More of an Avengers movie than a Captain America movie, “Captain America: Civil War” will surely not disappoint fans of the Marvel mega-franchise. It suffers from the obvious, usual faults of most big-budget superhero flicks but in the end it accomplishes what it sets out to do in the first place: entertain.
“Civil War” splits up the Avengers into two teams: one led by Captain America (Chris Evans) and the other led by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). Side one wants to keep the Avengers free from government oversight so they can continue to defend the world without any regulatory interference while the other wants to sign a treaty that holds the superheroes accountable. When each side calls on some of the Avengers to come help stand their ground, stuff gets serious!
Ultimately, the clever plot, an X-Men movie style character-driven focus, and immensely likeable actors save the day (and this overly long film) from being a complete disaster. Even fans will have to admit that the first half of the movie isn’t very good, but the last half is so incredibly well done that I quickly forgot (and forgave) the awful first hour and the slow, stumbling start. Once the Avengers choose sides and start a mini-battle on the runway at an airport, things really get cooking and never let up.
Super archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is as rugged as ever, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) literally gets into Iron Man’s suit, and winged Falcon (Anthony Mackie) soars opposite War Machine (Don Cheadle). Once Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) starts carelessly hurling cars off the parking garage deck with her mind, I was hooked. This is a beautifully conceived action sequence and it was the highlight of the film for me.
Most of your favorite characters are here (noticeably absent are Thor, Hulk, Loki and Pepper Potts) and there are lots of insider references to die-hard fans of the Marvel universe. The movie is packed with little surprises too, but viewers unfamiliar with the characters and backstory may get temporarily lost. Captain America (Evans) and frenemy Bucky / Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) keep up their easygoing, believable chemistry as two childhood friends who now find themselves (sometimes) on the opposite sides of right and wrong.
Adding gravitas to mix are the always exceptional Paul Bettany (Vision) and the often underrated Daniel Brühl (Zemo), while Rudd, Downey and Mackie contribute their usual brand of sarcastic-laced humor to keep things fun. Chadwick Boseman (channeling a young Chiwetel Ejiofor) joins the cast in a super sweet catlike getup as Black Panther. By far the best new addition is the hugely charming Tom Holland (Spiderman), an actor once and for all playing Peter Parker exactly as he should be: a sweet, nerdy boy who’s coming of age with his new superpowers. I can’t wait to see more of Holland’s Spiderman, he’s that good.
The effects are enjoyable too (an early scene with a young Robert Downey Jr. is quite an amusing use of CGI) and the story is strong. The film takes on an ambitious challenge and tackles some tough questions about violence and justice, which I applaud. It’s been far too long where we get movie after movie of the Avengers blowing shit up, destroying buildings and killing innocents. Finally they are being taken to task for their careless approach to saving the world.
Not to gloss over the truly bad parts of the film, I must point out there’s no denying the opening action sequences are absolutely terrible. So terrible that I was thinking to myself “oh man, this is going to be a LOOOOONG movie to sit through.” The super fast cutting means you can’t tell what the heck is going on half the time. The musical score is loud and harsh and the sound effects are too cartoonish (a film that presents itself as taking place in the real world should have authentic bone-crunching sounds).
The worst — and I mean the worst side of bad you can imagine — is the horrendous editing in the first action sequence, particularly when it comes to Scarlett Johansson‘s (Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow) stunt double. The filmmakers didn’t even try to make it appear that Johansson was actually doing any of her stunts, instead showing us rearview shots of what looked like a petite dude in a redhead wig. It’s so bad that I want to see the movie again just to pay even closer attention to the editing failure. It would be funny if this wasn’t such a huge budget movie! C’mon Disney, get it together (see more visual and editing shortcuts in their 2016 film “The Jungle Book“).
Other than the frantic editing, poor original score and snail-like pacing, the other laughably bad aspect of the movie came in the form of Olsen’s sometimes there / sometimes not Russian accent. It would fluctuate in and out, scene after scene, to the point where it was like she forgot that Wanda was supposed to be from Russia. Olsen is a great actress so I left the theater scratching my head over this pretty serious lack of attention to detail.
I have to mention Stan Lee’s cameo, one of the most fun in any Marvel movie. He has a small speaking part near the end of the film and I’m still laughing about it two days later. (If you see this film, please make sure you don’t violate the Moviegoer’s 10 Commandments).
The movie’s themes of friendship, loyalty, accountability and revenge are incredibly well done and compelling. I can’t divulge too much because I want to avoid giving out any spoilers, but let’s just say many of the conflicts in the film are extremely astute and insightful. This is a good movie, and it’s a superhero movie done right.
“Captain America: Civil War” represents a slight improvement over most of the recent the character-specific movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but not by much.
As the film opens, we find Cap (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, who faded in and out of a Russian accent several times during the movie) fighting some baddies in a third-world country, attempting to avert yet another major, potential world-ending disaster. As their mission ends in the loss of innocent lives (yet again), these members of the Avengers find themselves subject to enhanced scrutiny on the global level. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is in favor of having an increased degree of oversight placed on all of the Avengers and their activities; Captain America is very firmly against it. These ideological conflicts lead to the titular civil war. Unless you’ve been living in seclusion, you already know all of this.
The first problem with “Civil War” is that it does take its sweet time in getting started. There is (dareisayit) too much emphasis on exposition and setting up the conflict between the two warring sides. After the opening action sequence, nothing much happens for the next 45 minutes or so. We are re-introduced to characters that we apparently should be familiar with, but those of us who are casual fans will find ourselves slightly confused as people and events are referenced that we sort of remember from the previous MCU but have mostly forgotten by now.
It starts to get interesting by the halfway point, when we see the big fight between heroes that is highlighted in every trailer, commercial, and teaser reel. Of course, the problem with the big fight is that we all suspect that they aren’t going to kill one another; they may have political differences from one another but the battle is not driven by any deep-seeded hate or fundamental conflict of ideology that can raise the stakes and lead to someone getting killed. Without those stakes, it’s difficult to care very much as the good guys all fight one another. I was surprised to find that the best thing about the big battle was Ant-Man (I disliked the stand-alone movie almost as much as Louisa did), but Paul Rudd really added a much-needed degree of levity to the action and was finally allowed in that scene to be “Paul Rudd.” So the big battle scene was sort of a wash for me: there were some enjoyable elements, but fundamentally it was lacking in gravitas.
Okay, so let’s recap the bad: the first 45 minutes were sort of boring and the big battle sequence was anticlimatic and lacked emotional weight. Added to that, the direction was haphazard and inconsistent — as before, the Russo brothers once again overused shaky-cam and quick-cutting to disguise their lack of talent for filming action. Finally, the involvement of Spider-Man (which was spoiled by the many commercials and trailers) seemed like kind of a throw-away. I mean, I really liked this version of Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and I look forward to seeing more of him, but I’m not sure that he was as important to this story as the Marvel execs said.
Now on to the good. First and foremost, it was very refreshing to see a Marvel movie where the central conflict is not driven by some world-ending CGI whatsit (e.g., “Captain America: The Winter Soldier“; “The Avengers“; “Avengers: Age of Ultron“; “Thor: The Dark World“; “Iron Man 2“), but instead is character-driven. Later in the movie, the fight between Tony Stark / Iron Man, on the one hand, and the Winter Soldier / Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Captain America, on the other hand, becomes very personal and very compelling. I actually believed that these characters were ready to kill one another, for reasons that were not driven by politics.
The Bucky-Cap relationship also worked well for me. This is one element that I remember well from the previous “Captain America” movies, and I really felt the connection between the two of them. When the two conflicted with one another, it was instantly compelling and I really cared about both of them. In some ways, “Civil War” is the most human of the MCU movies because it was so intensely personal — particularly as between Stark, Cap, Bucky, and the Black Panther. Bucky’s going off the reservation also led to one of the most impressive scenes in the movie — one involving Cap, Bucky, and a helicopter.
Another thing I liked about the movie was its next-level use of computer graphics to re-create an incredibly realistic and lifelike version of Tony Stark / Robert Downey Jr. at a younger age (specifically, about the age he was when he was in “Weird Science“). I know it must have cost the studio a bajillion dollars to pull off, but the effect was flawless. Seriously, folks: if you haven’t seen the movie yet and go to see it after reading this review, please try to appreciate how amazing that one scene is. I don’t know if it was possible only because RDJ had a good amount of source material to use from back when he was working as an actor at that age, but I really hope we get to see more of that in other movies in the future.
Finally, all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies do a fantastic job of recruiting first-class acting talent. In addition to Downey Jr., Olsen (who gets a pass from me on the accent thing because she really is a talented actress who was good in the movie otherwise), Mackie, Evans, Johannson, and Rudd, you have Paul Bettany (Vision), Martin Freeman (Everett Ross), William Hurt (Secretary of State Ross), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), and Marvel newcomers Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) and Quentin Tarantino alumnus Daniel Brühl (Zemo). Boseman did an excellent job, and Brühl — as one of the key instigators — brought to his role the essential humanity that was needed to give this story a heart. His performance was easily my favorite of the film.
In conclusion, I liked “Captain America: Civil War” more than I thought I would. I would like to see Marvel do more of these character-driven films that don’t depend entirely on aliens or giant robots to drive the story. This was certainly a step in the right direction, but the Marvel movies have a long way to go before they can match the greatness of “Star Wars.” As far as I’m concerned, “The Force Awakens” set a new bar for how good Disney can make a movie when it really wants to do it right.