multi-character, multi-plot master Joss Whedon (who pulled it off quite successfully with these characters once) stumbled a bit in trying to do it again.

Maybe Marvel overseer Kevin Feige realized he'd gone a step too far when he basically broke Joss Whedon making Age of Ultron. Or maybe Civil War writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely had more energy for this project, as they weren't directing it too. Maybe something else. In any case, Captain America: Civil War swoops in as one of the best films to date in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

What's really impressive is how all the competing interests here somehow don't feel competitive or awkwardly wedged in as they did in Age of Ultron. The movie is absolutely Captain America's story, as the overall emotional throughline tracks his stalwart efforts to stand by his longtime friend Bucky Barnes, The Winter Soldier. But the "civil war" arc (no doubt massively abbreviated from its comic book source) feels complete too, and provides meaty and meaningful stories for Iron Man and Black Widow.

Actually, every superhero character in the film gets their due, both in a high octane action moment and in an off-the-field-of-battle character moment -- some more thoughtful and serious (Vision, Scarlet Witch), some light and funny (Ant-Man, Hawkeye). And then there are the new characters, solidly introduced.

I like the overall vibe of Black Panther, and look forward to his solo movie -- but I think that's more on the strong commitment in Chadwick Boseman's performance, because (having never heard of Black Panther outside of this movie) I still don't quite get the character. I felt the movie was a bit ambiguous/confusing as to whether he's just a skilled fighter in a suit or a guy with a magic ring. And I have no idea how he juggles both being a nation's leader and a superhero; I'm trying to imagine Barack Obama slipping out of the West Wing in a cat suit to boot heads and I can't get there. But the emotional content of Black Panther's story line was clear and relatable throughout. With the full time of his own movie to spread out in, I think the character will be quite compelling.

Then of course, the moment so many fans have been waiting for, the introduction of Spider-man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This script slides him into the mix well, giving Spidey fans enough to sink their teeth into while not detracting from the overall story here. You definitely get a sense of who actor Tom Holland's Spider-man is, and it really does feel like a "best of both worlds" between Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield; he captures both the "weight of the world on his shoulders" seriousness of the former and the pure sense of joy of the latter. He nails the sense of a teenager too -- at times starstruck, cocky, unskilled. Indeed, the only flaw I can see in casting Tom Holland is that since he really does seem as young as Spider-man is supposed to be, it makes Scarlet Witch (who the movie repeatedly reminds you is just a kid) seem miscast by Elizabeth Olsen. That won't be a problem for Spider-man's forthcoming solo movie, so go ahead and start looking forward to that.

There are a few flaws in Civil War, but they're pretty minor. The first half is a bit slow in places. It does pay off in spades in the back half, so patience with a movie that feels more Jason Bourne at times than superhero is rewarded. There's the muddiness about the powers of a couple of the characters. (In addition to Black Panther, who I mentioned above, I remain completely unclear about what The Vision can and can't do, having now seen him in two movies.) And of course, it wouldn't be a Marvel movie without an uninteresting villain (unless Loki's around). Actor Daniel Bruhl does what he can with the role of Helmut Zemo, but a short cameo earlier in the film by Alfre Woodard packs more of an emotional punch with a similar back story. But then, I guess Zemo isn't supposed to be the star here; you came to see Captain America fight Iron Man. Also, don't see this in 3D if you have a choice; directors Anthony and Joe Russo opt for hyper-kinetic action with a constantly moving (and sometimes shaky) camera, which doesn't play well at all in 3D.

I'd give Captain America: Civil War an A-. I'd say it's not quite as good as either The Winter Soldier or The Avengers (despite the fact that if you look back on the reviews I wrote for both those movies at the time, I gave them each B+; I've shifted my scale a bit since then). Marvel fans are sure to be satisfied.

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