Sunday, May 22, 2016

Brief thoughts on Captain America: Civil War.

It's actually been over two weeks since I first saw this movie, but I never really got around to forming a write-up on it. Blame a severe recent bout of writer's block on that one... that, and most of my free time has been dominated by Uncharted 4. I figure I might as well come up with something short for this one, so better late than never.

Kicking off the third phase of Marvel's ongoing universe, Captain America: Civil War concludes the first Avenger's ongoing trilogy, pitting him against Iron Man in a struggle over whether the heroes should have their ongoing actions monitored by the government, all the while a sinister new force begins to rise. The film had a lot of promise to live up to after The Winter Soldier's success, and in short, the movie's very good. In fact, having come out only weeks after Batman v Superman, it succeeds in every single area where that movie failed.

So much of the movie's power comes from the back and forth struggle over whether the heroes should align themselves to the Sokovia Accords, a document that restricts them from taking action in high stakes situations unless given the greenlight by their superiors. Like The Winter Soldier before it, it takes the initially bright and peppy spirit of the character when introduced in The First Avenger, and has a lot more politically minded and ambitious intentions that continue to mold Steve Rogers' once fiercely patriotic attitude towards an outlook that, while still holding on to that patriotism, has become disillusioned by the judgment lapses and abuse of power in the modern world. His is the more immediately agreeable stance, especially in a post-Snowden age where surveillance is stretched out to great extremes, leaving the viewer to question at what point these governing intentions will be used for sinister purposes.

That said, while the film does try to look as successfully at the opposing side, it never does manage to make a clear cut case for why it should be the more obvious one. Surely you can see why characters aligned with it, specifically Stark himself, would want it to be put into motion given the great cost and consequences at their hands, but the lines always appear very black and white and never really in the gray as much as it thinks it does.

But regardless of that, what makes the movie is the casting. It's almost pointless to cover Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. at this point, given that there's only so many unique ways you can praise the same things about them, but for this film, they do successfully bring new and engaging character enhancements to the table. As said before, much of what has made Rogers an engaging hero is his unwavering loyalty to his country, his friends, and the sorrow of losing those close friends of his in World War 2. In the recent films, he's quickly become disillusioned with the actions of the country he once fought hard to protect, given that it's very much hunting itself at this point, but even he isn't free from continually growing gray intentions, with his loyalty even being seen as a character flaw as much as a virtue. Always the wisecracking snob of the bunch, Stark has actually shown a great deal of maturity with every installment, and this sees the character at his most sober yet. Even having abandoned his original work model of developing weapons of war, with disasters like the invasion of New York and the creation of Ultron to his credit, he almost begins to see himself as one of those same weapons as he realizes the damage he's inflicted, pitting him even more at odds with Rogers than ever.

The overall supporting cast is very impressive, featuring over a dozen returning characters jumping back into the mix, and yet by some miracle, they don't feel like they've been given too much or too little exposure, spreading all the pieces out naturally, and continually finding new roads to take them down, with Paul Rudd's Scott Lang being a particular scene-stealer in the midway action sequence. The film also features several new players, with Tom Holland playing the best cinematic interpretation of Spider-Man since Raimi's Spider-Man 2 (and actually giving me some hope for Homecoming), Daniel Bruhl's behind the scenes manipulator being the first time in years that Marvel has given a villain a fully-realized character, but most impressive is Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, a fierce and distraught warrior overcome by vengeance who commands the screen every time he appears, and whose upcoming solo adventure I am now unable to wait for.

Once again, The Russo brothers show a confident and thrilling vision when it comes to presentation, seamlessly pacing the film with long, engaging lulls inbetween smaller and bigger set-pieces, giving every character at least one crowd-pleasing moment, and once again staging the action with equal grit and glee. The highlight of the entire film comes in the form of Iron Man's and Captain America's respective teams duking it out at an airport, making fantastic use out of each character's unique personality and interactions, featuring clever tricks with the terrain, and equal bursts of comedy with genuinely great drama. It's the best action sequence to ever come from the studio, setting their standards even higher than ever. So while the film is certainly not a perfect ride, and slight fatigue with Marvel's formula may finally be starting to set in, there's too much in the movie for me to enjoy to  dismiss it. It's just a huge, fun, irresistible burst of popcorn escapism, and holds a lot of promise for the rest of Phase 3.

**** / *****

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