Monday, May 9, 2016

DAMN Good Movies -- CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR


You guessed it, I'm back once again with another movie take, this time on the movie Captain America: Civil War, the third film based on the classic Marvel Comics character starring Chris Evans.  As always, if you haven't seen the movie yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, then please step back from your computer or whatever electronic device you're reading this on and stop reading now. If, however, you're wise enough to know that movie reviews with spoilers are always more interesting than the ones without them...well...choose your side...

After the well-received Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 2014, it was a no-brainer to bring directors Anthony and Joe Russo back for another tales of the Sentinel of Liberty along with returning screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.  Most of us pretty much expected that Sebastian Stan's Winter Soldier would continue to be explored, but with the announcement that Robert Downey, Jr. was returning as Iron Man in an adaptation of Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's Marvel Comics event Civil War, fan expectations for the film practically skyrocketed.

The movie opens in 1991, as we see Hydra operatives in Siberia sending the brainwashed Winter Soldier on a mission to intercept an automobile whose occupants are transporting a case of super-soldier serum.  We don't get a payoff for this until very late in the film, but it's an important one.

Shifting to the present day, we find Cap, The Falcon, Black Widow and the Scarlet Witch in the Nigerian city of Lagos, as they attempt to stop Cap's enemy Crossbones from stealing a biological weapon.  After an impressive chase sequence, Crossbones blows himself up, forcing the Scarlet Witch to displace the blast upwards into the sky.  The down side?  The act destroys a nearby building, killing a bunch of Wakandan humanitarian workers.  D'oh!

And apparently, this is last straw for the United Nations, as the Avengers are notified by Secretary of State Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross from The Incredible Hulk movie that the U.N. is about to pass the Sokovia Accords, named for the mass destruction of Sokovia in Avengers: Age of Ultron.  This, of course, is on top of the mass destruction in New York during the first Avengers movie and the mass destruction in Washington, D.C. during the The Winter Soldier.  The Accords will establish an international governing body to oversee and control the property value-challenged Avengers, which quickly divides the team, with Iron Man supporting oversight because of his feelings of guilt for creating Ultron and Cap trusting himself and his team to do the right thing without the U.N. telling them what situations they can and can't address.

This is a pretty significant deviation from the source material, which used a botched attempt by the New Warriors to stop the supervillain Nitro for a reality TV show as the catalyst to divide the superhero community, but it makes perfect sense in the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity.  The themes of accountability and freedom are still there, however, giving us a story with more substance and depth than the predictable Marvel "superhero vs. supervillain" movies we've become accustomed to in recent years.  

As you might expect, things quickly escalate when the Winter Soldier is framed for a bombing in Vienna, where the Accords are about to be ratified, that kills Wakandan King T'Chaka, father of the newly-introduced superhero Black Panther.  It turns out another of Cap's enemies from the comics, Baron Helmut Zemo, was actually responsible for the bombing, and we eventually learn that Zemo is Sokovian and wants to punish the Avengers for the death of his family by turning them against one another.

The thing is, Zemo's plan actually works.  Captain America and the Falcon go rogue, adding the Winter Soldier, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye and Ant-Man to their team, while Iron Man recruits his ol' buddy War Machine, Black Widow, The Vision, and the Sony-approved Spider-Man, who makes his MCU debut.  Being Marvel superheroes, they soon end up in a superbrawl at the Leipzig/Halle airport that makes Batman v Superman look tame by comparison.  It's here that the Russos showcase their résumé for directing the next Avengers movie, in an insane free-for-all that features Spidey trolling Captain America about his shield, Ant-Man going all Giant-Man, Black Widow switching sides to Team Cap, and the Vision partially paralyzing War Machine (again, d'oh!) while trying to take down the Falcon.

Zemo plays his final trump card by revealing to Iron Man that the Winter Soldier was the one who murdered his parents, who were in that aforementioned automobile from the beginning of the film.  (See?  I told you it was important.)  This results in a final throwdown, as Iron Man faces off against the tag-teaming Cap and the Winter Soldier, which essentially ends in a draw with a ton of lingering resentment.  The Avengers, as we knew them, are left disassembled...at least until we need them to battle against long-simmering big bad Thanos in a couple of years.

So yeah, there was a lot going on in this film, with a number of Marvel Comics characters interacting with one another on screen for the very first time.  Here are some of the things that stood out:

CAPTAIN AMERICA/STEVE ROGERS -- As much as Downey owns Iron Man, Chris Evans has defined the role of Captain America.  Once again, he nails Cap's command of The Way Things Ought To Be, without coming off as preachy and cartoonish in the process.  He embodies Cap's uncompromising morality and principles, grounding the character in a way that makes him extremely relatable.

IRON MAN/TONY STARK -- In his sixth outing as Iron Man, Robert Downey, Jr. puts a different spin on Tony Stark this time as Cap's primary antagonist.  As you root for Cap (seeing that it's his film, after all), you find yourself pretty much hoping that Cap kicks Iron Man's iron ass for letting things play out as they do.  Tony's still trying to be a hero, but his egocentric arrogance makes it far too easy to become a villain without even realizing it.

THE WINTER SOLDIER/JAMES BUCHANAN "BUCKY" BARNES -- Sebastian Stan's Winter Soldier was essentially a brainwashed Terminator in the previous film, so I was glad to see Bucky finally snapping out of that and talking to Steve again as old friends do.  A post-credits sequence reveals the character ends up back in the fridge once again, tucked away in Wakanda, so I'm wondering if he'll get thawed out for the solo Black Panther movie.

THE FALCON/SAM WILSON -- As Cap's current partner, Anthony Mackie's Falcon proves his loyalty to Steve over his military oath, but he doesn't sign up until making sure that Steve knows what he's getting into.  His working relationship with Ant-Man continues to be fun, as the two smacktalk one another, but there's a great little scene where The Falcon is sitting in the back of Steve's classic VW Beetle and tries (and fails) to get the Winter Soldier to scoot his seat forward.

BLACK WIDOW/NATASHA ROMANOFF -- Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow ends up playing both sides of the superhero fence in this film, as she buys into what Tony is selling with the Sokovia Accords until she realizes that Team Cap is where it's at.  Natasha is friends with Tony and is loyal to him up to a point, but there's something much deeper going on between her and Steve. She makes a point of being at Peggy Carter's funeral service for Steve and actually hugs him, then later flips on Team Tony to allow Steve and Sam to escape in a Quinjet, not giving a damn about Tony's warning that "they" (whoever they are) are coming for her now.

BLACK PANTHER/T'CHALLA -- Chadwick Boseman makes a really impressive debut as the Black Panther.  I was never that big a fan of the character in the comics, but it's great that another African superhero besides Storm is getting the chance to shine on the big screen.  I'm looking forward to seeing him in the Black Panther solo movie, especially to see Boseman's T'Challa presumably squaring off against Andy Serkis, returning as Klaw.

SPIDER-MAN/PETER PARKER -- The other major superhero debut in this film is Tom Holland as the third big-screen Spider-Man.  While it was great to see a high-school Peter Parker who actually looks like he's in high school, Holland sounded almost too young at times, especially in the airport superbrawl scenes with older superheroes.  Ah, well.  Maybe the Spider-Man: Homecoming film will fully win me over.

SCARLET WITCH/WANDA MAXIMOFF -- It's a credit to the Russos and their screenwriters that Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch is a much better character here than she was in Joss Whedon's Avengers: Age of Ultron.  The scenes with her and The Vision were absolutely terrific, slowly building their romance that old-school comics fans are dying to see at some point.

WAR MACHINE/JAMES "RHODEY" RHODES -- As War Machine, Don Cheadle essentially serves the Bill Foster Goliath role from the Civil War comic, although at least he's not completely killed off like Goliath was.  He ends up partially paralyzed, however, which is apparently No Big Deal when you're friends with Tony Stark.  I have to wonder, though, if this is the last time we'll see War Machine, barring an entirely possible Iron Man 4.

HAWKEYE/CLINT BARTON -- Jeremy Renner returns as Hawkeye for a welcome dose of much-needed snark in the midst of all the seriousness going on, especially when he's calling out Tony as "The Futurist" from behind his cell window in The Raft prison.  And how great was it to see a live-action version of Ant-Man riding Hawkeye's arrow?

THE VISION -- In his second outing as The Vision, Paul Bettany gets to develop his Android Avenger character a little by putting on a sweater and attempting to cook.  It was nice to see Vizh and Wanda getting along so well, which naturally makes it harder to watch them facing off on opposing sides.

ANT-MAN/SCOTT LANG -- Paul Rudd is back as Comic Relief, a.k.a. Ant-Man, as he fanboys over being recruited for Team Cap and meeting Steve in person.  While having Ant-Man go after Iron Man was an inspired idea, it should be no surprise that Scott growing into Giant-Man was the character's major highlight.  I'm wondering, though, if Scott becoming a fugitive is going to play out in the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp sequel, or be completely overlooked.

AGENT 13/SHARON CARTER -- After little more than a couple of extended cameos in the previous film, Emily VanCamp doesn't get much more than that as Sharon Carter in this film. The scene where she finally admits to being Peggy's niece was fun to see Steve's reaction, as was the later scene where she and Steve kiss, much to the thumbs-up approval of Cap's wingmen, Sam and Bucky.

BARON ZEMO/HELMUT ZEMO -- As the film's central villain, Daniel Brühl's Zemo is pretty atypical for a Marvel movie villain.  He's doesn't have a mask glued to his face like in the comics, he's not larger than life with an insane amount of supertech to carry off a big Third Act, but instead works behind the scenes, orchestrating his endgame to surprising perfection.  Yes, the Bad Guy actually wins, making for a refreshing change of pace.

CROSSBONES/BROCK RUMLOW -- Frank Grillo returns from The Winter Soldier as Crossbones, now fully suited up in mask and costumed befitting his character, but sadly is killed off early in the film.  Of course, this is a comic book movie, so who knows...?

HOWARD STARK CAMEO -- At long last, we finally get the death of Howard (and Maria) Stark. John Slattery returns as the older Howard, and it seems a bit fitting that the character goes out in the same film that Peggy Carter is laid to rest.

MAY PARKER -- Marisa Tomei debuts as the third big-screen Aunt May, although this time she's Aunt May the MILF (the AILF?).  As a result, Tomei doesn't feel anything like the character we've become so accustomed to, although she does give Tony another chance to be a complete pervy creep.  So...yeah.

OBLIGATORY STAN LEE CAMEO -- "The Man" turns up as a confused FedEx delivery man who shows up at the Avengers Compound.  I don't know how much longer we're going to keep getting these cameos, but let's just enjoy them while they last.

All in all, Captain America: Civil War officially makes Captain America the Best Superhero Trilogy Ever (Nice try, Batman).  It continues to raise the bar, as The Winter Soldier did from The First Avenger, while feeling like the best Avengers movie that doesn't even have Avengers in the title.  For a superhero movie, it raises some thought-provoking issues and isn't afraid to leave things messy and unresolved instead of hitting the shiny Third Act Reset Button.  And now the Russos move on to the third Avengers movie, which does have Avengers in the title, and I can't wait to see what they come up with next.

And for those who may be wondering, here's the updated list of my Top 20 Comic Book Films:

1. Superman (1978)
2. The Dark Knight (2008)

3. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
4. The Avengers (2012)

5. Batman Begins (2005)
6. Man of Steel (2013)
7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
8. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
9. Spider-Man (2002)

10. Iron Man (2008)
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
12. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
13. Watchmen (2009)
14. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
15. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
16. X-Men: First Class (2011)
17. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
18. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
19: The Wolverine (2013)
20. X2: X-Men United (2003)

1 comment:

  1. Great review as always, my friend. One slight correction. Winter Soldier was in the back seat of the VW, not Sam. Other than that, great review.

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