Monday, November 21, 2016
Captain America: Civil War. A Review (Review #854)
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
In the ongoing saga that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we have reached a breaking point. The unity between our superheroes now is coming apart. Captain America: Civil War is a good film. Good, not great, and to my mind, not this epic, life-altering event that some of the fanboys/girls are making it out to be. It is just another chapter in what to me is the world's longest (or at least most expensive) soap opera ever created.
We go back to 1991 (when Spider-Man wasn't even born yet...yes, I feel old). Our least-favorite figure from the MCU, Winter Soldier "Bucky" Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is given a new assignment, one that involves killing and acquiring some secret material to create more soldiers like him. Fast forward to today, where the Avengers have a mission in Lagos, Nigeria. Led by Captain America (Chris Evans), it is to stop a villain from getting chemical weapons. Joined by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), they have some success, but their actions lead to non-combatant casualties.
This, along with what has happened in New York, Washington, D.C., and Sokovia, is one step too much for the United Nations. Secretary of State John Ross (William Hurt) presents the Avengers with what are called the Sokovia Accords: a treaty where the Avengers will fall under the auspices of the U.N., and they will now direct the currently independent Avengers.
The group is divided on the issue: Captain America, along with those in Lagos save for Black Widow, are firmly against it. Those NOT in Lagos, particularly Iron-Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), along with his friend/partner War Machine (Don Cheadle), and Vision (Paul Bettany) (whom I think was once Iron-Man's computer Jarvis...someone get me my program to tell who is who) believe this Accord is best.
Well, it's off to Vienna to sign the Accord. Cap hasn't changed his mind, but he's got the funeral of his great love Agent Peggy Carter to go to. His ex-lover Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), who also happens to be Agent Carter's niece (something Cap wasn't aware of despite them sharing the same surname...I can let that slide I guess) is there too. In Vienna among the signees is the small African monarchy of Wakanda, where Crown Prince T'Challa is learning all about diplomacy. He also learns about assassinations, as a bomb goes off and he sees his father the King among the killed. He swears revenge against Bucky, who was spotted as the bomber.
Captain America wants desperately to bring Bucky in alive, but Bucky insists that isn't going to happen...and that he isn't responsible for the bombing (a rare moment when he wasn't). Well, I think in Bucharest is where Captain America (aka Steve Rogers) finds Bucky, and so does Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who after the chase is unmasked as His Highness Prince T'Challa.
In all this machinations is Helmut Zimo (Daniel Bruhl), who is on the hunt for the code-book that will get him the information that will unlock Bucky's memories and lead him to other super-soldiers. His reasons become clearer as time goes on, though they appear to be contradictory but more on that later.
Now the teams are fully divided, with the pro-Sokovia group gathering some new recruits, particularly Peter Parker aka Spider-Man (Tom Holland) out in Queens, while the anti-Sokovia group gets Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). The battle ends with Captain America/Bucky fleeing, while the other members (Scarlet Witch/Hawkeye/Ant-Man/Falcon) are imprisoned. Just when we think that Cap & Iron-Man are going to come to terms, we get one last 'shocking' twist that brings them to blows, and we find that Zimo's motives are not what they seem either. It all ends with both of them making an apparent permanent break, but who knows.
I have grown pretty disenchanted with the MCU in that I don't have enough emotional investment to keep track of everyone. Truth be told, I had no idea who Sharon Carter was, so the 'shocking' twist that she was Agent Carter's niece didn't have any impact (apart from my puzzlement as to why Rogers didn't think it was a curious coincidence that two of his lovers had the same surname). It's certainly big, but sometimes lost in all the spectacle is a chance to let situations grow naturally.
For example, Hawkeye and Ant-Man join the Captain America side not because they believe the Avengers should be independent of the U.N. (Ant-Man isn't even an Avenger, so why he should care about the Sokovia Accords is left unexplained). Rather, they are there because they are required to fill the ranks and make things more bombastic.
We don't get an explanation as to how Stark found out that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Spidey is there because a deal was made to put Spider-Man in Civil War, but how this will play out in the future for this large-scale series remains to be seen (or even if it is relevant to any future Spider-Man films).
However, let's pause at this point to praise Tom Holland's interpretation of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Consider this a tease for Spider-Man: Homecoming, but it's clear that Holland is an excellent choice. He succeeds in his American accent, and makes Parker less the smart-aleck of old and more the eager enthusiastic kid from Queens marveling that he finds himself in all this mayhem.
His participation in the epic battle between the pro-and-anti Sokovia wings lightens things up considerably, from his shout-out to "that really old movie, The Empire Strikes Back" to Rogers' acknowledgement of a fellow New Yorker (pointing out to the kid from Queens that he hails from Brooklyn). Holland gives perhaps the best performance in Civil War, and I suspect is that his character is allowed to show lightness and enthusiasm, and not behave as if all this is some grand epic spectacle of deep meaning.
This may also explain why Rudd as Ant-Man is also a highlight (even if he essentially is there for an extended cameo).
The best moment is the battle between the Avengers, where they are able to match each other blow for blow and throw quips in from time to time.
The other battles seem to have a rote manner to them (I confess to falling asleep when they were in Berlin...or was it Bucharest, they were all over the place). Lagos was good but not great, and I didn't know or care who the villain was seeing that he was disposed of. It might just as well have been some random terrorist.
My big problem with Civil War really boils down to the actual cause of the conflict. The Sokovia Accords seems a flimsy reason to break the group apart, especially when the backstory of Bucky and his actions against Stark seem a stronger reason to break the group apart (a group of Avengers going rouge). Moreover, Zumo's motives switch from "I want super-soldiers" to "I want to avenge my parents and family". It goes back to the idea that a villain (such as he is) cannot be a villain just because he's evil. Instead, we again have to feel some sort of sympathy for him/her.
We get good performances, particularly by Downey, Jr. as Stark, playing the guilt he feels over all the chaos he's responsible for so effectively. Newcomers to the MCU such as the already-mentioned Holland and Boseman too did excellently (his African accent worked well). Everyone else knows their roles to where they don't break new ground. Marisa Tomei, appearing for the first time as Peter's Aunt May, is the hottest Aunt May in history. She's no old woman with white hair in a bun...she's a very attractive, modern Aunt May to where one almost gasps to think she could be considered a little old lady.
Captain America: Civil War is OK, not great. It is lifted by a great battle of the superstars along with a fantastic debut by Tom Holland. Apart from that, it's just another entry in the world's most expensive soap opera, one made for fanboys and few others. It wasn't bad, it wasn't the greatest, it was another entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So-so.