Monday, May 9, 2016

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Director: The Russo Brothers

Notable Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Bruhl

At this point, Marvel is a force of almost untouchable power when it comes to the summer blockbuster season. They are a cornerstone of modern cinema that earns praise and money in regular intervals. Whether you think they are overrated, underrated, or whatever, one cannot deny the powerhouse that the MCU has become in the cinema world. In a way, the Disney/Marvel money machine has made an interesting move to continually deliver what the audience wants (fun, action packed popcorn flicks), while pushing the boundaries of the franchise just enough to secure continued critic praise by occasionally fringing on new territory like space operas, political espionage, and heist tales. However, their latest entry into the MCU might be one of their most ambitious yet – taking the much praised comic book story of Civil War and translating it for their movie universe. It’s ambitious, dare I say impressively so at times, but it’s also not too far off from the proven formula to alienate the mainstream audience that earns the big bucks for them. While Captain America: Civil War isn’t quite as perfect as one might have hoped, it is mostly certainly a strong film in an already impressive series that earns its merits with charm, effective moments, and plenty of fan service.

Captain America (Evans) has really taken the new Avengers team under his wings, but continued elevation from stronger and stronger villains as forced them to make some hard decisions. This leads to a government intervention, handcuffing the team down. Cap isn’t for this at all and it puts him at odds with Tony Stark (Downey, Jr.) and his own country. When his old friend Bucky (Stan) shows up as a possible instigator for a political assassination, Cap will uncover a much bigger conspiracy at hand that will tear The Avengers apart.

Avengers disassemble!
Marvel has learned a few interesting lessons from their last handful of films, both good and bad things. As a Captain America sequel, Civil War certainly pulls a lot of elements from the successes of The Winter Soldier, mainly the focus on crafting a sense of a webbing where the conspiracy and situation is the main antagonist that crafts the smaller villains within its narrative. This works because it creates a much more dynamic experience that deepens as the film explores it. Granted, not all of it makes sense, but it creates a very entertaining universe for the film to exist in. This, of course, is powered by a dozen previous films of character development. The chemistry and roles have already been explored and that leaves Civil War to build on them, which is a wonderful place for the film series to be when it comes to analyzing the difference of world view between Rogers and Stark (who act as the main core and conflict in the film). The film equally builds for them story and character arcs to give them some solid footing for their eventual clash and even finds time to build a rather fun origin story for new character Black Panther (whom I will lovingly refer to as  Kitten Ninja Man from now on). The film, just on the basis of having half of the Avengers fight the other half of the Avengers, has a lot to fit into its narrative and plot but the Russo Brothers do it with remarkable ease. Even the shoe-horned in appearance of the newly re-acquired Spider-Man seems to fit right in with a sparkling chemistry, even if his role is limited to mostly being an introduction for future films and for the eventual battle royale at a German airport.

This sense of complex plotting and the plethora of characters that exist within its narrative doesn’t hinder the film from exploring its bombastic action set pieces. Here, Civil War ably pulls from both the Winter Soldier playbook and the big multi-layered sequences from the Avengers films. A couple of early chase sequences, one featuring Crossbones in a shockingly limited and rather underplayed role that saddened me to see end so soon, builds into bigger and bigger action set pieces until we get the previously mentioned airport battle which might be one of the best action set pieces you are likely to see this summer. The opening sequence suffers a bit too much from flash editing and shaky cam for my personal liking, obscuring the awesome stunt work and choreography present throughout the film, but the film rights itself for its final two action arrangements, a fantastically fun Avengers throw down and the final emotionally driven 2-on-1 battle of the finale. Not to spoil too much, but the action only gets better as the film goes on.

"I can do this all day."
While the character interactions and continually building action highlight what Civil War has to offer its already eager audiences, it does come with a price -a price that Marvel has continually had to pay time and time again throughout its run. Seriously, they need to figure out the villain problem. Civil War certainly handles the increasing cast with a much more delicate and experience hand than we saw in Age of Ultron, but once again the lacking depth and motivation for a villain stalls what could have been the best film the series has seen yet. Granted, the conspiracy aspects certainly help as the situation remains the main antagonist to the film (much akin to why The Winter Solider was so successful with almost no face to its villains), but the film had to create a puppet master for it to work. There are hints of a great villain at hand with his calm and collected approach and a great speech at the end about the color of Captain America’s eyes, but his motivations seems thin at best and his entire plot falls apart under a more detailed glance from its audience (as it relies on circumstance to pull off his super evil place just doesn’t spell the work of a great puppet master).

That being said, even with some flaws to its robust run time and weak villain, Civil War ably represents Marvel doing what they do best – giving us what we want and just pushing the boundaries of the superhero style enough to keep us hooked. The casting is superb, the characters are dynamic and fun, the action is well executed (outside of a few hiccups in the first few sequences), and it ultimately leaves an impression for the audience with its thoughtful writing of its protagonists. It’s not perfect and the villain issue remains a huge problem for the MCU, but Civil War ably translates one of the most beloved story arcs into a wholly consumable and filling film.

Kitten Ninja Man!
I will admit, perhaps the best part of this movie was how excited it made me for the upcoming Spider-Man and Kitten Ninja Man movies.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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