Sunday, May 15, 2016

New Release! Captain America: Civil War

No Spoilers Up Here

Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo

My viewing of this latest summer blockbuster was an experience quite unique for me. I can't recall ever seeing a movie in which my worst pre-conceived concern was realized, and yet its realization somehow resulted in my being more impressed with the movie.

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog with any regularity knows that I am a tremendous fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). I've watched each of the previous 12 movies multiple times, and I've seen every single one of the hundred-plus episodes of the MCU TV shows, many of them twice. Since the Universe expanded to unprecedented size, roughly two years ago, I've been concerned that the movies would be unable to tell their own stand-alone stories. This has actually come to pass, but Captain America: Civil War manages to handle the weight extraordinarily well.

Even a fervent fan of the MCU like me must admit that Civil War is not exactly friendly to new viewers. If someone has not seen, at the very least, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron, then there are many characters and storylines which will baffle. The movie assumes that viewers are familiar with not only the title character's origins and recent film exploits, but also has knowledge of no fewer than a half dozen other characters introduced in the last few films. Without that knowledge, Civil War will just be a blur of costumed super-people debating, fighting, and firing off some decent one-liners. At this point, this is simply an unavoidable consequence of the immensity and structure of the MCU.

If, on the other hand, a viewer has at least seen the aforementioned couple of movies, then they have enough context to thoroughly enjoy what is one of the most unique films in the MCU. Like The Winter Soldier, Civil War tackles themes which are much larger and relevant to the real world than simply stopping an evil villain from blowing up cities. This movie takes on the dilemma of how much freedom the world should grant individuals or groups who are possessed of devastating power. Should a person or group with the ability to cause mass destruction be sanctioned and forced into oversight? Or should they be granted the freedom to act independently, especially when it might allow them to more effectively protect others? These questions could just as easily be applied to dominant entities like powerful countries or corporations, not merely superpowered beings in a fantasy world. Civil War doesn't take easy ways out, either. There is plenty of gray area here, and it does not leave viewers with pat answers about who is right or wrong. In fact, there is a distinct possibility that you may come away thinking that the title hero was not completely in the right, which is quite novel for an MCU film.

Along with and connected to the morally ambiguous theme of unchecked power is an adversary who is quite unique to the MCU. To remain spoiler-free, I'll leave out the details, but I can say that it is a refreshing and challenging break from the rogues gallery mostly made up of thoroughly evil and megalomaniacal villains who have served as punching bags in nearly all other MCU movies. Just as unique is that the adversary takes a virtual backseat to the ethical quandaries which the heroes are thrust into.

As with The Winter Soldier, the action and pacing are all that one could ask for. More than any other MCU directors, the Russo brothers have proven to be immensely talented at providing rollicking action sequences that revive the true thrill that should come with blockbuster popcorn movies. Without slighting quieter, more somber moments, the movie offers plenty of small- and large-scale battles that are simply a blast to take in.

One of the smaller-scale fights, but this one between Iron Man
and the duo of The Winter Soldier and Captain America is just
as intense and entertaining as any of the larger ones. 
Perhaps more important to most viewers is not just how the fights look but who is doing the fighting, am I right? Well, there are plenty of the familiar faces which we fans have come to love in these movies. Pretty much every superguy and gal from the previous two movies shows up, with only a few exceptions. As expected, the actors are all tremendous, as many of them have been playing these parts for several years now. The two new additions to the MCU roll call are outstanding (I'll spare you their actual identities, on the off chance that you've somehow avoided the millions of advertisements which tease them). One of the rookies actually is a thematic and emotional keystone through much of the film's main story, without stealing the thunder of the primary players. It was a very deftly-managed balancing act.

Several MCU posts ago, I half-joked that the MCU should stop naming these movies by their title characters and start simply calling them "MCU 13", "MCU 14", and so on, with the subtitle indicate whether one or two main characters would be featured. Civil War further supported this suggestion, as it is as dependent on previous movies, and leads into future movies, as much as any film in the MCU thus far. Regardless, it provides plenty of engaging action, fun, and deeper themes to be all of the things that a dud like Batman v. Superman tried and failed to be. I'll be going to see this one at least one more time in theaters, and I'll be just as eager to see how the Russo brothers handle the epic Infinity Gauntlet movies coming out in 2018 and 2019.

Update: I've now watched the movie for a second time, and it holds up extremely well. In fact, I enjoyed it even more. There were a few minute points in exposition which did go some way towards answering a few of my niggling little questions. It also helped that I watched the movie in standard format this time, rather than the 3D which I watched initially. For me, 3D can sometimes be a tad disorienting. Without that, I was even better able to appreciate the action choreography.

Spoiler Commentary

Just a few thoughts that may give away a few plot point to those who haven't seen the movie yet. Fair warning.

While I like that the writers are willing to have characters experience change and develop in ways that we might not expect, I'm still having a hard time completely buying where Steve Rogers and Tony Stark came down on the Sokovia Accords. Even as recently as Age of Ultron, Stark was more than willing to act alone if he thought he needed to act quickly and avoid slow bureaucracy (his rogue actions resulting in first Ultron and then Vision). And Rogers was still, even towards the end of that movie, arguing how they needed to come to consensus on certain decisions. In Civil War, though, they completely switch sides. I will say that the writers do provide some support for each character's viewpoint, but it did feel a tad forced.

It was a lot of fun seeing some more creative use and expansion of Ant-Man's powers. Seeing him short-circuit the Iron Man armor from the inside and introduce the Giant-Man mode were the kinds of things that I'll pay to see on the big screen. I hope that the makers of Ant-Man and the Wasp can be equally inspired to show us some clever uses of Scott Lang's equipment.

Tom Holland looks like he'll make a great Spider-Man. A friend of mine and fellow comic book nerd told me how he's tired of the teenage Spider-Man, after the two recent takes on him, and he was ready for an older Peter Parker who could immediately hang with the other heavy hitters in the MCU. I see his point, but Holland did such a good job in Civil War that I think next year's Homecoming could be the best Spidey movie since the second Sam Raimi one back in 2004.

Chadwick Boseman was incredible. Simple as that. His performance in Civil War was all the advertising that 2018's Black Panther will need.