Tuesday, May 24, 2016

'Captain America: Civil War' review

Let's just cut to the chase here- you already know what this movie is, and there's a good chance that you've probably already seen it. Captain America: Civil War is already one of the highest-grossing films of the year, taking in over $1 billion at the global box office. It has been acclaimed by critics, emerging as one of the best-reviewed comic book films in history. Fans have embraced it as well, citing it as possibly the greatest achievement of the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far. Nearly every aspect of this movie has been lauded with heaps of praise from every corner of the cinematic globe. Writing this review a few weeks removed from the release of the film is truly difficult, simply because so much of what I loved about this movie has already been said. It's the struggle of coming late to the party with a movie that has received universal adoration. Ultimately, it's hard to find many fresh and unique things to say.

But let's start with this- Captain America: Civil War is a great movie. It's everything you want in a summer blockbuster, packed with the kind of dazzling action sequences and brilliant character moments that define the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But Civil War is something more than that. It is the ultimate Marvel movie, a perfect amalgamation of everything that this universe has done well so far. It unites the thought-provoking theme work of Captain America: The Winter Soldier with the awesome blockbuster elements of The Avengers, creating an truly phenomenal experience. After the rocky road of Phase 2, which featured some solo films that didn't quite work for audiences, a general sense of repetition, and an Avengers movie that was widely viewed as a disappointment (though not by this critic), Civil War charts a path for the future with an emotional, eye-popping superhero blast.

However, there is one qualification required for Civil War. If you haven't kept up on your Marvel movies, you will be utterly confused by this one. So much of it relies on the events of previous Marvel movies that watching films like Age of Ultron, The Winter Soldier, and The Avengers should almost be required pre-requisites. Civil War opens in Lagos, Nigeria, with the new team of Avengers- Cap (Chris Evans), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson)- tracking down Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), the HYDRA enforcer who managed to escape the battle in DC alive. Rumlow (also known as Crossbones) is wreaking havoc, attempting to unleash a biological weapon on the population of Lagos. The Avengers stop him, but at a severe cost- when Scarlet Witch contains Crossbones, she accidentally launches him into a building, killing several Wakandans.

This incident, along with the disasters in New York, Washington D.C., and Sokovia, prompts the government to step in and control the Avengers. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) proposes the Sokovia Accords, a law that would allow the government to have oversight in regards to the operations of the team of "enhanced individuals." Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is wholeheartedly in favor of the legislation, haunted by the thousands of deaths in Sokovia that were caused by his Ultron program. However, Steve Rogers isn't quite ready to jump in and allow the United Nations to involve themselves in his operations. The Accords split the team right down the middle, with War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Bettany), and Black Widow aligning with Tony, while the other Avengers stick by Cap's side.

Despite Steve's hesitation, the Accords are approved by most countries. A final meeting is set at the UN in Vienna as a symbol of the unity between the governments of the world and the Avengers. All seems well, until a bomb goes off in the building. Several people are killed, including Wakanda's King T'Chaka (John Kani), prompting his son (Chadwick Boseman) to don the Black Panther armor. An international manhunt is launched for the prime suspect, who just so happens to be Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Steve's childhood friend and the infamous Soviet assassin known as The Winter Soldier. Steve knows that Bucky is innocent of the crimes, but Tony wants to bring him in. With Bucky effectively working as the prime example of the Accords in action, Tony and Steve launch into a major battle for their ideologies, a battle that might just have another mastermind working behind the scenes.

Captain America: Civil War has been often compared to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice over the last few weeks, and in all likelihood, those comparisons will continue. There are plenty of close similarities between the two movies that are almost eerie. I was a bigger fan of BvS than most (I gave it a "B" in my review), so I will hesitate to match the two up in a smackdown. But for me, there's one fundamental difference between Civil War and Dawn of Justice that allows the former to work much better as a film. Throughout its entire 147 minute runtime, Captain America: Civil War has remarkable narrative flow. This is a movie that juggles multiple characters, storylines, and setpieces, but does in a way that always feels cohesive and engaging.

Granted, my first viewing of Civil War was almost sensory overload. As a Marvel fan and as a moviegoer, I was thrown aback by the sheer insanity of what was happening on screen. The film took so many turns that I didn't expect, and it felt like I was constantly playing catch-up. I loved every minute of it, but I can't deny that Civil War is a jam-packed cinematic experience that might literally pop your eyes out. On a second viewing, once the initial nerdy excitement had settled, I was stunned by how well Civil War moves through its action. It shifts from the early events with the Accords to the main storyline between Bucky and Cap with remarkable ease, smartly giving the audience a sense of how the laws would work in practice. Civil War never lags or slows down. Each scene matters. Nothing feels superfluous. And thanks to the brilliant filmmaking of Joe and Anthony Russo, this movie works like a firecracker.

The Russo Brothers were responsible for The Winter Soldier, which is probably Marvel's best film to date. The studio was so impressed by their work on that film that they practically handed them the key to the Universe, setting them up for Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. While this entry is technically playing out like Avengers 3, there's no question that at its heart, this is a Captain America film. There have been plenty of debates in regards to that idea, especially when you consider the sheer amount of characters in this movie. But in my mind, Civil War boils down to two simple things- Steve Rogers' love for justice and his love for his friend. While Iron Man and the gang shows up to fight, this is still a movie about the character of Captain America. It features all of the political and thematic hallmarks of the Captain America franchise, and it feels like a natural continuation of the story explored in The Winter Soldier.

But at the same time, Civil War has the spectacular bombast of an Avengers movie. It features what might possibly be the greatest superhero action scene of all time, an IMAX-shot, 17-minute smackdown between twelve Marvel superheroes that has just about everything you've ever wanted to see from this fight. Iron Man and Cap trade blows, Spider-Man (Tom Holland) shoots webs at Falcon and Bucky, Black Widow and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) exchange punches, and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) uses one of his most special powers. It's 17 minutes of nerd nirvana, and it's backed up by a series of supporting action pieces that work just as well. The Russos are great at bringing a hard-hitting edge to their action, and while the central setpiece features some cartoony, comic book-like moments, most of the violence is brutal, intense, and edge-of-your-seat fun.

So yeah, it's been established that Civil War is a fast, smooth ride that will cause your nerdy little brain to explode. But does it ever reach true greatness, something that I can genuinely say has only been reached by one other Marvel movie? Yes, and it does it with ease. I still hold firm in my believe that The Winter Soldier is the best Marvel movie to date, but Civil War is the studio's most impressive achievement, taking a complex concept and executing it with grace and perfection. Civil War gets points for spectacle, yet there's no question in my mind that this movie wouldn't work without the brilliant character work, the perfectly set up contrast, the surprisingly effective villain (played by Daniel Bruhl), the taut and zippy screenplay, and the wonderful performances.

In the end, it all goes back to the characters. I know that some people are complaining (there was a lengthy column written by Film Crit Hulk over at Birth. Movies. Death. today about this issue) about Marvel's character-centric focus, but in my mind, it's the key to their success. Civil War works because in addition to being a dynamite blockbuster, it's a movie about two characters that audiences love, filled with supporting characters that audiences love even more. I have spent an inordinate amount of time in the last few weeks at school debating the merits of Team Cap or Team Iron Man. Civil War works because it ignites that debate. You walk away entertained, but you just want to keep talking about it, which is a testament to the power of this franchise and these characters.

Marvel is still working out some of the kinks in their system (consequences are always gonna be a problem, I guess), but this is undoubtedly the pinnacle of the Universe so far. A pitch-perfect blockbuster, a terrific finale to the Captain America trilogy, a great start to the 3rd Phase of Marvel's great experiment, and a fantastic comic book movie to boot- Civil War does it all. Every piece of the puzzle clicks perfectly, every character action feels genuine, every action scene is stunning. I loved pretty much every minute of Captain America: Civil War, and I think it's a movie that will just keep getting better with age. Oh, and did I mention Spider-Man and Black Panther? They're great. This movie is great. Everything is great.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                              (9.5/10)

Image Credits: Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Guardian, Slash Film, Forbes, Joblo

1 comment:

  1. I wasn't a huge fan of Age of Ultron, but I'm so glad Civil War knocked one out of the park. I still rank Guardians of the Galaxy as my favorite Marvel film, but this one came pretty dang close.

    - Zach