And here we go again!…with that now-familiar pattern of ‘two Big Budget summer ‘tent-pole’ movies sharing a similar story or theme, being released at roughly the same time, and duking it out at the Box Office’ rearing its ugly head again. The first one, in this case, was ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, in which a small group of superheroes enter into a hugely destructive difference of opinion that MUST be overcome, for the betterment of Life, Liberty and blah blah blah. Obviously the OTHER one is…this film.
When it comes to the ‘Captain America’ flicks, so far…so good, as far as how Marvel Studios is choosing to handle the character and his part in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I was initially highly skeptical of ‘Captain America’ getting the Big Screen Adaptation treatment when the ‘green light’ was given for ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’, back around 2010, as my own personal bias regarding the less-than-perfect global image of the good ole US of A popped into mind (sorry, American Readers, but your country has done some pretty asshole things over the last 50 years, don’t deny it). But, I also chose to have faith and see what they could pull off with the potentially outdated and politically arrogant-seeming character. Luckily they brought in director Joe Johnston, who had previously directed one of my All Time favorite comic book adaptations back in 1991, ‘The Rocketeer’. Given how clearly he demonstrated a flair for ‘period piece’ action/adventure-type film-making, both visually and in ‘flavor’, I was intrigued to see what he would come up with, with THIS iconic superhero. I wasn’t let down and found myself thoroughly enjoying the ‘pulpy’, WW2-themed origin story from start to finish. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but it told a simple story effectively, had a ‘heart’, and contained moments of genuine, comic book-style excitement. After some fighting along side The Avengers, ‘Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) was back for ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ (2014), and this time he came with a tonal shift…a tonal shift that was more welcome than I expected it to be. I have to give props to sibling directors Anthony and Joe Russo for stepping in and making the story their own, with it’s own 70’s tinged ‘government conspiracy / paranoia’ thriller vibe, intercut with some very competent and engaging action set-pieces. For a couple guys with a strong background in comedy, they definitely came through the gate running, when it came to a deft hand with action and drama. After the critical and commercial success of THAT entry, it only made sense that Marvel Studios would recognize a Good Thing when they see it and signed the Brothers Russo up for the inevitable next installment. Which brings us to…
…’Captain America: Civil War’. It opens up with an Avengers stake-out in a foreign country, as they lie in wait for former Shield / current mercenary ‘Crossbones’ (Frank Grillo) to strike a strategic location in the heart of a city. During the operation, which quickly degenerates into a full blown (and really cool!) battle in the streets, a number of civilians are killed by an understandable mistake made by new Avenger ‘Scarlet Witch’ (Elizabeth Olsen). As a result, public and official opinion about The Avengers swings decidedly toward the ‘negative’, and actions are taken by the United Nations to try and limit the unregulated reach of the group of powerful freaks. When presented with clear-cut evidence of mass collateral damage inadvertently caused by the Avengers over an 8 year period, a difference of opinion on the government’s attitude toward them drives a wedge into the group, led on one side by ‘Captain America’ (Chris Evans), and on the other by ‘Tony Stark’, aka ‘Iron Man’ (Robert Downey Jr.). During a high-profile meeting of the UN, a devastating terrorist attack destroys the building and kills many people, including the king of the African nation of Watanga; one of the many countries that suffered from the not subtle ‘touch’ of The Avengers. All evidence points toward ‘Steve’s boyhood friend ‘Bucky Barnes’ / ‘The Winter Soldier’ (Sebastien Stan), still in the employment of a shadowy and nefarious Russian organization with ties to Hydra. From that incident, the revenge-fueled son of the murdered king named ‘T’Challa'(Chadwick Boseman) takes up a mask (and slick-lookin suit!) under the guise of ‘Black Panther’, and sets out to find those responsible, namely ‘The Winter Soldier’. In doing so,’T’Challa’ runs afoul of certain Avengers who are also searching for ‘Bucky’, to prove that he’s been framed for the act of mass destruction. Oh…and Spiderman turns up.
In a nutshell, The Russo Brothers have done it again. In fact, what they seem to have done was give us a very solid sequel to ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, while also giving us ‘The Avengers 2.5’. And they both work!
First off, the cast is huge and everyone does their part well. A helluva lot of this one’s budget would’ve been peeled off to secure these people for this flick. On top of Downey Jr., Evans, Olsen, Stan, and Bozemen, we also get Paul Bettany (‘Vision’), Jeremy Renner (‘Hawkeye’), Don Cheadle (‘War Machine’), Scarlett Johanssen (‘Black Widow’), Anthony Mackie (‘Falcon’), Paul Rudd (‘Ant-Man’), William Hurt (‘ Secretary of State Ross’), Daniel Bruhl (‘Zemo’), Emily VanCamp (‘Agent 13’), and very welcome newcomer Tom Holland as ‘Peter Parker’ / ‘Spiderman’…among still other familiar faces. The banter among the Avengers was still on point and the dynamic switched naturally as the conflict came between them. A lot of the nicely-timed and subtle humor emerged from these interactions.
The Action in this movie was pretty damn kick-ass, with what appeared to be a high percentage of exciting and inventive ‘on set / in camera’ stunt-work going down during the many sweet set-pieces; set-pieces that, for the most part, were shot and edited really well, and with a clear sense of ‘geography’. There was SOME ‘shaky cam’ to be seen, but at no point did I find it disorienting. I also liked that not all the hand-to-hand combat (of which there’s a lot!) was slickly polished and overly choreographed. Sometimes it did feel like the characters were desperately using whatever was around to carry the fight on, and some of the hastily improvised solutions were quite clever and ‘hell yeah!’-inspiring.
If I had to dredge the bottom for a complaint, at almost 2 1/2 hours, the 2nd Act did feel a little bloated. There’s a subplot involving Bruhl’s vengeful ‘Zemo’ character that, with a few tweaks in editing, probably could’ve been lost and not missed. That isn’t to dismiss Bruhl’s performance, as so far, I’ve enjoyed every role I’ve seen the German thespian in, it’s just that, like some other Marvel films (ahem…lookin at you, ‘Ant-Man’), the Main Villain is thinly written or fleshed out. That being said, like all the other characters in this flick, he can still be validated because, when pondered, his reason for his anti-social actions actually kinda makes sense. His character just didn’t feel very dynamic, especially with the awesome, ‘eye-candy’ demonstrations of super power ‘awesomeness’ displayed by…well…everyone else, actually….and then there’s ‘Zemo’…with his laptop!!…”Oooooo!…scary!”.
Beyond that, this movie is the perfect kick-off to the Summer Movie Season. It adds significantly to the amazingly still-successful MCU, while also keeping the ‘Captain America’ character and his ‘code’ relevant, entertaining and engaging. There are some interesting and intelligent moral questions asked, and the movie is smart enough to clearly present two sides of a worthwhile argument, especially in how it mirrors Today’s sadly volatile global tone. As an Action Movie, it succeeds VERY well, with some absolutely kick-ass hand-to-hand combat scenes intermixed with carefully plotted and excitingly shot and cut sequences of ‘spectacle’. It was easy to get sucked into the action. And the humor. There was a very narrow margin of error on this one, given the expanding story and the balancing of SO many dynamic characters and story arcs, but the Russo’s rode the line and delivered a well-balanced story that in no way felt lazy or dull. Oh yeah, I should probably mention ‘Spiderman’. Tom Holland was a revelation and while I certainly don’t have some dweeby, near-religious devotion to the comic book persona of ‘Peter Parker’, I instantly understood the approval that some reviews with a dweeby, near-religious devotion to the comic book persona of ‘Peter Parker’ / ‘Spiderman’ were enthusiastically giving the new portrayal. He came off like a teenager, had a slew of funny quips in the limited (but welcome) time we get him in and, yes, I understand that how he just suddenly appears in this universe is a little abrupt and poorly explained, but he contributed some additional fun and excitement to the story, and gave us a solid ‘jump off’ point for Marvel’s inevitable ‘stand alone’. But, in wrapping this up, ‘Captain America: Civil War was another triumphant entry into both the ‘Captain America’ franchise, as well as the still-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe and to those of you out there who appreciate fun, Big Budget Summer ‘popcorn’ flicks owe it to yourselves to hit this one up on The Big Screen. Bravo to the Russo’s and Marvel Studios…guys n gals…you did it again. Well played! Somewhere out there, some executives at DC Comics are softly crying in frustration at Marvel’s clear winning streak…and they should be.
* Even though a showing was available, I chose to see this one in 2D and, while I imagine that the 3D is impressive (a buddy and his girlfriend had a good time with it), I got just what I needed in 2 dimensions. The flick itself is cool enough that I’m confident that either presentation will do the trick for ya!