Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
There is a big problem in the Marvel Universe, and I'm not talking about the latest clash that pits many of the Avengers against one another. In Captain America: Civil War (opening today) the building friction between two of the top Avengers - Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) - finally comes to a head, but this is more than a civil war...it's another over-stuffed comic book movie that is more interested in setting up future chapters than it is in telling an exciting, cohesive story. Because for all of the panache and energy that this film has - and it has it's fair share of both - Captain America: Civil War ends up just being a loud, hollow excuse to throw several of our favorite super-heroes - old and new - on the screen at the same time. It succeeds in being excessive, but wouldn't it be great if it felt important?
Since the filmmakers have asked us to "choose a side" in the pre-release press material, it would have been great to have given us a real choice as to who to root for. Boiled down, Captain America - Steve Rogers - and Iron Man - Tony Stark - have a major disagreement. Saving the world over the past few years apparently comes with a price, because the collateral damage has left us humans unexpectedly ungrateful. Several governments, including the U.S., want The Avengers to sign an agreement that would basically limit their future endeavors. Stark sees signing the agreement as a necessary limitation that needs to be placed on this super- hero team...Rogers on the other hand wants The Avengers to remain untethered. Several other Avengers - Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) - fall on one side of the argument or the other. And since this is technically a Captain America movie, the Bucky/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) storyline and relationship is explored a bit more as well.
Inserted clumsily into the plot, we also are introduced to Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) whose power and abilities are thinly explained, as well as a new version of Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who is every bit the teenage version of the character we've come to know and love from the comics. Both heroes don't really belong in this story, but because they have upcoming solo movies to promote, they get a lot of screen-time.
Despite the care that was given to forming this heroic group, there seems to be nobody around who cares if it all comes crashing down. Since the crux of the film relies on the disintegrating relationship between Cap and Iron Man, the filmmakers chose not to give us a real villain this time around. To fill that void, we are given Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) who has zero screen-presence and is given a lame backstory. His purpose in the film is solely to pit our heroes against one another, but if this guy can cause this much internal damage within The Avengers, this group really isn't as strong as anybody thought in the first place, and I fear for our planet when an actual threat comes along.
Sure, the movie does have a great deal of action and directors Anthony & Joe Russo do a great job of continuing that "Marvel feel" to things, where the jokes and one-liners are fired off as frequently as the lasers and bullets. But their take on action is dizzying. The camera shakes so much, many fight sequences feel like we are watching them through a strobe-light. It feels lazy to me, to just go into "earthquake" mode every time there is a conflict. It's like the film doesn't trust itself to be exciting without the added visual stimuli.
And even though this is a light, fun adventure, Tony Stark goes from snarky to sad and brooding in this one...almost mopey. We still like him and those that fight along side him, but the film clearly sides with Captain America. It would have been great to give both equal purpose.
I must admit that despite the films many flaws and the feeling like we've seen and done all of this before, when the climactic "Civil War" airport hangar battle actually happens, it is quite cool to see all of these heroes sharing the screen at the same time. But even then, the camera doesn't seem to know who to focus on and when. Characters conveniently come in and out of frame, but I couldn't help but think that at any given moment, Vision or Scarlet Witch should have been able to avert the entire crisis with their heightened powers. Oh well, it's fun seeing them bash up one another.
But if you take a step back and don't let yourself get wrapped up in the chaos, you have also got to ask yourself: What is the purpose of all of this? Surely Cap and Iron Man don't mean to kill each other, right? Because we know this truth, the movie falls trap to an ongoing problem the Marvel Universe has had recently: Nothing that happens is of real consequence, and "more" actually ends up feeling like less. There was no real reason to go to blows, and the way it wraps up - with one of them just giving in and allowing the other side to escape - is just lazy.
To many, explosions and non-stop visual stimulation may be all you ask of your comic book movies, but as a comic book collector and fan myself, I know that these books - and many of these specific stories in particular - have much more weight to them than what we are being presented in the big-screen versions. So it's not that Captain America: Civil War is a bad movie, or like you won't enjoy the escape for a few hours, it's just that I am craving more, more, more. Not "more" in the sense of quantity, but more in terms of depth and quality. Is that too much to ask?
And remember when the Marvel stinger scenes (during the end credits) were exciting and built towards something? Stay around for the two different stinger-scenes in this one for a pair of lazy, uninteresting clips that only act to promote Marvel's upcoming slate of super-hero films. Back when Nick Fury would show up to recruit these guys at the end of every film, were we really simply excited for a new movie to come out, or were we really getting pumped for a major upcoming "event," the likes of which we had never seen? Well, we've now seen a great deal. Marvel is getting good at putting out new movies, but I already miss the days where we were passionately anticipating something...more.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Run Time: 2 hours, 27 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Daniel Bruhl Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo (Captain America: Winter Soldier, You, Me & Dupree)
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