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Captain America: Civil War
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Heroes Take The Fall"
4 stars

There used to be a feature in MAD Magazine entitled “Scenes We’d Like To See” that used to stand famous storytelling tropes on their heads by stretching them even further or by applying the kind of real-world logic that they generally tried to avoid if at all possible. Remember the story about the princess who kissed the frog and it was magically transformed into a handsome prince? In their version, their inevitable wedding would be interrupted by the arrival of the prince’s pissed-off frog wife. “Captain America: Civil War”—which is the third entry in the “Captain America” franchise and could probably be considered “The Avengers 2.5” as well—plays like a feature film version of that conceit by taking one of the aspects of the superhero genre that tend to get sloughed off along the way, namely the fates of all the innocent people that happen to be on the street or in office buildings when when the good guys and bad guys wind up leveling entire city blocks while beating each other up, and contemplating what might happen if those heroes were forced to deal with the collateral damage resulting from those heroics. At this point, some of you may be groaning a bit because the recent dud “Batman Vs. Superman” sort of tried to do a variation on this very same idea utilizing a decidedly dark and dour approach and could not have made a bigger botch of it if it had tried. Happily, “Civil War” is a far more entertaining and interesting variation on that them that takes the conceit seriously enough while at the same time leavening the material with enough humor to keep it from becoming a depressing bore. The end results should more than satisfy both the hardcore fans of the ever-expanding Marvel cinematic universe and neophytes alike, though at a wildly overstuffed 2 1/2 hours, it is unlikely that many will come away from it immediately hungering for more.

As the film opens, Captain America, a.k.a. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is leading a team of his fellow Avengers, including /Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), on a mission to Lagos in order to prevent some form of evildoing. Alas, a shot of Scarlet Witch’s psychic energy that she deploys to save Captain America goes awry and winds up barbecuing a number of visiting peace workers. Faced with the bad publicity arising from this incident, not to mention the amount of death and destruction left in the wake of their previous efforts to save the world, the U.S. Secretary of State (William Hurt) insists that the Avengers, who have thus far been acting of their own accord and without answering to anyone, either sign the Sokovia Accords, an agreement that places them entirely under U.N. jurisdiction and forbids them to act without authorization, or give up the super heroics for good under threat of arrest. For Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), who continues to be haunted by the events of “Age of Ultron” and his responsibility for what happened, signing the deal is a no-brainer—with more checks and balances, the possibility of things going completely awry should drop considerably. While some of the others, including Lt. James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) and the not-exactly human Vision (Paul Bettany), are in agreement with Stark and even Natasha and Wanda can see the logic behind Stark’s point, Rogers refuses to sign—by placing themselves entirely at the disposal of the UN, they can no longer act instantly and there is the possibility that they will be impelled to either refuse to act when needed or ordered to do so for the wrong reasons.

The schism between Rogers and Stark grows even wider when James “Bucky” Buchanan (Sebastian Stan), the contemporary and one-time colleague of Rogers who was captured by the forces of Hydra and transformed into the fearsome Winter Soldier, appears to have come out of hiding. After reintroducing him through a 1991-set prologue that it will return to from time to time, the film has him seemingly turn up to bomb the signing of the the Sokovia Accords, a move that makes him the most wanted man in the world, especially in the eyes of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), whose father, the king of the African country of Wakanda, was killed in the blast. Despite Bucky’s seemingly obvious guilt, Rogers still wants to do the right thing by him and becomes convinced that there is more to the story but his attempts to help out get him arrested along with his former friend. Of course, the confinement doesn’t last for very long and once Bucky is inexplicably flipped into full Winter Soldier mode by a mysterious psychiatrist (Daniel Bruhl) and escapes, Rogers goes off in pursuit with a few of his Avengers comrades along for support and with Stark and those aligned with him in hot pursuit. For the inevitable clash, each side pulls in a previously unaffiliated hero into their respective ranks—Rogers signs up Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) while Stark recruits a promising young recruit named Peter Parker (Tom Holland) who is just beginning to make a name for himself—unbeknownst to his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei. . . yes, Marisa Tomei)—as Spider-Man.

Faithful readers will note that on the grand scale of things I would like to experience, sitting through another superhero movie ranks somewhere between sitting through a Greta Gerwig film and being stuck on an elevator with Greta Gerwig. That said, when one comes around that is smart, stylish, intelligent and has more on its mind than endless scenes of oddly becostumed dopes smacking the crap out of each other—such as the original “Superman,” the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan “Batman” films and Ang Lee’s “Hulk” I am more than willing to embrace it and that is the case with “Captain America: Civil War.” One of my problems with most of the recent superhero films is that they have tried so hard to dazzle viewers with increasingly elaborate orgies of CGI pyrotechnics that such seemingly archaic concepts as character and nuance appear to have been kicked to the curb in the effort to make everything else bigger. In the case of “Civil War,” however, is a lot more creative than that in a number of ways. The screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, who also penned the earlier “Captain America” films, is surprisingly smart in the way that it raises such issues as the fine line that separates heroism and vigilantism and the ways in which freedom and responsibility uneasily coexist in a world where not everything is not as much black-and-white as it is varying shades of gray and then actually deals with them in a smart and thoughtful manner instead of just dispensing with them in order to blow up more stuff. I also liked how the film kept its ultimate villain and their motivations on a refreshingly human scale for once—for once, the final reel smackdown has real meaning and consequence instead of just feeling as if the writers were just running on autopilot. At the same time, the screenplay also maintains a welcome sense of humor throughout that keeps things from getting too bleak without devolving into camp or selling the more serious stuff short.

Of course, most people going into “Civil War” will be less interested in seeing how the dramatic underpinnings play out as they will be in the sight of seeing a number of their favorite superhero characters duking it out as a way of answering once and for all the question of who could beat who in a fight. This was presumably the driving element behind “Batman Vs. Superman” but that film dropped the ball dropped the ball spectacularly in almost every regard by failing to develop a convincing situation in which the two characters would find themselves going against each other in the first place and then staging the battle royale in such an ugly and disjointed manner that it was impossible for even the biggest fans of those iconic characters to give a shit about how it all turned out. Here, when the big battle between the former allies finally flares up, the story and characters have been developed in such a way so that we actually understand what they are fighting for and have an investment in how it all turns out. When the action commences, directors Anthony & Joe Russo do a marvelous job of presenting the action in a clean and efficient manner that allows viewers to get a sense of the big picture instead of dizzying them with one rapid-cut shot after another. They also manage to take what could have been a grim and sad sequence and make it into something nearly joyous by demonstrating a lot of wit and finding ingenious ways of letting each of the characters show both their strengths (including those not previously displayed in their earlier adventures) and their limitations. The only thing that they cannot do, however, is make the character of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) come across as even slightly essential to the proceedings—Hulk and Thor come across as more critical parts to the proceedings than Hawkeye does here and they do not even appear in the film at all.

The performances are also better than one might rightfully expect to find in an effects-laden behemoth of this sort. Although I was never particularly a fan of his early work in films the previous botched versions of “Fantastic Four,” Chris Evans’s take on Captain America has been growing on me over the course of both that franchise and the “Avengers” films and this is by far his best turn as the character to date—instead of playing the character’s relentless nobility for easy laughs at his expense, he finds interesting ways of playing with his earnestness and willingness to take an unpopular stand in order to make a point and, in his flirtatious manner with a friendly CIA agent (Emily Van Camp) to whom he has an unexpected connection, he gets a chance to display some additional emotional shadings as well. As for Downey, one could easily understand at this point if he were to simply go through the motions as Tony Stark but he also finds some new dramatic notes to play while still delivering his cynical one-liners with ease. As for their co-stars, they all get their moments to shine as well and, if nothing else, the film once again reminds me that a solo Black Widow vehicle for Scarlett Johansson is perhaps the one potential superhero vehicle that I would be genuinely excited to see. As for the new additions to the ranks of the Avengers, Chadwick Boseman gets a little lost in the shuffle as Black Panther but Tom Holland is so engaging in his brief appearance that not only do you forgive the film for including what is essentially an extended plug for the latest “Spider-Man” reboot, it actually makes one vaguely enthusiastic to see it.

The only real flaws with “Captain America: Civil War” are that the extended length (2 1/2 hours and yes, there are a couple of additional scenes that pop up during and after the end credits) does result in a little bloat here and there that could have been trimmed and that while Daniel Bruhl works well enough as the bad guy, he nevertheless lacks the kind of presence that would allow him to make more of an impact with viewers amidst all of the chaos and suer heroics going on around him. Those are minor quibbles, however, and it is likely that they may not even register that much with those more willing to embrace the genre than myself. It may not quite land in the top tier of superhero movies but it comes a lot closer to hitting that mark than most of the other efforts of the last few years have done because it is the rare film of its type that feels like an actual movie and not just an excuse to sell toys and T-shirts. This is the best “Captain America” film to date, the best “Avengers” film to date and hell, it is even the best “Spider-Man” film since “Spider-Man 2,” now that I think of it.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=28086&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/04/16 10:21:38
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User Comments

7/28/17 Dr. Lao If they had not made Spiderman so annoying, I would have given 5 stars 4 stars
2/12/17 morris campbell best superhero movie of 2016 5 stars
1/02/17 Charles Tatum Simply "good." 4 stars
8/05/16 chad cowgill Amazing! Antman and Spiderman were my favorites! 5 stars
6/01/16 Chelsie Entertaining, Enjoyable, Amazing! 5 stars
6/01/16 JR Just awful. A complete and utter waste of time. A massive bore. 1 stars
5/14/16 KingNeutron A bit long, but well worth it - see it on the big screen 4 stars
5/13/16 Chelsie Entertaining, Enjoyable, Amazing! 5 stars
5/06/16 Ruth Goaz Hey Sobczynski, yhis is a 5-star masterpiece of the highest order. 5 stars
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  06-May-2016 (PG-13)
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