Wednesday, June 1, 2016

"Captain America: Civil War" (2016)

Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. and Sebastian Stan
Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
Rated PG-13: Violence, language
Running Time: 147 Minutes
Trailer

In attempting to avert a terrorist attack in Lagos, the Avengers, led by Steve "Captain America" Rogers (Chris Evans), accidentally cause the deaths of several dozen citizens of the reclusive African nation of Wakanda. Not long after, former general and now Secretary of State Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) informs the team that the United States has signed on to the Sokovia Accords, an international treaty that would put the Avengers under the direct supervision of the United Nations, in response to the destruction of an entire city in their battle against Ultron.

And Ross has a surprise supporter with him: "Iron Man" himself, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who, reeling from his guilt over previous adventures, has decided that he and the team are in desperate need of checks and balances. The team is given the choice to stay on and sign the accords, and thus their allegiance, and while most of them are conflicted, particularly Natasha "Black Widow" Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Wanda "Scarlet Witch" Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), Cap himself is vehemently against it.

To make matters worse, Cap's best friend, Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is manipulated into killing the king of Wakanda at the signing of the accords, and the Avengers are ordered to bring him in by any means necessary. Torn between protecting his friend from a world calling for blood — especially Wakandan prince T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) — and his duty, Cap goes rogue to save Bucky and figure out who's really behind all this. But doing so splits the Avengers asunder, with some choosing to help Cap figure out the truth and the others forced to hunt down their friends and colleagues.

And when it's all over, no matter who wins, one thing is for sure: the Avengers will never be the same.

Marvel's "Civil War" comic book storyline was one rife with potential but that aside from a few moments of greatness never really went anywhere. Boiled down, it was an entire year's worth of comics that were all the same: every Marvel character ever popped up to have the exact same conversation with each other, over whether they should register with the government and give up their secret identities. Again, there were some great moments, especially a powerful scene in which Cap convinces Spider-Man, who has been on the fence about this whole thing, to switch sides and abandon Iron Man's growing legion for Cap's scrappy resistance.

The movie version, complicated as it is, is actually much better. In many ways, it's a better "Avengers" movie than the last "Avengers" movie and feels more like a culmination of Marvel's Cinematic Universe "Phase 2" than that film. It builds directly on the events of both "Age of Ultron" and "The Winter Soldier," and also sets up "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "Black Panther" in a much better fashion. So as a part of the big Marvel machine, "Civil War" works spectacularly. Cramming this many superheroes into one movie should feel like an incredible slog, but instead it feels right and is totally, completely awesome.

And on that point, "Civil War" totally delivers in the action department. There are plenty of fights and chases in this movie, but the one centerpiece is the film's 2nd-act showdown between both teams at a German airport. Special care is given to make this scene feel huge but also clever, as each character gets to use their specific powers in specific ways that always feels natural and off-the-cuff rather than just designed around money shots for trailers. And seeing Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) join in the antics is a superb joy, as these two get some of the best moments in an already spectacular sequence.

In terms of weaknesses, while both Cap and Iron Man have a great storyline here, for Tony parts of this movie feel a bit like a retread. Tony Stark feels like a character in limbo who, after three successful movies of his own, now pops up elsewhere in the Marvel universe without ever changing or growing anymore. Both "Age of Ultron" and "Civil War" present Tony Stark as he was at the beginning of "Iron Man 3," wracked with guilt over his various failures and the amount of destruction surrounding the Avengers and their exploits. Of particular interest this time, though, is that (spoiler alert) Tony seems even worse off by the end of the picture than he was at the beginning. Hopefully that's something that will actually be followed up on. (Quotes in the media of Downey's interest in returning for a 4th standalone "Iron Man" feature might end up serving the character well in this regard).

Indeed, along with all its flashy action and superheroic titanic clashes, "Civil War" has some fine emotional moments as it mines the fracturing friendships between these characters for all it's worth. In particular, the revelations that split Tony and Steve asunder run deeper than just disagreeing over the Sokovia Accords. Something that was briefly teased in "Winter Soldier" becomes the final twist of the knife in "Civil War" that brings the whole movie together and the Avengers crashing right down at the same time.

Despite some small missteps and a runtime that might seem daunting (there are subplots and characters here that I didn't even mention), "Captain America: Civil War" is another winner from the Russos, assuring me that the next "Avengers" installment, "Infinity War" is in the right hands. It's solidly crafted summer entertainment that shakes up the status quo of the Marvel universe, without ever feeling as confused and tonally dissonant as DC's similar "Batman v Superman" (sorry, but you couldn't really expect a review of this movie without that comparison... could you? I almost did it, though...)