by Joshua Starnes, CMRO Editor
Captain America: Civil War is an abundantly entertaining piece of blockbuster entertainment which gives lie to the notion that an adventure film with lots going on must devolve into chaos. Following the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the world has become understandably concerned about gangs of super people destroying bits of the planet every so often. When Bucky Barnes (Stan) is finally brought out of hiding he becomes the catalyst to allow Tony Stark (Downey, Jr.) to bring the world’s super people under control, starting with Steve Roger’s (Evans) Avengers.
Ostensibly an excuse just to get loads of super people to wail on each other for our amusement, Civil War takes the opportunity it has to delve into the people who make up its world while also at least considering the real-world problems actual superheroes (and by intimation, real-world superpowers) would pose if they did whatever they wanted. And it really makes with the super people wailing on each other.
A big part of Civil War’s strength is its insistence on avoiding the trap of cameos even when many of its characters only show up for two or three scenes. Instead it gives everyone something to do – from Vision (Bettany) and Scarlet Witch’s (Olsen) slow bonding to Spider-Man’s (Holland) introduction and brush with the big leagues to Black Panther’s (Boseman) dogged mission of vengeance – and something to feel (so that we feel it, too), creating a joyful smorgasbord of superhero action that is the most Marvel thing Marvel has ever made.
The list of such character based touches is almost endless and fantastic – Falcon and Bucky’s forced partnership, Tony Stark flirting with Aunt May to Peter Parker’s extreme horror, Vision trying to figure out how cooking works – with new elements melding seamlessly into the new. Spider-Man and Black Panther are organically accepted into the whole, particularly Panther who is well connected to the main plot, as the various characters work not only within themselves but as part of the whole.
And none more so than Tony Stark. Alone and isolated and looking back on the mistakes of his life, Civil War is as much Downey’s movie as it is Evans and it is with the pair that the filmmakers pull of their most difficult stunt; creating dueling protagonists with completely understandable but conflicting goals.
Winter Soldier directors Anthony and Joe Russo (along with returning screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) have brought back most of their creative team, continuing the techno thriller aesthetic of that film to create a more grounded and believable experience until it is ready to let loose with the crazy. Returning cinematographer Trent Opaloch and production designer Owen Paterson (The Matrix) manage that wonderfully with desaturated backgrounds and a gritty feel which still manages to transition to a world of bright primary colors at the halfway mark when Spider-Man arrives.
The tonal shift anticipates the films’ finest hour when hero faces hero with a tone closer to fun and optimism than complex philosophical pathos. If the final head-to-head between Stark and Rogers is the most poignant and emotional, the point where the two finally take the gloves off, the airport sequence where the Avengers finally face off against one another is the real heart of Civil War.
For one glorious reel the Russo’s throw out all assumptions about how much crap you can throw up on the screen in a show-stopping exhibition of technical prowess and raw fun. With John Wick helmer’s David Leitch and Chad Stahelski taking over Civil War’s second unit the action sequences are crisp and energetic, filled not just with clever gags but also intrinsic characterization (which makes sense given how much time they spend fighting). Despite the fact that many characters exist only to appear in this one moment not a single one comes across as gratuitous or unnecessary; plus Ant-Man (Rudd) steals the film from everyone in those 15 minutes.
As fantastic as all that is, no movie this full could make room for everything and unfortunately most of what gets pushed to the margins in Captain America’s movie is Captain America. Though undoubtedly the center of the film, this is really more of an Avengers movie heavily focused on Steve and Tony than a straight up Captain America installment.
Compared with the last film, most of Steve’s major character development has concluded by the time Civil War starts, which makes him an easy choice to give up screen time for but the lost is noticeable as he spends most of his time reacting while others actually develop.
Those in his orbit suffer as well, particularly VanKamp’s Sharon Carter who still has little reason to exist. She’s the last vestige of a problem which Marvel has mostly but not always successfully skirted – doing something just because it existed in the comics without due consideration as to whether it works on the big screen. Though Sharon Carter is an important part of the character’s comic book legacy, all of her story and character functions have long since been taken up by other characters in the film world, making her scenes forced or unnecessary.
Though Civil War doesn’t have as much synergy between character, theme and plot as its predecessor, it has plenty to enjoy on its own merits and then some. If the worst that can be said of it is that it needs more Captain America (which pretty much is the worst that can be said of it), that’s not a bad price to pay for well-defined characters well-used within a complex plot that reaches for big ideas.
Most of all though, It’s just fun, containing moments of laugh-out-loud enjoyment which these big movies can easily miss out on while attempting to reach for stronger dramatic stakes. Captain America: Civil War about as well-executed and fun a piece of action storytelling as has been put together in recent memory and a reminder that for all the think pieces which have (and will continue) to pop up there is still plenty of gas in this superhero thing.