New Review: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Director(s): Anthony and Joe Russo
Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr., Sebastian Stan, Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Daniel Brühl, Tom Holland, Paul Bettany, Martin Freeman, Chadwick Boseman, Emily VanCamp, Frank Grillo

One of the pleasures of watching mega-budgeted comic book movies on the big screen is in seeing the big action set-pieces and special-effects. It helps if the story is well-told, of course, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy seeing The Avengers battle those long robotic snake creatures in downtown New York at the end of the 2012 movie The Avengers, or seeing the giant war ship crash into S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters in the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or seeing the city of Sokovia lifted high into the clouds at the end of The Avengers: Age of Ultron (even though I didn’t care for the movie overall).

After watching Captain America: Civil War, however, I don’t think I’ll be having nearly as much fun watching those scenes when I go back to revisit them. The movie begins with Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) preparing to pass the Sokovia Accords, which will place the Avengers under the UN’s supervision and control. This is not only because of the opening action scene in Lagos (which inadvertently left several humanitarian workers dead), but also because of the number of innocent casualties they’ve left in their wake over the past couple of years (including the climactic action scenes in the aforementioned movies).

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is more than willing to agree to have his team placed under government supervision. He feels responsible for the creation of Ultron and for what happened in Sokovia. In an early scene, he’s approached by the mother (Alfre Woodard) of one of the innocent casualties in the Sokovia incident, and he takes the woman’s words to heart. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), aka Captain America, believes it to be a horrible idea, seeing as how the government isn’t really trustworthy (ain’t that the truth!)

Any team Elizabeth Olsen is on is one I'm rooting for! :p
Any team Elizabeth Olsen is on is one I'm rooting for! :p

The team is further divided when Steve’s old friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), aka The Winter Soldier, is framed for a terrorist bombing that claimed the lives of many innocent people, including the peaceful leader of Wakanda, King T’Chaka (John Kani). Stark believes Bucky should be brought to justice and answer for his crimes. Steve further investigates the incident and discovers that the perpetrator was really the sinister Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), who has his own reasons for carrying out his dastardly plans.

It’s to the credit of screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely that they manage to turn the villain here into something other than a stereotypical comic-book bad guy. Zemo's madness stems not from a need for world domination, but rather from of sadness and loss. It’s a rather humane approach to such an evil villain, and Brühl, a terrific actor, does a fantastic job of making the character seem more human than most Marvel villains.

Although Steve tries to explain to Stark that Bucky has very little control over his own actions (he’s placed under mind control from whoever reads a series of words from a little red book), Stark refuses to listen to him, so eventually a battle is fought between the two of them. The movie brings in other Marvel characters – including Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Bettany), the Black Panther, who has his own vendetta against Bucky (although his identity is reveal early on, I’ll refrain from saying who it is here) and even Spider-Man (a terrific Tom Holland) – to take sides and join in on the fight.

There's no settling this diplomatically!
There's no settling this diplomatically!

While that may be way too many characters for a mere two hour movie to work with, it does lead to a spectacular action scene where the two teams battle it out at an empty airport. The filmmakers allow for a number of amusing interludes during the battle, such as the moment where Black Widow, who’s fighting Hawkeye, asks him “We’re still friends, right?” The best part comes when Ant-Man reveals a particular trick he has up his sleeve, which leads to a funny reference to The Empire Strikes Back made by Spider-Man (I won't say any more about it than that).

Like 2014’s The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War works as an action spectacle and a commentary on our modern post-9/11 fears, but it isn’t as successful as its predecessor. The first hour of the movie has more than a couple of sluggish moments, and while directors Anthony and Joe Russo shook the camera during the action scenes in The Winter Soldier (although it didn’t bother me there), they tend to take it a little too far here. This is especially true of the action scene set inside a freeway tunnel, where the shaky camera and choppy edits renders the action a little difficult to follow.

Casting those flaws aside, this a good movie. It’s entertaining, it tells its story well enough, and it features a particularly haunting twist involving Tony Stark’s parents. More than anything, the movie kind of has me excited for the next Spider-Man movie scheduled for next year. While that will have made for three different actors playing the same character in the span of a decade, Holland is so good in the role that I want to see him play it again. What’s more is that he actually looks like a high school kid, and not some 28-year heart throb like Andrew Garfield trying to pass himself off as a socially awkward teen.

Final Grade: *** (out of ****)

Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, profanity

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