Captain America: Civil War Review

May 5, 2016

Comic book movies have long been a personal interest of mine, because the volumes that inspired them helped shape my childhood or, in some cases, remain my preferred mode of entertainment as an adult. While some attend wine tastings and art gallery openings, I've increasingly come to respect the storytelling ability of an Ed Brubaker, a Mark Waid, a Geoff Johns, a Frank Miller, or a Robert Kirkman. When you look across the cultural landscape today, one thing that immediately jumps out is the sheer quantity of material that originated within the comic or graphic novel genre. If you asked many writers of your favorite shows, they too are comic fans that have found a way to mold their own storytelling using things they learned reading trade paperbacks and graphic novels.

It's not a new phenomenon, but the interest level has increased because the quality of the content has risen so highly. Outside of Nolan's Batman trilogy, we've seen Alan Moore's Watchmen as well as V for Vendetta depicted on the big screen. Wanted, Kick-Ass, and even The Losers have made their way into our lives with actors bearing household names and laudable resumes.

When I tell you it can be tough to remain unbiased within a comic book movie or television series, I want to make sure you understand I still usually find a way to do so. I love these characters and the brilliant minds that created them, but with so much researchable history and so many books available to me, the expectations often are so high that the films have a difficult time measuring up. At the very least, the blemishes are more prevalent, especially if you're a major fan of a specific character and see something inconsistent with what you know to be true of that person.

Marvel has already had a strong year, with Deadpool being a legitimate blockbuster and in the process encouraging an older crop of fans to return to the theater for the irreverence and the unapologetic nature of that thrill ride. With the popularity of the genre, it would have been easy for the company to put forth cookie-cutter efforts that barely scratch the surface of any story, movies that simply exist to sell action-figures, comic books, and every other marketable item on the planet. While those things are available on every street corner, the movies themselves have largely been good, and more times than not, they've been very good to great.


Captain America: The Winter Soldier remains Marvel's finest hour in my eyes and is a film I rewatch infinitely. I'll get arguments from Guardians of the Galaxy fans, and I adore that film as well, but there was something about Cap's second adventure that hooked me even more than I expected walking into it for the first time. Perhaps it was because we saw portions of Brubaker's iconic run displayed with an insane budget, a realized vision, and a successful execution. Ed's work with Cap may be the best work from one writer for one character in my lifetime. It is magnificent fiction.

Guess what? That opinion still hasn't changed after seeing Captain America: Civil War, but that's not to say this isn't an excellent film, because it undoubtedly is. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely know what they're doing. The two screenwriters have penned all three Cap films, which is a pretty impressive resume in itself, but they also managed to create Agent Carter for ABC during that time frame as well.

The event that drew me back to collecting comics was Marvel's Civil War, a seven-issue series written by Mark Millar that advertised a conflict between the entire comic universe, pitting hero against hero, all because of a believable political element. In the aftermath of carnage and heavy destruction, the government began to wonder why superheroes and enhanced beings felt they had the right to ignore international borders, drop skyscrapers amidst uncontrollable wars, or shun many of the rules of engagement that dictate military strategy across the globe.

Following widespread damage and loss of life in Stamford, Connecticut, with public opinion of masks and capes at an all-time low, the national response was the Superhuman Registration Act, which would force all superheroes to register with the federal government, which would make the decisions as to when these "weapons" would be deployed to serve the national interest. The biggest part of Civil War was the portion of the legislation that ixnayed the very idea of a "secret identity," meaning Peter Parker had to come clean, as did Matt Murdock and everyone else within the Marvel Universe. Superheroes would be regulated or deemed rogues or even criminals.

Captain America: Civil War focuses on the largest figures that led opposing factions, though some of the facts are different. Tony Stark was prepared to go along with the government, partially out of self-preservation, but also out of crippling guilt for the mistakes he made, as well as the Avengers and everyone else possessing special abilities. On the opposite side is Captain America, who is principled to the very end. He doesn't trust the federal government to understand what the world faces, believing that even in the toughest moments, the superhero community provided the best hope for a thriving society. In print, Stark is initially opposed, but in the film, he's more quickly on the side of Thaddeus Ross and international officials.

Here we have a reason why television is generally better than movies when it comes to superheroes, simply because an episode is the equivalent of one issue of a comic. A film has two, sometimes three hours to tell an entire story. We've had 26 episodes of Daredevil, translating to over 25 hours of content. In the three Cap films, which cover an enormous amount of the actual books (or the era contained within them), we've had around seven. That's the difference. There's no reason to rush anything on Netflix, ABC, or the CW. A screenwriter doesn't have quite that much leeway and must get to the point, so the intricacy can sometimes be lost.

With that said, Marvel has done a far better than good job here in making sure what's most integral to the plot is there to be savored and thoughtfully considered. It's a big reason why this one stands above almost all the rest.

The story splits into what you've no doubt read all over the place as Team Iron Man and Team Captain America. It's a hash tag you're probably already sick of, but truth be told, these are defined groups who disagree vehemently with one another on the cause and effect of the Registration Act as well as their own unchecked authority.

The narrative is solid, and while some liberties are taken and while this story focuses on the side-arc of Captain America and Iron Man's individual comics that collected to tell their part of the tale, it's still fairly true to Civil War. Two of the most important moments from the larger event are notably absent, though I'll leave it to you to find out what's there and what's not. For those who haven't read through the comics, you'll be perfectly satisfied with what the movie presents.

Another point to note is the change in the Registration Act as an international agreement, encompassing the United Nations and over 100 countries. Thaddeus Ross' explanation of the Sokovia Accords (named for the floating city of doom from Avengers: Age of Ultron) is different than what you may have read a decade ago, but the change feels more right for 2016 than it does wrong. It's still fully concerned with prohibiting superheroes from acting with impunity, using many of the events we remember from previous films as examples that arguably make the Accords immediately vital to the human race.

From an acting standpoint, we've come to know and love Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Sebastian Stan, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, and so many others who have "become" those characters, though not in a Michael Keaton "Birdman" kind of way. What you expect from these men and women, you get. What you expect from Marvel's structure is also there to be found in vast quantities, including injected humor that ramps up in the second half of the 140-minute running time. It's a long movie, but not one that feels bloated. You won't be checking your watch, because you'll be having too much fun.

This is not Batman v. Superman, and never does it become quite that dark, convoluted, or difficult to follow. Also similar to other Marvel entries is the reliance on three or four spaced out action scenes to bridge between dialogue and long stretches of discussion that serve as the waypoints to the story itself.

Most of the alterations to the source material are done to mirror current societal conditions, which was also the case in The Winter Soldier. Those are choices that anger some and please others. For Daniel Bruhl, who plays the film's main villain, he enjoys it because it can lead to fresh experiences for comic veterans and a more true-to-life feel for everyone, including the actors. While there were a few things I wanted to see and didn't, in general the diversions worked.

Visually, this is a spectacular film from start to finish. Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Arrested Development) are back to direct, and prove again the pair is an ideal choice for a Marvel movie. The movie replicates darkness, isolation, spacing, and balls to the wall action in precisely the correct way to match the scene. Many comic films have been labeled as great popcorn action films, but here we have another example of a deeper, more involved arc that succeeds in creating a reason to support both sides of the issue.

One particular scene features a quote from Peggy Carter that speaks to the idea of compromising only when you feel you can, not surrendering what's right for what's popular or giving into pressure when your answer is right. It helps to pull any remaining veil off Captain America, if there was any doubt as to his motivations. The depth in this film is its real triumph. A budget can provide an iconic action scene, but it's the writing that makes a great movie.

This is a GREAT movie.

Two questions I was asked by friends immediately after exiting the theater were about two new characters to join the franchise, Exhale folks, Black Panther and Spider-Man are both done justice, though I'll say the latter is showcased as a younger, more naïve character than we're used to in either film or print. Peter is almost too star struck and lacks the smart-assery that makes our favorite web slinger...our favorite web slinger. However, Tom Holland has the right look and a voice that sounds most appropriate, and you'll love his interactions with Iron Man, particularly the first one. And, though he's childlike, you can see the beginnings of a refreshing rebirth (yet again) for Spidey.

As for Chadwick Boseman, he continues to rise as a performer, and here he's got a character with staying power. He hits the right tonality for the role, pulls off measured calm and blind rage, embodying what Black Panther should be in this version of the Marvel universe. T'Challa fits in beautifully with the rest of the always-expanding ensemble cast. And the suit is gorgeous. Plus, with Ta-Nehisi Coates starting his Marvel run writing the series just yesterday, it's going to be an increasingly important character to fans and new readers alike

The chemistry between Evans and Stan is a highlight, where you can see these two as friends of the past, present, and future. Along with the Sokovia Accords, it's Evans' unwavering belief in the goodness of Bucky Barnes that puts him at odds with his brethren, as well as the federal government. Sebastian Stan's performance was the best of everyone in the film, and he needed to be, because his role is the catalyst for so much of what takes place within the movie.

Johansson and Anthony Mackie both work well with Cap and Bucky, and Renner and Olsen also combine to form an inviting on-screen duo. The Scarlet Witch's portions of the film are among its top highlights.

Falcon and Bucky are hilarious together, particularly when they're stuck in a VW bug and forced to coexist. The Vision, too, is much better here than in Age of Ultron, and seeing him in a cardigan sweater and chinos never fails to make me laugh. Everybody in the film has a purpose, which means even a gigantic cast isn't wasted.

While I saw it in 3D, it's not a necessity, though there are more effective applications of the technology than you often see, in particular some very cool stuff with Falcon, as well as Ant-Man, during the film's biggest action sequence, which takes place outside an airport. The heavy action scenes are hellaciously well put-together and wield some seriously eye-popping moments. And, every character gets a moment to shine within one of the major fight sequences. No one is left out, in similar fashion to the plot.

Overall, Captain America: Civil War is among the best Marvel films to date, finding footing in everything in which it dabbles and ending with the kind of cliffhanger that feels like a conclusion, but one with a guaranteed and definitive future. We can pause our story here and we're comfortable with that spot for our bookmark. We're also looking forward to picking the book back up sometime soon. Real soon.

If you forced me to rank it, I'd have it very high, right there with Deadpool (which is in a class by itself in many ways) and a smidge below Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. It's worth the money, it's worth the time investment, and it will undoubtedly be one of the best experiences you and your entire family can have at the movies this year. There's a level of emotion that is sometimes missing from a film of its type, and it makes Civil War a special experience.

It's violent, so use your best judgment as you decide whether to let the little ones join you at the theater, but the action is much heavier on style. The actual clash between Cap and Iron Man is the most somber moment, though the set-up to that brawl makes you root for both simultaneously.

And, just to save you the search, you'll want to stick around until the credits are completely over, as the film features two final treats before it fades to black. You'll hear applause several times as well, because some people won't be able to help themselves. The true ending to the film is virtually flawless. You might even feel a few goosebumps as you hear the last few words.

I did.

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