Captain America: Civil War May 9, 2016
counterpoise of hefty action, inspired comic relief, and deliberately thought-provoking dramatics has provided the company with a sizzling streak of brilliance ever since the momentous release of 2008's Iron Man. An end to their popularity is a laughable thought.
But to my surprise, especially as a long time champion of Captain America, the second sequel to his franchise, Civil War, makes for the first time in which I haven’t left the theater completely enthralled by a Marvel film. Not that it’s lackluster — it’s certainly the most jam-packed of all films starring C.A. and his cronies — it’s that it’s the most uninteresting in terms of story.
Hype has arisen from the fact that it’s more hero versus hero than it is hero versus villain, an off-kilter choice for an empire that likes to explore the nature of good and evil in a popcorn friendly way. But I’m not so sure I find the changing of the status quo to be as thrilling as audiences and critics of the moment are. While I admire its audacity, the misgivings and self-doubts of muscly, ethereal crime-fighters are not quite engaging enough to characterize a two-and-a-half hour action movie.
There is more to it — new faces (the faces being that of Spiderman and Black Panther) are introduced to shake things up, and the villain isn’t really a villain (more an intelligent guy seeking revenge on an understated level) — but most of it stoops to filler instead of rising to reinvention. And by filler, I mean endless action sequences that frequently don’t serve much of a purpose (experience that hero against hero battle and you’ll notice that explosive suspense is traded for flash), and by reinvention, the abrasiveness of Deadpool comes to mind (though I doubt any members of The Avengers plan on starring in anything R-rated any time soon). It’s less of the same, which is both daring and detrimental.
Civil War draws upon the darker themes of last year’s game-changing Avengers: Age of Ultron with levels of success I’m not so sure are as comparably luminous. In essence, it’s an Avengers movie without Thor and The Hulk. It finds our heroes at what might just be the most difficult moments of their careers: due to the copious amounts of casualties who have perished during their city destroying clashes, the world is growing tired of their recklessness. During the film’s breathtaking opening sequence, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) makes a mistake grave enough to cause government officials to step in in hopes to set harsher guidelines. Any more needless deaths and society might as well revolt.
The proposal of stricter enforcement is the very thing that sets off the civil war between Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.). After a heartbreaking exchange with a victim’s mother (Alfre Woodard), Tony figures it would be best for there to be limits as to how much The Avengers can avenge; Steve believes lifesaving should be an unconstrained, totally free action. And so a massive rift is set off between America’s favorite supers, Team Iron Man and Team Captain America coming to light as forces one has to choose between.
Picking sides is among the most pleasurable components of Civil War — it makes the viewing experience all the more of an individualistic one — and, for most of its length, the film is advanced in its appeal because of the central conflict. Seeing heroes fighting against one another will never stop being provocative, and the movie makes strides in its depiction of it. But I like Age of Ultron’s portraying of it better because it doesn’t take up as much screen time. The rapport between the characters might be affected, but the ultimate coming together to grapple with a maleficent baddie is what makes it all have purpose.
Civil War’s biggest problem lies in the reality that it doesn’t have much of a miscreant to work with. Because Marvel works better in broad strokes than in subtle ones, the subdued (for Marvel) ending doesn’t quite match the bombastic nature of the first few acts. It resembles a roller coaster climbing upwards for what feels like hours, only to have the drop drown turn out to be slightly tilted instead of death-defying. Not necessarily wrong, just underwhelming. It’s a buffer movie, good but not great, more vital in story continuation than in standalone augustness.
Which is fine — but for two-and-a-half-hours, and for having several cameos which serve no other purpose than to advertise upcoming projects (Spiderman and Black Panther, charismatic as they are, are entirely unnecessary), it’s much too long winded for the sum of its parts. Like Quentin Tarantino’s recent and completely opposite The Hateful Eight, it utilizes massive length for material which doesn’t have to be so massive in the first place.
There’s a lot to like in Civil War: the action is brutal and phenomenally choreographed (how Marvel is able to outdo themselves with every movie is unthinkable), the spots of humor are well-timed, and the characters are still absorbing. But it’s all very long and all very overwrought, mundane for me but maybe not for the fanboys. Its prosperity depends on the viewer — I’m aware that most of the population thinks it’s one of Marvel’s best movies to date — so I wish I were a little more smitten. Fortunately I have ample opportunity. I’m sure superhero movies will continue to be cranked out long after I’ve died. C+
Robert Downey, Jr.
2 Hrs., 26 Mins.
he Bigger Is Better mentality of the Hollywood blockbuster has mostly worked for the Marvel canon. Unlike what’s seen in average sequels to average crowd pleasers, increasingly impressive action sequences are also backed by increasingly riveting storylines. A significant strength of the Marvel movies has been their ability to characterize heroes with progressively bothersome neuroses, to pit them against uniquely dastardly villains at just the right time in their respective heroic lives. The