A Film Review of Captain America: Civil War
There are event films and then there are EVENT FILMS. So many studios own so many licenses and they all want to convert them into license-to-print-money franchises and most of them fail to reach that threshold because the studios want their cash back and then some ASAP. Phenomena like Star Wars (for instance) don’t just happen overnight and these types of cinematic universes require multiple, high quality entries to build legacy. As we look back to the beginning of these Avengers films, few could have predicted that the first Iron Man could have set the stage for the immense and ever growing success of this franchise as a whole. Even super-producer Kevin Feige, the man most singularly responsible for making these films reality, could not have predicted this kind of windfall even if he was gifted with infinite resources and unrivaled decision making power. The latest entry in Marvel Studios’ amazing galaxy of super-people represents a new pinnacle for what these films can accomplish in the entertainment industry. The genre is not about cookie-cut-outs in cheesy costumes playing hyper stereotypes in fictional scenarios anymore.
Of course, no film is without flaws and this film did have some practical difficulties. To begin, I saw this movie in IMAX 3D, and I must say that I do not recommend anyone to experience this film in that format. There seemed to be frame rate issues from the opening action sequences that my eyes never fully adjusted to even by the film’s end. I don’t know if the reason for this is because I wear glasses and placing the (rather uncomfortable) IMAX 3D glasses on top of them causes too much distortion for my eyes to process as smooth motion or the rotoscoping effect the filmmakers used inside the frame to enhance the already hectic action. Either way, I found it physically uncomfortable to process all the action on such a large screen with 3D that I would recommend standard screenings (editor's note: we noticed frame rate issues in 2D as well).
Second, a runtime of 2 hours and 27 minutes seems about standard for epic blockbusters these days, but that doesn’t make it any less of a challenge to sit through despite even this film’s excellent effort at balanced pacing. Obvious tips like “don’t drink too much soda” and “go to theaters with comfortable seats” helps with every cinematic adventure, but I would also add “don’t see this at the end of a busy work day.” Third, there is a ton of content in this film to process. Without at least a cursory following of the Iron Man and Avengers (proper) films, Civil War can be difficult (but still enjoyable) to follow and only the most devoted fans that have seen every satellite installment will connect all the dots.
Captain America: Civil War is a chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe primarily interested in expansion. The Avengers’ roster of super-people has grown and thus, its ability to intercede anywhere on the planet has become unprecedented. With Hydra in shambles and other nefarious individuals causing trouble off-planet, the only conflict currently posing a challenge to this new global power is itself. This presents a convenient opportunity for the movie to spend an inordinate percentage of its total runtime on character development rather than presenting another single-serving antagonist to punch in the face. As such, every single hero has a moment to shine both in drama and in combat all while introducing two brand new and pivotal characters to the franchise in Black Panther and Spider-Man.
Normally, this type of film buckles under the pressure of accomplishing so much in so little time resulting in abandoned characters and abbreviated subplots, but those films also had a “big bad” to wrap up by the end. Civil War has no such task and this film’s story yields fragmentation and uncertainty; a recession if you will for an organization representing the pinnacle of human endeavor. Some may see this overarching plot as dull and unproductive, but it demonstrates a maturity in its self-criticism of the inevitable fallout that occurs when heroes save the day.
There’s so many different styles of action to make note of. We begin with high speed vehicular chases bridging to firearm combat to fisticuffs to super-powered stunt work and then Spider-Man does what a spider can on top. There’s almost something for just about everyone who likes action.
Granted, the dynamic cinematography on display throughout is thanks most in part to frames compiled purely in a computer, but they had to be conceived by someone and the frame is anything but static.
Almost everyone qualifies as a lead and not one single person phones it in. Chadwick Boseman is impressive in his debut as T’Challa/Black Panther. Anthony Mackie continues to exude pure charisma as Sam Wilson/Falcon. Scarlett Johansson is reliably unpredictable as Black Widow, Sebastian Stan’s intensity is unrivaled as Bucky/Winter Soldier, everybody likes Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man, Elizabeth Olsen shows a more tender side to her Scarlet Witch, Paul Bettany continues mystify as the Vision, Jeremy Renner brings the all important sarcastic laughs, Don Cheadle produces a fine rationalist perspective and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man brings great hope for the future of his satellite franchise as well as the importance of his character in the grand scheme of things moving forward. Amidst all these fine performances it is easy to overlook our diametrically opposed protagonists: Chris Evans as Captain America and Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Evans once again channels the tempered idealist from the classic white knight archetype while Downey discovers a new level of concern and despair for Tony Stark that has transplanted Stark’s signature attitude with something more dire and serious.
Not to be outdone by a healthy contingent of leads, the supporting roles effectively round out a brilliantly assembled cast. William Hurt’s Thunderbolt Ross is a prototypical authoritarian without coming off as whimsically maniacal. John Kani’s King T’Chaka is absolutely brilliant in virtually no screen time. Emily VanCamp continues to add credibility to her Sharon Carter. Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo may not have been a physical, mental or phsycological match for the heroes, but no one could argue with his motivations and his ability to convey his character’s despair makes him Marvel’s most effective villain since Loki.
Acceptable, but not quite iconic enough. My favorite soundtrack moments were those stylized instrumental screeches signifying Winter Soldier activity.
Sharp. Clean. Diverse. Creative. No complaints whatsoever.
“Moving” = 28/33
These films exist to deliver top mark CG and the fusion with live action is all but seamless. Surprise, surprise, these moments peak at the battle royale among our heroes showcasing everyone’s abilities in an explosion of visual brilliance.
With so many computer generated imagery flying about the screen simple pyro, wall crumbles and explosions pale in comparison.
Every hero looks as great as they have in their respective films while the new Black Panther is much more ornate than film trailers make him and Spider-Man’s costume is a welcome classic configuration.
Hair & Makeup
Well done, but nothing exceptional being accomplished here.
An exceptional collection of diverse locales representing very different parts of the world.
These also do no not fail to impress as the futuristic tech of Avengers’ facilities contrasts quite well with more mundane government facilities and even more average settings such as obscure apartment spaces in Queens.
“Picture” = 26/33
The Avengers may be the newest superpower in the world, but they are beyond perfect and not above the machinations of those who wish to control them as agents of some prescribed agenda.
Heroes have been beating each other up in the comics for many years thanks to underdeveloped villains, but their live-action counterparts now going through the same motions adds to the realism because even people of supernatural ability are bound to disagree with the fundamentals of what they do and who they are.
Agreeing to disagree is as open ended (or non-existent) as resolutions come, but it also leaves the audience in an uncertain and uncomfortable place regardless of whether they were on #teamironman or #teamcaptainamerica.
For all the characters that already know each other, their natural speak and camaraderie shines through. For newcomers Black Panther and Spider-Man, their fresh takes and commentary are well placed, justified and completely in character.
With so many MCU films in the can, the only real exposition required are the one or two films that preceded it. A couple of expository sequences early in this film attempt to bring everyone up to speed, but every Marvel movie from this point forward cannot be relied upon for a thorough rehash at some point in every first act. Also, more probably could have been done to flesh out the antagonist’s perspective, motivation and methods.
Black Panther and Spider-Man provide some welcome new blood, but I am even more impressed with Tony Stark’s shift back towards the establishment as it shows that even a man of his infinite ego is not beyond an ever growing sense of guilt over his inability to solve every problem. Then again, it is almost as surprising for Steve Rogers to take the path he chooses after his insider information is revealed.
Not to continue beating a dead horse, but once again, Black Panther and Spider-Man provide the perfect gateway for all viewers to get in on the ground floor in terms of connecting with these super-people. Vengeance and the desire to please/impress are powerful and commonplace motives that most can identify with. Still, these people can bench press cars and we did just meet them.
“Story” = 24/34
Overall MPS Rating: 78/100
Captain America: Civil Waris as entertaining as special effect blockbusters featuring larger than life spectacles come. Kevin Feige and whoever else he considers his brain trust at Marvel Studios continue to prove they know how to make spectacular comic book adaptations. They have also proved they know who else to trust with their most prized licenses with the Russo Brothers directing their first Avengers film and absolutely delivered the goods. This installment also happens to be its darkest not because it coats the frame in black, but for people that have this kind of ultimate power, their worst enemy is what they see in the mirror; that is until Thanos reveals himself to Earth’s mightiest heroes.
P.S. I found it interesting that the directors of Infinity War Parts 1 and 2 did not deliver even a hint of Infinity Stones, Thanos or anything else even remotely cosmic to parallel the chaos on Earth with the chaos amassing in the cosmos. It is a bit disappointing, but not entirely soul-crushing.