When Marvels Tussle!
DIRECTOR: JOE AND ANTHONY RUSSO/2016
JIM TUDOR: God bless America. Captain America, that is. Following not just the murky drudgery of the DC bombast Batman v Superman, but also several lesser Marvel entries (last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron was nobody’s favorite, and Ant-Man proved to be a smaller draw), this crackling yarn is exactly the quality boost the often dismissed super hero sub-genre needs right now.
Leave it to Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, in his fifth full-movie bow as the title character), a leader who inspires through and through. With his trusty shield in tow and sporting his trademark letter “A” on his mask/helmet, everyone’s favorite unfrozen World War II vet is back for his third go at the box office. And this time, he’s brought some friends.
Then again, this being “Civil War“, one can accurately speculate that many of those friends won’t stay friends. And there are many: Familiar favorites like Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, and Don Cheadle’s War Machine; newer additions like Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, Paul Bettany’s The Vision, Anthony Mackie’s The Falcon, and Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man; and new faces such as Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and Tom Holland as a certain wall-crawler. Collateral damage, an issue that many critics have held up as a lightning rod against these types of films, is the very crux of the conflict. As anyone who’s seen the marketing of the film knows, it’s “Team Cap” versus “Team Iron Man”. Because, they got Robert Downey Jr. to be in this movie. And also, because that’s how the comic book it’s based on works.
Unlike that self-important multi-title event series from 2006 (written by Mark Millar and pencilled by Steve McNiven), this Civil War is the best thing that this faction of Marvel has done. The film, by returning directors Joe and Anthony Russo (Captain America: Winter Soldier) succeeds tonally, thematically, and entertainingly.
ERIK YATES: And until Civil War, The Winter Soldier was my favorite Marvel film. Joe and Anthony have done what Avengers: Age of Ultron should have done. Civil War is able to balance the fact that there are roughly 12 superheroes on screen (Cap, Iron Man, War Machine, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, Spider-Man, The Winter Soldier, Falcon, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, and Vision) and it is still able find a way to further all of the existing character’s individual stories, while simultaneously introducing new ones. Yet at the heart of the film, this is still Capt. America’s story, and the main thrust of this story never deviates from that focus, only accenting it with the stories of the Avengers at large, their relationships, and how they all weave into one giant tapestry.
Jim is absolutely right when he mentions the collateral damage that is front and center of this tale. It was this very criticism that was leveled at Man of Steel, that Batman v. Superman tried to address but failed miserably at. And while I am a fan of DC, especially growing up on Christopher Reeve’s Superman and loving Burton and Nolan’s Batman films, Captain America: Civil War demonstrates just how far behind the curve DC is to Marvel right now. Zack Snyder is in such a rush to establish Justice League that he isn’t getting the character-driven payoffs that Marvel is getting, and will continue to get, for choosing to build this universe methodically.
After Iron Man shot out of the gate, Robert Downey, Jr. was the king of the Marvel Universe. Chris Evans’ first shot as Steve Rogers was largely accepted, albeit playing second fiddle to the more popular Tony Stark. But as Capt. America was taken out of his WWII context and brought into our more complex world of compromised values, his resolute willingness to stand for what is right even when everyone around him won’t has proven to be the more compelling storyline amongst the Avenger characters. It is also the very thing that makes Tony Stark want to punch Steve Rogers in his “perfect teeth”, and this leads to Marvel’s Civil War.
JIM TUDOR: Absolutely. And yet, we the viewers are never “against” Team Iron Man, either. The film’s screenplay, balancing SO MANY elements while still making sure this is a true Captain America story as it wraps up the Bucky Barnes saga (Sebastian Stan once again completely owns the layered role), is the true marvel in all of this. Amid everything else, Black Panther makes an organic intro, Vision and Scarlet Witch start making goo-goo eyes at one another, and a ruling is passed that each Avenger must sign over accountability to the United Nations. Most everyone in the vast film gets their due; they all feel like they are in the movie for a good reason. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are to be commended for pulling off what many would say is the impossible. Only one character introduction felt shoehorned into the storyline, the only inorganic “MCU building” moment (a frequently criticized aspect of both Marvel and DC films) in the entire two and a half hour affair.
While the stakes are effectively high, the tone of Civil War is, in true Marvel movie fashion, ultimately one of fun. The “civil war” sequence, in which the two divided sides duke it out on an abandoned airport runway, is perhaps the highlight off the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, a protracted sequence of good old fashioned hero-on-hero fisticuffs, complete with banter and eye-popping displays of abilities. Great stuff – catnip for longtime Marvel comics fans, and just as much of a blast for everyone else.
Of course, there are darker, more serious fights as well. When Cap and Iron Man finally do square off personally, it’s a dark and scary sequence, shot in damp shadowy surroundings for good measure.
Which brings me to my only other complaint, which is a matter of personal taste: The Russos have seen fit to imbue most of the fight scenes with a jarring, shaky sense of hyper-reality, imposing a stylistic kinetic-ism on their otherwise well-staged battles. In 3D the effect was particularly glaring, out of step with not only the rest of the movie, but the rest of the MCU (which, like it or not, is of a piece). While I’m all for the individual Marvel directors bringing their own artistic marks, this had the feel of over-commitment to a visual experiment; once this look was applied to one fight, it had to be grafted onto the next one, and then the next one, and so on…
That said, I’m a huge fan of Captain America: Civil War. It is the film Age of Ultron should’ve been, a solid movie in an of itself, and a satisfying time spent with “the Marvel gang”, an experience that now feels like revisiting old friends. This is a terrific launch to the summer movie season.
ERIK YATES: You’ll get no “Civil War” from me on this review. It is simply the best Marvel film to date. While Joss Whedon handled the ensemble piece that was the original Avengers so well, his second outing was weighed down with too much focus on “shared screen time” and less on organic story building. There were also the rumors that the top-brass at Marvel were interfering way too much with his vision. He also has said that he was just tired after the first Avengers film. Marvel has apparently learned from this and seems to be letting the Russos and their screenwriters have a little more freedom in putting their own personal stamp on it, even though any director signing up for a picture in this extended universe will obviously have to tow the party line, since each standalone picture must fit into the larger story being told.
Civil War sets the stage beautifully for what is about to happen in this shared universe, but the Russos had better figure out what to do with their future Avengers: Infinity War as even more heroes will be joining on to this fight, namely the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy. This will require an even steadier hand in balancing all of the characters and making their screen time feel as organic to the story as it did here.
In terms of character introductions, either new ones or characters new to each other, Black Panther proved that he will be a strong character moving forward, and Paul Rudd’s awkwardly charming demeanor is a great fit with Robert Downey, Jr.’s quick-witted sarcasm. I would love it if 20th Century Fox would work out a deal with Marvel, similar to the one Sony did to allow Spider-Man to appear here and Iron Man to show up in the next Spidey film, to let Hugh Jackman bring Wolverine into the next Avengers movie (or even Deadpool). But that is probably never going to happen. But what if it did?
So grab your popcorn, bring your friends and settle in to the largest screen you can find (I was able to see it in IMAX 3D) as Captain America: Civil War deserves the opportunity to be seen with all the bells and whistles your local theater can provide. And as their recent history and box office has shown, like Capt. America himself, they “can do this all day long”. Despite Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice seeking to beat them to the punch, Captain America: Civil War has officially kicked off the summer movie season.