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Captain America: Civil War (2016)
DIRECTED BY: ANTHONY AND JOE RUSSO
STARRING: CHRIS EVANS, ROBERT DOWNEY JR., SCARLETT JOHANSSON
RATED: PG-13 FOR EXTENDED SEQUENCES OF VIOLENCE, ACTION AND MAYHEM
RUNNING TIME: 2 HOURS 27 MIN
TMM: 4 OUT OF 5 STARS
STRENGTHS: THEMES, ACTION, NEW CHARACTERS, BELIEVABILITY
WEAKNESSES: WINTER SOLIDER, MOMENTARY LAPSES IN GRAPHICS, PULLS PUNCHES, LAME VILLAIN
SPOILERS: This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk. However, the film is enjoyable so just go see it. It will be enjoyable even if you know the ending.
If you don’t know, in the last few Marvel films some majorly catastrophic events have been averted by the Heroes but it has not been without costs. Many deaths in the United States and abroad have led to an international movement calling for regulation or retirement for all of the Avengers. The Avengers split between those who are for the regulation, led by Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr, “Avengers: Endgame”), and those who oppose it led by Captain America (Chris Evans, “Avengers: Infinity War”). Fighting ensues and a plot meant to destroy, not the world, but the Avengers, is set in motion.
Wow, did I ever love this film. One of the best Superhero films of all time. Sometimes with movies I like, I have very little to say other than “That was amazing,” but I feel like I could talk about all the things I like in this film for a few hours or so.
First off, I love the themes at play it this movie. Very seldom does a popcorn summer blockbuster do more than pay lip service to any sort of emotional or social theme. This movie revels in it. Hardly a scene goes by that doesn’t touch on the themes of personal freedom vs social responsibility, friendship and trust vs personal conviction, and justice vs revenge.
All around the work to create this is astonishing. From the writers who must have had to go through draft after draft to create realistic non-platitude-laden dialogue to the actors who embody their characters so completely that you believe these words come from their hearts of conviction and not just from scripts memorized and recited, every speech, argument, and punch hits the viewer as true not just to the characters but to the struggles we each have in our own hearts.
The next thing I love about this film is the introduction of new characters, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, “Get On Up”) and Spider-Man (Ant Man too, unless you are one of the 5 people who saw that film). It can be very difficult in a film full of beloved characters to introduce a noob and expect them to do anymore than be a body in the background filling out your fights (Scarlet Witch in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”?) but this film not only gives them featured roles in fights that steal scenes it also gives them personalities and motivations, very distinct from the other characters. They don’t blend into the background, they stick out from it and the film is better for it.
Finally we have an actor (Tom Holland, “The Lost City of Z”) who pulls of BOTH Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Awkward when out of the costume, quippy and smart when he’s in it. Growing up, so many of us saw Spider-Man as our stand in. The picked on kid who catches a break and now stands with giants. This Spider Man feels like that, nervous and excited to be suiting up with the heroes and pumped when he is actually able to hang in there with the best of them.
Wakandan King T’Challa is brilliant and in my opinion has one of the best moments of the film when he stands with the life of his father’s killer in his hands. He turns away from the opportunity for revenge. We know how this scene finishes right? We’ve seen the vengeance driven hero turn away from his quarry before, the defeated foe then drawing a hidden weapon forcing the hero to kill him anyway, out of self-defense instead of vengeance. Our hero remains pure and our villain dead. Not this film. This film sticks to its convictions that vengeance is wrong and unsatisfying going so far as to show Black Panther save the life of his father’s assassin from suicide so that he may face justice.
Another fantastic feature of this film is the actions sequences. The action in this film is so fun at times you want to laugh, so surprising at times that it’s like an expectation twisting roller coaster, and so heart wrenching and personal you want to cry. The action is also very organic to the film. Some movies have action scenes that almost seem like they were mandatory. You go into them rolling your eyes thinking ‘Well, I guess it’s been 10 minutes since the last fight. Time for another.’ Civil War doesn’t make this mistake. Action happens when the story dictates it and personal conversation happen when the story dictates it as well. The audience never feels like the action scene is just there to keep us interested because our attention spans are too short.
As much as I love this film, there are a couple nitpicks I have, but don’t get me wrong, they are nitpicks, not major flaws.
The first is the CG. There are a couple moments where vehicles or characters look fake. It probably won’t bother many people. I’m a snob in this area. When most people are marveling at how natural many films blend CG with practical elements I’m usually the one thinking, ‘that looks really fake’ (I’m looking at you “Jungle Book”). It probably won’t bug the average viewer though.
The second nitpick is the casting of Marisa Tomei (“The Wrestler”) to play Aunt May. You can hang a lantern on it all you want but that doesn’t change the fact that Aunt May should be old. Personally, I didn’t care for Sally Field playing her in the last Spider Man iteration but this is just stunt casting so Tony Stark can make ‘hot Aunt May’ jokes. Marisa Tomei is a fine actress, one of the best, but this simply isn’t a role for her, in my opinion. Spider Man in the comics has been brown haired, blonde, 8 eyed, 4 eyed, 2 eyed, 8 limbed, 4 limbed, cloned a billion times, half spider, half alien, a college student, a high school student, a PHD, a dropout and a husband, but Aunt May has ALWAYS EVER been a sweet gray haired old lady. I guess there really are no roles for senior actresses.
Another nitpick is that there are a couple moments where the fights are too quickly cut. I like to see the action happening and in the scene where Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, “Under the Skin”) fights two baddies in the street, the camera cuts between shots that are dramatically different. She’s on the ground knocking a guy out in one shot and on her feet punching the other guy in the next.
The last issue I had was that the film pulls some of its punches. At one point in order to make us feel the gravity of the conflict and the stakes of it, Warmachine AKA Rhodes (Don Cheadle, “Boogie Nights”) falls from a height that should have turned him into a thick jelly inside his suit and the team is shocked, thinking he is dead. Nope. He has a nosebleed but that is all that is visibly wrong. He ends up with spine damage and is in the midst of some of most poorly portrayed rehab in history (it looks like he could pretty much go for a run if he wanted) at the end of the film. If the filmmaker wants us to feel the stakes they should have killed him off. This was the perfect way to not actually have any lasting consequences from this fight.
The same thing happens when Cap finally defeats Ironman. He bashes in his arc reactor. I may be wrong (it’s been a while since I saw the original films) but isn’t the arc reactor, basically Tony’s heart? Shouldn’t he die if it’s damaged like that. They leave him in Siberia like that without any ability to get home but he makes it back fine with no explanation. It really bothers me when there are no real consequences to a fight like the one that happens here.
Ultimately my few nitpicks matter very little in the grand scheme of this film. It’s fun, moving, well acted, and other than a little meandering in the beginning, it is paced well and is sure to entertain as long as you like superhero films.
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