Review: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

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When it was announced that Tony Stark/Iron Man would be joining the third Captain America movie as a co-lead for the Civil War storyline, I was thrilled beyond words. Not because I’m a fan of the comic book version of the story (I didn’t read comics growing up, so I know nothing about how this plays out on the page), but because I knew a major conflict between two of the biggest Marvel cinematic heroes would be much more dramatically interesting than what we’ve gotten from any of the previous films, where the hero(es) face off against a string of lame, underwritten, one-note villains. The hero vs. hero scenes in The Avengers were the best parts of that movie, and to have an entire film focusing on these two A-listers in conflict could only be a good thing.

I’m a YUUUGE fan of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I think it’s tied with The Avengers as the best movie so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (referenced as ‘MCU’ for the rest of this review). As such, I was looking forward to a third Cap movie more than any other upcoming Marvel project. Even more so after I found out directing brothers Anthony and Joe Russo would be returning. Then, as news trickled down that Civil War would feature almost all of the Avengers characters & actors having to pick sides and square off against each other, my excitement grew by leaps and bounds. It would basically be a third Avengers movie (Avengers 2.5 as many called it), but grounded on Earth with serious political overtones, without any silly alien bad guy elements. Clearly, they were making this movie just for me.

If all that wasn’t enough, Disney Marvel (MCU) then made an historic deal with Sony Marvel to not only include Spider-Man in Civil War, but to basically take over creative control of a character who had been horribly misused for basically a decade (Amazing Spider-Man was good, but the last Spidey movie I really loved was Spider-Man 2 in 2004). Then they actually started making the movie, and we were eventually blessed with two jaw-dropping trailers that left little doubt this was going to be an epic, orgasmic geek experience.

And boy did it deliver. We’re now 8 years and 13 films (that’s 3 Iron Mans, 3 Captain Americas, 2 Thors, 2 Avengers, a Guardians of the Galaxy, an Ant-Man and one Incredible Hulk) into this crazy cinematic experiment, and Captain America: Civil War is without a doubt the best MCU movie yet. I’ve seen it twice as I write this review. It is a stunning accomplishment of action and storytelling. It’s the best movie I’ve seen in 2016 as of early May. No doubt that will change as we head into the fall, but I’d love for Civil War to stick around until the end of the year as one of my Best Picture contenders. It would be the first MCU movie to earn a spot at that table.

As with all my full reviews, SPOILERS AHEAD. Let’s get into the details…

WHAT I LIKED

The script. I nominated Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeeley for Adapted Screenplay at the Biggie awards just two years ago for their excellent work on The Winter Soldier, and they’ve managed to outdo themselves here. Civil War works as both a Captain America movie and an Avengers movie, which is an incredible feat. It’s smart, the dialogue is excellent, and for a film this complicated in scope and subplots, it has a relatively tight story that is at once complex while being easy to follow. The duo has now written all three Captain America movies, and I am extremely happy that they are now tasked with writing the Infinity War movies, once again under the Russos’ direction.

The balance of drama and humor. This is part of the excellent script, but it’s worth mentioning separately. As we all know, maybe the biggest complaint about Zack Snyder‘s Batman v Superman was that it was too serious. Boo-hoo! Personally, I didn’t mind that, but if you’re trying to figure out how to have the serious and the jollies, often within the same scene, Civil War ought to be exhibit A going forward. It’s never too serious, and it’s never too light-hearted.

The massive ensemble cast. There isn’t a sour note in the lot. Everyone has amazing chemistry, even the big newcomers, Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther, who both instantly fit right into this world. Chris Evans & Robert Downey Jr. have been doing great work together since their tense relationship through most of The Avengers, and their escalating conflict here seems like a logical progression from what we’ve seen in the previous films. This is the benefit of a successful shared universe. I’m sure at least a couple of these actors are doing it primarily for the money, but it sure seems as though they’re all having a great time making these movies together. I don’t detect anyone mailing in a performance, and it’s rare that an action-based comic book movie also features such natural acting work. That said, I can’t necessarily single out any one performance as being “best in show”. I’m still waiting for an awards-worthy individual performance in any of the MCU films. I’ve yet to nominate anybody from these movies, and I don’t know that I’ve even considered anyone from them, either.

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Somehow (and back to the script again), almost every character has an arc, no matter how small their role. The only person who shows up and then kinda goes away is Ant-Man, but he’s so fun in his few scenes that you’re just happy to see him again. And that’s okay. I was especially happy to see Don Cheadle‘s Rhodey/War Machine get some beef. He may have been the most in favor of the Sakovia Accords of any character, and I believed that through his words and actions.

*For the record, I’m #TeamCap on this one, friendos. Captain America has been my favorite movie Avenger pretty much since his first solo film in 2011. I’ve always liked honorable heroes, and on top of his principles and morals, Cap’s loyalty to Bucky is inspiring. Iron Man is cool and all, but I’ve never loved the character. I do love watching him in action, watching Downey Jr. play with his custom technology and verbally assault the world as Stark, but I’ve never really related to the guy. I also genuinely believe that were I an “enhanced individual”, I’d see the Sokovia Accords the same way Steve Rogers does. You can’t blindly trust some committee to make the right decision on your behalf in a critical situation, because you couldn’t trust their motives.

Bucky worth itBucky punches IM

P.S. Can someone on YouTube with a lot more free time than me please put together a supercut of Tony Stark throwing holographic images around rooms? Right after that same person makes a supercut of Captain America’s shield defying the laws of physics.

The introduction of the major new characters. Everyone loves our new Spider-Man, and the way they use him in the movie is pretty much perfect. I like that Tony makes it clear his only job is to subdue people. It’s an interesting development to have Tony Stark be the one that gives him his new Spidey suit, but I think it works (though one wonders when he found the time to make this suit given the timeline of the movie). This is probably the purest Spider-Man we’ve gotten on the big screen, as he’s still a teenager who’s only recently gained his abilities. But again, they absolutely nailed his personality, and I love that before the airport fight (and even during it), he’s fanboying over Captain America and some of the other characters’ powers.

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However, I was most pleased with how well they utilized Black Panther. I knew nothing about this character going into the movie, and now he’s instantly one of my favorite heroes in this universe, maybe even #2 behind only Cap. I bought all of his motivations, and I love that he’s an important presence all the way to the end of the story. I’m fascinated to learn more about this character, his back story and his abilities, because even out of the Black Panther suit, T’Challa is clearly more powerful than mortal men.

Panther arrowsPanther double kick

Even though he’s not a major player in Civil War, I’m very interested to see what this Everett Ross guy’s role is going forward. It’s always a good thing when Martin Freeman randomly shows up, and I seriously doubt this is the last time we’ll hear from him. Random factoid: Freeman is at least the 6th cast member from The Hobbit movies to show up in the MCU. Cate Blanchett will make her MCU debut next year in Thor: Ragnarok.

Helmut Zemo isn’t a terrible villain. That’s shocking, since most of the MCU villains have been lame, lame, lame (advantage DC on their catalog of villains). I’ve said this in previous reviews, but I guarantee if I had a two-columned spreadsheet, with one column listing MCU villains and the other listing all the MCU movies, most people couldn’t match the villains to the movie they appeared in. It’s easy to forget that among all the hero in-fighting, there’s also an actual bad guy pulling the strings here. It helps that Daniel Brühl is fantastic as always, and he remains one of the most underrated actors working today. And it’s even cooler that he’s not an alien or another “enhanced individual” with powers comparable to Wonderboy the Avengers. Of course, it’s far-fetched that this complex plan would actually work, but I believed the guy’s motivations, and I like that they tied his story into the recent actions of the Avengers from Age of Ultron. Again, it’s great to see things from one movie seriously impact another.

Mission Report

The airport battle. NAILED IT. I don’t even know where to begin. It was the most exciting action sequence I’ve seen at the movies since, well, pretty much everything in The Raid 2. Every character gets their moments. There’s the main through line of Iron Man trying to stop Captain America from helping Bucky and pursuing Zemo, there’s Black Panther trying to exact revenge on Bucky, Scarlet Witch using her powers but trying not to overuse them to seriously injure anyone, etc. etc. Then there were the iconic moments within the battle. They made fantastic use of Ant-Man’s abilities, both in miniature mode as he rode Hawkeye’s arrow to penetrate Iron Man’s suit, and as Gi-Ant Man when Team Cap had exhausted all of its options. There was Spider-Man geeking out over Winter Soldier’s arm (“You have a metal arm?! That’s awesome, dude!” – which was probably my favorite single beat in the entire movie), and all of the Spidey vs. Cap fighting was off-the-charts great. I loved Tony basically having to babysit Peter Parker during the fight, and then at the end having to put him to bed as it were by telling him, “You’re done.” I like when Cap’s guys come to the realization that in order for him to win, “some of us have to lose.”

Team Iron Man walkTeam Cap walk

All of the action in the movie is spectacular, and I loved the combination of practical hand-to-hand combat and vehicle stunts with the epic scenes of CG mayhem.

Bucky bike 1Bucky bike 2Bucky bike 3
Suck it, Jason Bourne.

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The relationships. Let’s just list all the characters whose connections are established or developed during this film, shall we? Captain America & Tony Stark, Steve Rogers & Bucky Barnes, Captain America & Black Widow, Captain America & Falcon, Captain America & Black Panther, Steve Rogers & Sharon Carter/“Agent 13” (the first romance in any of these movies I’m actively rooting for), Iron Man & Rhodey, Iron Man & Spider-Man, Tony Stark & Aunt May (lolz). Then you’ve got Vision & Scarlet Witch, Black Widow & Hawkeye, Black Widow & Black Panther. And I’m probably forgetting some, but it ALL WORKS. It’s a huge accomplishment to squeeze all of that interpersonal drama into one movie and not have your audience go cross-eyed in the process.

Another fantastic Stan Lee cameo. Not as good as his appearance as a strip club DJ in Deadpool, but hilarious nonetheless. Tony Stank!

“It is as I said: catastrophe.” – Vision at the end of the airport battle. I think Viz had a lot of the movie’s most insightful dialogue. I especially liked his speech about how the emergence of so many enhanced individuals “invites challenge.”

GiAnt Man
GiAnt Man 1GiAnt Man 2

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE/NITPICKS/LINGERING QUESTIONS

-It’s not that I didn’t like it, but I was disappointed by Henry Jackman’s score. The reason I say disappointed is because his score for The Winter Soldier was good enough to be Biggie nominated two years ago. It was marvelous (pun intended). As a result, I feel I was justified in having really high hopes for the music here. This movie was ripe for a masterpiece of a score, but Jackman, aside from a few moments that he did nail (like the moment the two groups of heroes charge at each other and engage at the airport), he was not up to the challenge of matching the awesome visuals with equally compelling music. For whatever reason, he didn’t even reuse the great Captain America theme he created for Winter Soldier. Don’t get me wrong, Civil War has a good, efficient score, with 4 or 5 moments that are exceptional. But on the whole, it should’ve been a lot better. It deserved to be better. Had 1980 John Williams scored this film, it would’ve been the best score of 2016. Wasted opportunity annoys me.

Sadly though, a disappointing score is par for the course with the MCU throughout the years. Quick, hum me a few bars from any MCU theme other than Alan Silvestri’s 2012 Avengers theme. Ya can’t do it.

-Aside from “Samuel L. Jackson’s contract situation”, where the hell is Nick Fury? The Avengers fighting each other would be his worst nightmare, so it kinda sucks from a story standpoint that we don’t find out where Fury stands on the Sokovia Accords, or how he reacts to all his old allies trying to suppress/imprison each other. The least they could’ve done would’ve been to have one character mention him at least once, but we can’t even have that. Maybe he’s locked up somewhere in that ocean prison (when was this built, by the way?). Apparently, Jackson is signed up for Avengers: Infinity War, but there’s no word on whether or not we’ll see him before then. As a fan, I’d like to know how he reacts to the events of this movie.

-Amazing how there was a security camera on the side of that isolated road where the Winter Soldier killed Tony Stark’s parents! They don’t have cameras on roads like that now, nevermind back in 1991. This was really the best way to handle that plot-altering reveal?

Elizabeth Olsen’s on-again, off-again Russian accent as Wanda Maximoff is still distracting. If they just had her drop it altogether going forward, I’d forgive such a plot hole.

Where does Vision go during the majority of the airport battle? It’s more than a little noticeable that they basically remove the most powerful participant in the fight until the very end. That’s literally my only complaint about that scene. He’s got the most powerful weapon on the battlefield, and he only uses it to literally draw a line in the sand to try and prevent Cap & Bucky from escaping.

The fundamental problem with the Sakovia Accords. It’s a good plot device to setup the conflict. There’s just one issue: none of the Avengers should’ve accepted the premise. Literally all of the situations referenced by William Hurt’s Secretary of State would’ve ended up much worse for civilians without The Avengers’ presence. Like, 100 times worse. Since that’s obviously the case, why do none of them state as much? There’s almost no pushback to the concept of the Accords. It simply becomes, “Will you accept this document as written and sign it or not?” Do the Avengers not have a legal department to negotiate this kind of thing?

-Per usual in these films, there is a serious lack of consequences to the heroes’ actions, especially as relates to their conflicts with each other. There are no character deaths, which I guess is alright given that the characters’ intent, especially on the Iron Man side, was to restrain and not to destroy. Meanwhile, Cap would’ve gladly avoided all conflict had Stark not been so vehement about upholding the law (an amusing irony in and of itself). But even that lessens the stakes, doesn’t it?

In the end, hero vs. hero conflict is much more compelling when the combatants are trying to kill each other. It’s even better when we have a hero who becomes a villain (which I hope we will see in these movies eventually). We don’t even have the suspense of wondering what will happen to Cap’s guys after they’ve been imprisoned, since it’s made clear as day he rescues them offscreen at the end. There weren’t even any minor character deaths aside from Frank Grillo’s Crossbones (a baddie who deserved more screen time because Frank Grillo is awesome). And because of the ending, it doesn’t even appear there’ll be any lasting animosity between Steve Rogers & Tony Stark going forward, which is flat out silly. Basically, moving forward, almost everyone involved can pretend the events of this movie never happened. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. As cool as it is seeing these people go at each other, it’s simultaneously obvious nobody really wanted to do it in the first place, which removes all tension.

Mock the DC movies all you want, but they make an overt effort to show that Batman and Superman’s actions do have consequences. As did Christopher Nolan’s Batfilms. Hell, Robin is already dead in Batman v Superman.

WE’RE NOT DONE YET

-There’s basically nothing in this film to set up 2018’s Marvelpalooza Avengers: Infinity War, which was kinda surprising. They didn’t even throw us a bone in the two bonus scenes in the credits. The Black Panther and Spider-Man solo efforts get a wink, but nothing for what will be Marvel’s biggest movie, which is just two years away. However, with no fewer than 5 MCU films being released before the next Avengers, there’s plenty of screen time to move the necessary pieces into place. It would be nice though if there were some finality to any of these movies. No one stays enemies, and no good guy who dies stays dead.

Iron Ant 1Iron Ant 2Iron Ant 3

Speaking of the future, for the casual observer, here again is Marvel’s upcoming lineup:

Doctor Strange (November 4, 2016) – Thanks to the fact that I first saw Civil War at an AMC, my crowd was “treated” to no less than 7 trailers. Among them was that first teaser for Doctor Strange, which after seeing a few times now I’m still not crazy about. It’s gonna be a hit either way, and having Benedict Cumberbatch join this heroes gallery is pretty goddamn fantastic. However, I can’t tell if it’s gonna be any good, and it’s got way too much of an Inception vibe right now.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5, 2017) – I’m very interested to see how they’re gonna start connecting the Guardians to the Earth-bound Avengers.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7, 2017) – It was recently announced that Tony Stark will show up here, but hopefully it’s only in a small role. Spidey’s got plenty he can do on his own, so long as they don’t rehash anything that the previous five Spider-Man movies have done. It’s also pretty great that Michael Keaton has joined the cast as the movie’s villain, Vulture. And the irony of that is fairly spectacular, given Keaton just played a washed up actor who used to play a hero named Birdman.

Thor: Ragnarok (November 3, 2017) – This will supposedly be the “most important” setup movie for Infinity War. I’m just hoping it’s the first Thor movie that’s actually good. By the way, this is the next time we’ll see The Hulk, excluding any bonus scenes he may show up in prior. It’ll be Mark Ruffalo Hulk’s first non-Avengers appearance, and it’s about time.

Black Panther (February 16, 2018) – The non-Avengers Marvel flick I’m most looking forward to, especially now that Creed’s Ryan Coogler is co-writing and directing it. T’Challa is my homeboy. We’ve also learned that Lupita Nyong’o and Michael B. Jordan have also joined the cast in prominent roles, which is awesome. Giving the character such a badass introduction to mass audiences in Civil War is going to pay huge dividends when his solo film arrives.

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Inconvenienced Wakandan Bald Chick better show up in Black Panther.

Avengers: Infinity War- Part I (May 4, 2018) – They can’t possibly fuck up Thanos, can they? They better fuckin not. This is the endgame for every previous MCU movie, and it’s going to be one of the most complex movies ever made, particularly from a writing standpoint. I’m equal parts excited and nervous about it, but the fact that the Russos are directing and their Captain America writing team is locked up working on the script gives me a good bit of confidence.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6, 2018) – Civil War did a lot to increase fans’ love for this character, and no doubt his sequel will benefit from that good will. Not to mention the fact that the first Ant-Man was surprisingly good. After her work on the Hobbit movies, I’m more than ready to see Evangeline Lilly do some more action.

Captain Marvel (March 8, 2019) – Apparently, we’ll be getting a director/casting announcement on this one soon, but rumor has it the character will appear in Infinity War before her solo film. Either way, this will [finally!] be the first solo movie for an MCU female hero. I still say Black Widow should’ve already gotten one (she’s certainly earned it), but I don’t make these decisions.

Avengers: Infinity War- Part II (May 3, 2019) – SOMEBODY IMPORTANT BETTER DIE.

Everybody got that? I’m exhausted just thinking about it. It’s pretty cool that ’17 & ’18 will bring us 3 MCU movies each. For the past several years, it’s been two per year. There’s no official word on whether or not any of the characters from Marvel’s various TV shows (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, etc.) will appear in any of the movies. I wouldn’t count on it, but never say never, kids.

Captain America: Civil War – PG-13 – 146 glorious minutes

IMDb rating:  a strong 8/10

Recommendation:  Simple. See it with a big crowd. If you missed seeing it opening night with a room full of fellow geeks, unfortunately you missed out, but any big crowd is gonna react well to the film. For my second viewing, I saw it at a Regal RPX theater with Dolby ATMOS sound in New York City, and that was a phenomenal experience.

Biggies consideration:  Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Ensemble Performance, Cinematography, Film Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design, Original Score, Stuntwork, Visual Effects, Sound, Sound Editing

Where does it rank among the MCU filmography?  Easy, it’s the new champion. Previously, I had the first Avengers and Captain America: Winter Soldier tied for “best Marvel movie”, but Civil War is better than both those films.

Where does it rank among all other comic book movies?  That’s a tough one. I should do this list one day, but I know for sure it isn’t better than The Dark Knight or Batman Begins. The only other serious competitor I can think of is X2. There have only been a handful of comic book movies that are also straight up great movies. Civil War is in the top 5 comic book flicks ever, for sure, and it’s one of the very few to transcend the genre.

Finally, who would have thought that Deadpool, not Batman v Superman or X-Men: Apocalypse, would be Captain America: Civil War’s biggest comic book rival in 2016?

trio fight

Pena Civil War recapPanther MormonPanther BatmanMission Report 2
Somebody get this man his goddamn mission report!

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