Captain America: Civil War Review

(2.5 STARS)

During the much-hyped battle between the Avengers and Friends in Captain America: Civil War, one combatant, with tongue firmly in cheek, remarks, “Everyone’s got a gimmick.”

Indeed, every one does, and Civil War is “The One with Black Panther and the New Spider-Man”. Marvel movies are hardly identifiable anymore — assuming they ever were — for their plot or even for set pieces. Instead, we remember them as instances in a larger, seemingly never-ending story when new characters are introduced and interact with old friends.

The One with Scarlett Witch and Vision” informs much of Civil War, but so does “The One with Robert Redford“. (And yet “The One with Mike from Friends” is this film’s immediate predecessor.) Still, Civil War feels like a whole season of TV — both in terms of ground covered and its interminable length. It starts out shockingly poorly, but ultimately, it has just one thing in mind: superhero on superhero mayhem. And as such, the finale is a real treat.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo, working with their Winter Soldier screenwriting team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, frequently recall events in 1991 involving James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan), the Hydra equivalent of Jason Bourne and childhood friend of Captain America Steve Rogers (Chris Evans). Cap is convinced Bucky can rid himself of his nefarious past and deprogram his evil tendencies, but other Avengers (and some new friends) know that old habits die hard.

Meanwhile, the governments of 117 nations have come to an agreement that the activities of the Avengers must be curtailed. Following the events of Sokovia in Age of Ultron and an incident early on in Civil War, both of which resulted in untold civilian casualties, Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is fully onboard with the plan to have the United Nations dictate when and how the Avengers act. Cap feels very differently, and their argument divides the superhero team with War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Vision (Paul Bettany), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) siding with Stark and Winter Soldier, Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) in Captain’s corner.

The film starts out almost shockingly poorly with a put-on sequence in Nigeria that looks like hot garbage. It’s almost as if the Russos know this stuff is just window dressing for the final-act fights because the choppy way the early action scenes are put together is a travesty compared to the relative majesty that is this film’s climax. And it’s not just the action that feels half-formed. Plots change in the shadows. Characters move from point A to point B without rhyme or reason. The film is a mess in a way few Marvel movies have been to date. Thankfully, it turns around as it moves along. You see that it was setting up to something big and emotionally important to the series. That doesn’t negate the fact that you the viewer is asked to chase his or her tail around for two hours, but once the puzzle is complete, the picture is nice to look at.

But let’s get to the fight. It’s a classic slobberknocker, the main event of Wrestlemania. Years of build have led to this moment, and it doesn’t disappoint. Everyone gets his or her moment, which is of course the Marvel way, but here are 12 individuals who essentially need to emerge from a brutal battle on equal ground. Of course, that’s part of the overall problem with these movies. The characters are able to joke as they pummel one another into oblivion because the stakes are a paper tiger. That changes as the film moves to its next and final battle — a smaller-scale affair that feels intensely personal and is among the best sequences in any Marvel movie to date.

The newcomers are both welcome additions to this world. Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther is the star of Civil War. He carries the character with the kind of pride and intensity that DC wishes it could have imbued in either Batman or Superman earlier this year. I eagerly await spending more time with him in Wakanda. Spider-Man, meanwhile, is a little hyperactive for my taste — and Marisa Tomei as Aunt May is fucking absurd — but I understand what Tom Holland is going for with this characterization, and I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt after the fiasco that was Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker.

Doctor Strange is next, followed by Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, a Thor sequel, Black Panther, and then the next Avengers. No idea where this thread will pick up again, but for the first time in a while, a major Marvel effort has left me wanting more. It’s ironic that such a feeling comes following a film I don’t think succeeds overall, but where it counts, Captain America: Civil War is both entertaining and affecting.

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