What I'm Watching: Captain America: Civil War
By now we've all heard my rambling open about my love of comic movies, so don't be surprised when I review them, so let's just dive right into this.
Captain America: Civil War has a lot to live up to, or in some cases, live down. In my opinion, the comic storyline this movie draws its inspiration from was absolute garbage. It had its moments, but everyone's motivation seemed very forced, and the conflict never seemed real, and a host of other reasons. This isn't a review of the comics. But knowing the story they wanted to adapt had such problems did give me pause when Civil War the movie was announced. Especially when the main thrust of the comics was that people wanted heroes to be unmasked and identified and registered. In the Marvel Cinematic universe, that...that's not really a problem. There's all of seven heroes, and all of them work for SHIELD already, or are public figures.
So, obviously, they had to go with another route, and fortunately they did. For the MCU version of Civil War, they chose instead to focus on the damages that heroes do in their battles, the cost that comes from their existence. You can really get behind that, as a hook. Police and firemen are supposed to be accountable for their actions, so why not these people who are living weapons? It's understandable, it feels real, and not forced. Especially in light of the previous movies and the mass destruction of Sokovia in Age of Ultron.
Even the two sides of the conflict this causes are understandable. You can get behind Captain America not wanting to sign up for this. He doesn't want to see people being hurt and being told by some oversight comittee, NO, you can't help them. Cap would violate the first time they tried. And you can get behind Iron Man's viewpoint of sure, these people need to be held accountable for their actions.
It's also much better that this is a largely an internal conflict within the team, and while there are external forces saying they should do X or Y or bring in so and so, it's not bringing in SHIELD as the police force to wrangle in these rogue agents. Keeping things amongst the Avengers, with prodding from officials, also helps to keep the conflict personal.
So the movie succeeds in a far FAR better way than the comics ever did, by taking the basis of the idea and making it work with what the MCU has already established.
There is a LOT going on in this movie, especially because there are movers and shakers behind the scenes with their own Machiavellian plots that are using this strife for their own purposes, and even engineering the events. It's a hell of a juggling act, with a lot of balls in the air, and the Russos come very close to catching every single ball and leaving you with a very satisfactory story. If anything, they may fumble ever so slightly, but pull a Star-Lord and catch any slipping balls before they hit the ground. I can't point to anything in particular as an example, but I think the largest problem is just there is SO MUCH going on.
And even then, it still somehow comes together well. There are a lot of characters running through this movie, and they all manage to have their moment to shine. And not just small moments, and frequently more than one. Everyone has their bits of characterisation, and while you may want to spend more time with certain people, and the runtime just doesn't allow for that time, almost every character leaves the movie with a very satisfactory way.
Which brings us to the guy who steals the show, Black Panther. He strolls into this movie, and commands the screen with kingly regalness from the first frame. Chadwick Boseman comes in with charm and charisma, with perfectly valid motivations in everything he does. You know why he's in this movie, why he's doing what he's doing, and it tees up his movie perfectly. You will almost certainly walk out of this wishing Black Panther was already in theatres. They also don't get bogged down in his origins, and saved that for his feature film.
Speaking of not getting bogged down in origins...and then there's Spider-Man. I kinda love the kid. Tom Holland didn't QUITE feel at home in the tights, but he's charming yet awkward, which is perfect for Peter. It feels like he should have had a movie as Spider-Man under his belt first, to figure out who his Spidey is. It felt like he's still feeling his way through those early days of a role here. Which in some ways TOTALLY works for him being a kid, and new, but it feels more like the awkward actorly sort of stuff, not new superhero stuff. And I do love him being a kid, and his quipping is good, so I look forward to the upcoming movie *he* is getting.
But much like the Panther, they don't bog the story down with Pete's origins here. We don't hear about the spider bite or Uncle Ben specifically, but Peter does make glancing blows at mentioning the continuity. Just enough so you and I know what's going on, and also avoided using That Line, and chose to save that for the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming. This is super smart, because if there's one character who does NOT need to have his origins rehashed agaaaain...well, that would be Superman. But Spider-Man is a close second!
Every conflict is perfectly played, with everyone's chosen side making sense, and given enough reasons for why they side with whom they side, as well as how and why they might change their minds.
One of the few flaws of the movie is that there are no gigantic comic geek moments, at least not for me. I never got that "HULK AND THOR ON SCREEN TOGETHER FIGHTING!" thrill this time. There was very few creative combination of powers and abilities, although Spidey did bring some new, good stuff to that mix. There is no "HOLY SHIT THANOS!" moment for me, and I feel that's marketing's fault. That stuff could have easily been almost anything with Spider-Man, or when they brought Ant-Man into the plot, but they throw out so many trailers and clips, there just wasn't much *surprise* to be had. I don't hold this against the movie though, since it's not its fault it didn't blow my mind. We're over a dozen movies in, and I don't like faulting a movie for stuff it *didn't* do.
The other strange part for me was the title cards for the locations. I can't quite place my problem with it, but it felt awkward to me. They either needed to be something more, something kinetic, or something less. It's a little too in your face, and didn't quite sit well with the rest of the language of the movie. But really, if I'm complaining about the word "VIENNA" on the screen, you know I'm reaching for this to complain about.
And while this is a dark, serious story of friends and allies being torn apart, the movie brings a lot of humour to it. It's not that awkward goofy humour from Iron Man 3 that threw me off either, but solid one liners, friendly banter between friends, and teasing. It works, it feels largely natural, and there is one moment, it's in the car, that had me rolling around laughing. The humour never takes over, except for maybe when Spider-Man bursts into the screen, but that's as it should be.
Suffice to say, I *really* enjoyed Civil War. It may not have blown my mind, but it was a rock solid story that was great, with a solid story and unexpected twists. It was almost better that its twists were more of what the movie DIDN'T do, instead of what it did do. There are things people are expecting to happen, that the movie swerves on, and they are welcome changes. The movie set up expectations, and delivers on what it needs to, and surprises you were you're sure they're doing something.
And this is ABSOLUTELY a Captain America movie. It's his story, it's his search for Bucky, finally coming to a head on the backdrop of the Sokovian Accords. It's a Cap story first, with a lot of added Avengers awesomeness, and some Black Panther and Spider-Man as icing on the cake...who then run away with the cake.
I had faith in the Russo brothers after Winter Soldier, but this even more solidified for me that the MCU in general, and Avengers: Infinity War is in great hands with them. They've shown they can manage a ton of characters with giving everyone their time to shine, and still managing a largely coherent narrative, that may feel packed, but never overwhelming or too choppy.
EDIT: I've been sitting here all day thinking about how I can't find fault with this movie, beyond a few quibbles, and yet it still didn't quite stick for me, and I think I found it, and owed it to this review to add it in.
I was reading some other reviews, and someone pointed out that this isn't a typical comic book movie structure, let alone a typical three act movie structure. It's very much its own thing, telling its story, the way it feels it must. And it's VERY much in a comic book fashion, or a play structure, with multiple acts, each leading up to its own climax at the end of a chapter/issue/act.
The unexpectedness of that threw me, much like Winter Soldier threw me. That too, didn't quite land for me, because I didn't know what to expect. But after seeing it, and knowing that ah! This is very much a 70s spy thriller with superhero trappings!, well, I *love* Winter Soldier. And I'm sure the same will happen here, now that I know what's going on.
Because really, this is very much one of, if not the best MCU movie so far. It's not just a great comic movie, it's got a solid story that it tells VERY well in its own voice, and it builds off of EVERYTHING that came before, and sets things up for what comes next, while not feeling too bogged down by not dealing with its own story. It's like a slice out of life, where people deal with stuff that already happened, and things start up for what's to come. It's all feels VERY natural and real, even with supersuits and mind powers.