Monday, 13 June 2016

Movie Review: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Back in 2007, long before my critical awakening even took place that would forever change (for better or for worse) how I look at media in general, I became embroiled in the original Civil War comic book event. This is without having read a single issue of the comic itself, nor any of the many, many tie-in issues. I have the Marvel Universe wiki to thank for this, as I wound up spending a lot of time at one of my school’s library computers reading up on various characters who were involved in the event. It is with this tertiary knowledge that I can safely say that this addition to the MCU might be one of the single riskiest ventures they have ever undertaken, as the fallout as a result of the original story is staggering and still being felt to this day. It doesn’t help that the inclusion of a certain character in this story almost guarantees that I need to go into comparisons with the source material; regular readers will know that I always try and avoid that when possible. So, as I wade through the massive backlog of releases I’ve accumulated over the last few weeks, I figure I’d start out with the most potentially problematic of them all. This is Captain America: Civil War.


The plot: As a result of the events that occurred while the Avengers were fighting off Ultron, a new government act has been passed that requires all superhumans to register themselves and become agents of the government, or else they are forced to retire. Captain America (Chris Evans), still working to help his best friend and current fugitive Bucky (Sebastian Stan), opposes this new bill while Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) endorses it, as he believes that they need to kept on a tighter leash. This results in an all-out brawl between the heroes, and those who side with them, all the while a villain works behind the scenes to undermine everything that they have done.

We got a large prominent cast, so strap yourselves in for this one. This might be Downey Jr.’s best performance yet in the MCU, as every bit of build-up his character has been given over the last few films finally tips over and his superhero ethics reach both their highest point and lowest drop. Dear lord, Downey Jr. does a capital job at portraying that, all without losing his douchebag charm. Scarlett Johansson works okay as an extension of Captain’s moral compass, but she is unfortunately one of a handful returning characters that don’t really get as much time as they could: Same as Rhodey, same as Hawkeye, same as Falcon, same as Scarlet Witch; not to say that they aren’t good on screen, just that they fall short of what everyone else is doing. Stan is pushed all the way into the spotlight here, playing what is essentially the focal point character for everything else happening, and he thankfully lives up to that expectation as he works the programmed assassin angle just as well as the BFFL angle with Captain. Paul Bettany has a definitive handle on his character as Vision, which for someone who is that Lawful Good is a real challenge, and William Hurt returning after 8 years as General Ross, or rather Secretary of State Ross this time around, is just as annoyingly petulant as I remember him being. As for the new(ish) characters, Paul Rudd continues to impress as Ant-Man, Chadwick Boseman gives a very promising introduction to the Black Panther and Tom Holland… oh boy, where do I start with this one?

Okay, in order to explain how vital this introduction was for the film to get right, it’s time for a bit of comic book history because this story, and the series it was adapted from, is easily one of the most causally chaotic events in recent history in how much it changed. Aside from bits of character history, assassination plan to kill Captain America (which isn’t even existent in this film, so don’t worry about spoilers) and something about the Marvel Illuminati basically wiping memories on a global scale (no, they are seriously the Illuminati of the Marvel Universe), there’s also what happened with Spider-Man. At the centre of the conflict, the events that directly involved him eventually led to a mini-series called One More Day, otherwise known as The Highest Point Of Betrayal For Many A Spider-Man Fan. Basically, he makes a deal with the Devil for very, very convoluted and occasionally insulting reasons. On the film side of things, as a result of the negative press The Amazing Spider-Man 2 garnered for reasons for still make no sense to me, they did what the comic book writers have been doing for decades: Rebooted him and kept him a teenager. Now, as much as I would love to remind people that the new Spider-Man solo film is being written by the idiots behind this fucking movie, and possibly make a joke about how Spider-Man has once again sold his soul to evil, I’m going to stick with how much was seriously weighing on Tom Holland’s shoulders to get this one right. He had to not only get rid of the depressing connotations his presence had in the minds of comic book geeks, but also get people acclimatized to this new face as your friendly neighbourhood webslinger. In no uncertain terms, from the attitude to the wise-cracks, Holland is perfect as this younger iteration of the character.

You may have noticed that I haven’t brought up Captain America yet, and no I’m not leading into a rant about how bad Chris Evans is or anything. The man did a magic trick with the first Captain America film by completing shifting how everyone saw him as an actor, and he has kept consistent ever since then. No, I intentionally didn’t bring him up because this film isn’t really about him. Sure, the film puts a lot of focus on Bucky’s character, possibly too much given how some of the plot turns turn out, but the story is a lot bigger than any single character. If anything, between the large-scale bouts and the scope of the story, this comes across more like it could’ve been labelled as an Avengers movie and, despite the absence of Thor and the Hulk, it would’ve fit. Captain America’s name in the title, in all honesty, functions in much the same way as the Civil War subtitle does: They are both smokescreens. One of the bigger issues with the original Civil War was that the creatives involved put too much emphasis on the Superhuman Registration Act that birthed it… in that they couldn’t make their minds up on the thing, kept contradicting themselves and, once they finally decided what their stance was on the thing, reached a conclusion that pissed off pretty much everyone involved. This film, graciously, does the best possible move it can: It makes the Act, or the Accords in this case, barely factor in specifically.

Instead, it is merely an impetus that isn’t gone into enough detail to contradict itself, or any detail really other than it requires enhanced beings to register with the government, and the script focuses on how it affects the relationships of the characters involved. Not gonna lie, even considering the dark tone that superhero movies have taken in recent years, this might be one of the murkier ones to come out. Now, even with his name in the title as I said, Captain America isn’t entirely in the right when it comes to government registration. Neither is Iron Man. Neither is the Black Panther. Neither is anyone in this story, because this isn’t about right and wrong. It follows up on plot ideas that ran all the way through the Avengers films and pushes them to their furthest extreme: Just how much disagreement can go on between heroes before something breaks beyond repair? Here, amidst the amazing looking in-fighting that goes (and I do mean amazing, these might be some of the best action scenes I’m expecting to see for a very long while yet), there’s an undercurrent to it that is a lot more prominent than in earlier films. Like Batman Vs. Superman, which operates under a similar intention of pitting our favourite heroes against each other, it uses misunderstanding to kickstart the conflict. Unlike BVS, the character reasoning as an offshoot of said misunderstanding is not only a lot more potent but it isn’t fixed by narrative magic either. As much as I’m not that big a fan of this being the new status quo, that being  having heroes fight heroes instead of heroes fight villains, I’ll accept it if it’s presented more like this and less like Man Of Steel, where it took a whole other film to fix the issues involving collateral damage.

All in all, even removed from how much it managed to improve upon the original story, this is yet another very strong addition to the cinematic canon. The acting is actually above-par for standard Marvel output, the writing keeps building on the previous installments to further evolve the characters contained within, and the action…. OH MY GOD IT’S SO FUCKING AMAZING! *ahem* Sorry about that. Can’t really keep my inner fanboy contained for too long when in the presence of action beats that well and truly made me re-realize just how much I love superhero movies. This falls under usual Marvel practice, in that watching the previous films is a massive help when it comes to story (specifically, the previous Captain America and Avengers films), but the action is just that damn good on its own that you might not need to. I’m ranking it higher than Room, as that film did start making me anxious to see it end at points with how it could drag on; here, given the goofy grin on my face symptomatic of seeing gleefully kinetic action scenes, no such thing occurred. However, even with how much I immensely enjoyed this film in all its bombast, I still feel a stronger connection with the more intimate Anomalisa.

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