May 2, 2016

[Movies] Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Civil War was never one of my favorite Marvel Comics crossover events. It was an oddly convoluted story that centered around the always messy trope of heroes fighting other heroes and all that jazz. It's a small miracle that the Earth-based Marvel heroes survived the fallout of this particular event and now everyone is in a much better place - at least after the complete destruction of the universe. But that's the comic book world.

When the plans were announced that they were going to adapt Civil War as the story of the next Captain America movie, I wasn't sure what to think. Why go back to this dark bit of Marvel history? Why bring in all these heroes to form the Avengers only to have them fight one another in another movie? But hey, what do I know. I didn't write the thing.

Despite my lack of love for the original story this was based on, I was also pretty excited about the actual movie. With each new trailer, there was more and more to talk about including the addition of new characters on one side of the conflict or another. And so what we ended up with was perhaps the best Avengers movie thus far, even though it was dressed as a Captain America movie.

Synopsis: Captain America: Civil War is the third Captain America movie released as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movie was directed by Anthony and Joe Russo with a screenplay written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.

The movie begins with a flashback to 1991 that shows us just how the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) was utilized for various assassination missions. Back in the present, we follow the Avengers engaged stake-out in the hopes of stopping a terrorist effort to acquire a biological weapon from a location in Nigeria. They managed to recover the bio-weapon during the theft attempt, but they also cause a lot of collateral damage when one of the terrorists blows himself up. The Avengers are held accountable for the deaths of many workers in the building including aid workers from Wakanda.

This incident combined with the events of the first two Avengers movies leads the UN (as led by the King of Wakanda) to move to exert oversight control over the Avengers as a group. And not everyone in the team agrees with this decision. Things get even more complicated when another terrorist attack implicates the Winter Soldier in the operation. And given that Captain America (Chris Evans) knows full well that the Winter Solder is really a brainwashed Bucky Barnes, he feels obligated to do what he can to find Bucky first and get the truth for himself.

The last Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier, was like the perfect marriage of a spy film with a superhero movie. To be fair, that has largely been the narrative for Captain America given his strong ties to World War II being balanced with a desire to tell more relevant stories for current readers. This translated quite well into a movie that really turned the Marvel Cinematic Universe on its head with the big reveal of HYDRA still being alive and strong in the modern world.

This movie changed tracks again since it was burdened with a plot more suited for an Avengers movie than a Captain America movie. And with the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show taking over the espionage aspect of the MCU, that left this movie with a lot more room for other narrative directions. And while the Winter Soldier side to things tried to dip its toes into that old Cold War magic, it never fully embraced it. Zemo as a villain was almost a non-entity with a very strange end goal, but then I guess serving the larger plot was still better than Zemo running around in a purple mask and threatening people with glue.

But the main plot is quite a doozy and pretty much a case study in how one can handle the messiness of a heroes vs heroes sort of story. And while you can still argue that the reason for overall conflict doesn't always hold water, for a movie of this nature it was more than enough. After all, I'm sure that a lot of us entered that theater expecting to see more superheroes on-screen and we wanted to see them fight.

One of the key elements of this movie involves the introduction of a new Spider-Man (Tom Holland) into the MCU. And while Holland as Peter Parker wasn't all that visually striking, but the new Spider-Man feels totally right in terms of his ability to join in the action. Plus this is probably the most New York feeling Spider-Man we've ever gotten on-screen thus far and the overall result was pretty good.

I was also happily impressed with their portrayal of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). Again, he wasn't much in his human persona, but as a costumed hero he was pretty amazing, bordering on ridiculously good. After all, we have a hero with Vibranium armor, that by definition can absorb just about anything you can throw at it. Thus throughout the movie we have him being shot at by a wide variety of weapons to little effect.

The movie has a lot of great moments that are both cinematic and yet also reminiscent of key moments from the comic books. And how they've managed to strike this balance across many of the Marvel movies is really what defines the brand and makes for great story telling. The movie has a lot of solid action moments ranging from the early chase sequences to the big superhero dogpile at the airport. But at the same time the scenes were crafted in a way that celebrates the comics, thus us loving Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) being launched via one of Hawkeye's (Jeremy Renner) arrows and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) demanding respect for the drone version of Redwing.

Captain America: Civil War is a rather epic superhero adventure less because of its story but more because of how it managed to juggle so many heroes, had them fight it out, and still had something leftover to base a story around. Thus Zemo remained a rather weak villain as the heroes were already occupying most of the space. Thus the movie deserves a full 5 crazy superhero one-on-one match-ups out of a possible 5.

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