Review: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Captain America: Civil War

Rating

Director

Anthony & Joe Russo

Screenplay

Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Length

147 min.

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 Brühl, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Martin Freeman, Marisa Tomei, John Kani, John Slattery, Hope Davis, Alfre Woodard

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem

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Soundtrack

Poster

Source Material

Review

There is a civil war brewing and it’s not between critics and fans, and it’s not between DC and Marvel. Captain America: Civil War blurs the line between stand alone character feature and unified cross-character movie, a line that allowed individual films to sparkle without having to completely rely on all that came before them.

When Iron Man debuted eight years ago, it was done as the first in a series of preludes to a combined feature that would include Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Captain America. As each film unfolded introducing these characters, we always had a simple end game in mind, but they each stood silently as character studies exploring what made these characters tick. Captain America: Civil War is the first in the series that has pulled in a vast number of these separate characters into a single film that wasn’t titled The Avengers.

Captain Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is the most iconic of the franchise’s character and after Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it became clear that his honorable and noble convictions were the result if not just a sense of patriotism, but a sense of when the greater good applied. What he also has that many of his compatriots tends to lack is faith in his fellow human beings. He doesn’t look for the worst in everyone, he looks for the best and tries to bring it out of them. Evans’ performance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) continues to elevate the material in ways that showcase why this series has managed to endure over the last eight years.

Those qualities are still on display in Civil War, but with so many narrative threads converging in one film, it’s not hard to see why the film feels less like a stand alone adventure and more like a stop-gap measure between The Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Avengers: Infinity War. That’s also one of the issues with two of the new threads that have been inserted in this film. Without Hulk and Thor, it became important to bring in two other characters that have their own individual features coming out soon. One of these characters was expertly woven into the plot, the other was shoehorned in for dramatic, but narratively suspect, purposes.

Chadwick Boseman has done a lot of dramatic work in recent years and has been talked up twice as a possible Oscar contender. His films limped to the Oscar nomination contest and he was ultimately left off, but although his performance in this film is modestly lightweight, the genuine charisma and conviction he gives fits seamlessly with the rest of the superb cast of the MCU. His character, T’Challa, also known as Black Panther, was quite effectively introduced in the film. It may have been one narrative thread too far, but at least his inclusion doesn’t feel desperate.

That’s what makes the introduction of the newest incarnation of Spider-Man (Tom Holland) so frustrating. After a successful original trilogy starring Tobey Maguire and a hit-and-miss reboot with Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, Sony has rebooted the character once again, this time after signing an agreement with Disney to give both companies access to the character. It was a bold move, but forcing him into this film’s narrative felt not just clunky but almost insulting. I like Holland as an actor and his wise-cracking is well suited to the use made of it in the film, but the entire inclusion here was so hamfisted and unnecessary that it unbalances an entire section of the film. Whether Holland will ultimately work out as the webslinging superhero will have to wait until his own stand alone film comes out, but right now, I’m worried that the forced inclusion here might mute his potential elsewhere.

Regardless of who they introduce, this is still a movie titled Captain America and while there’s a Civil War going on between members of the Avengers, we should be focused on Steve Rogers. The backbone of the story is his, even with all these elements. The problem is that it doesn’t feel much like his story. Whereas The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier had almost laser-like focus on Rogers and his assorted compatriots, this film tries so hard to insert in so many different plot threads to seed future films that it really is little more than an alternatively-titled Avengers sequel. That’s disappointing considering The Winter Soldier, as a stand alone film, was the franchise’s best to date.

To that end, they at least introduced one of the strongest villains the franchise has so far seen. Perhaps it’s because he’s not the world conquering type that has to date characterized the previous efforts. Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) is a calculating antagonist whose plans are several steps ahead of the warring heroes. He recognizes that his plans require a great deal of careful consideration and redundancies that keep the conflict going indefinitely. How he accomplishes this is probably the most striking element of the film. Bruhl is perfectly cast as the coldly manipulative Zemo and were the story more focused on his machinations rather than setting up a lengthy, pointless airport scuffle, it might have been a more successful effort.

As the universe of characters continues to expand dramatically over the years, either older characters will need to be retired or each movie will be so bloated with hints to the next that we’ll be stuck trying to figure out whether we’re watching a single film or an interconnected longform television program. That disjointed collectivism makes for frustrating viewing, especially if you like to keep your individual character films separated from your joint efforts. Unfortunately, Captain America: Civil War is not one of those films.

Spoiler Discussion

There isn’t a lot to discuss about the film in the spoiler department. Most of the twists and turns are there for the betterment of the project. However, those two stinger segments at the end of the film are disappointing. When the first one appeared at the end of Iron Man, we were introduced to a clever way of setting up future films. They didn’t always reveal details about the upcoming features, but they became an important part of driving the connective tissues forward. The two at the end of Avengers: Captain America: Civil War move in the opposite direction of those prior post-credits revelations.

Pushing the viewers to separate movies that will better establish the two new characters that were introduced in this film might be a wise investment were they the next films set to be released. What we didn’t get was a teaser for the upcoming Doctor Strange movie later this year or next May’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 or even the fall’s Thor: Ragnarok. Matter of fact, of the four Marvel films releasing next year, these two stingers target one of those pictures, a film that’s not even produced by Disney: Spider-Man: Homecoming.

That’s right. Sony’s reboot of Spider-Man now has the unified blessing of Disney/Marvel and has gotten a teaser at the very end of this film. Were the shoehorning in of Peter Parker here not worrisome enough, the rather corny credits capper should be.

That leaves the other stinger pointed at the February 2018 release of Black Panther. I can see more need of a push for that film, but with Doctor Strange the next film out of the gate, one would think it would have gotten some kind of push. It got bupkis. Those original post-credits segments may not have been pointing to the immediate next film, but they at least set up the introduction of how all these disparate characters would come together, now it seems like they are intended to drive them all apart. Perhaps the title Civil War was a fairly apt description after all.

Oscar Prospects

Potentials: Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects

Review Written

May 15, 2016

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