Review: Captain America: Civil War
I must confess. I am not a Marvel fan. I never really read comic books growing up and to the extent I cared about any characters in the various universes, they tended to be DC. Most of these storylines are new to me, so to be effective, they need to be self-contained stories that work without nostalgia and allegiance to the characters. And even though Captain America: Civil War has a number of conflicting goals, it mostly pulls this off.
The film opens in a post Avengers: Age of Ultron world, where the Avengers are under scrutiny because of the collateral damage that results from their 'save the day' feats. Many of the movie's characters are driven by having lost a love one in various disasters, for which they blame the Avengers. This idea creates the central conflict in the film, as Captain America rejects the idea that the Avengers need governmental oversight and Iron Man tries to force them to submit.
Clear battle lines are drawn between a Captain America lead faction that includes Falcon, Ant-Man and Scarlet Witch and an Iron Man lead faction that includes Black Widow, Black Panther and Spider Man. Beyond just the battle between whether or not they will have government oversight, the film creates complications by adding cross-allegiances. While someone might be #TeamIronMan, their relationships with the others still reflect the complexities that come with a group of people who have long histories with one another. The way the film creates a tightly woven mesh is impressive.
With something like 12 characters moving in and out of the action at various time, the movie could have easily felt like they were too ambitious for their own good. Instead, the epic numbers produce what may be the greatest action scene in comic book movie history. I can imagine that for many, just seeing this number of characters fighting is going to be exhilarating. But was there more here for those who might not be hardcore fans?
I would say yes and no. While the film is at least somewhat entertaining as a standalone film, its role a transition point complicates that. This is definitely meant to set up the next Avengers films, which will see more of these characters battling against one another. This produces the films biggest narrative flaw. Because so much time is spent building the conflict, nothing really happens.
In the end, most of these characters remain in the same frame of mind they are in for the majority of the movie. It is a somewhat static presentation that may make some ask 'so what?' While there are certainly exciting action sequences, it would be a challenge to point to a single moment as majorly consequential. It is a bunch of small building blocks that will launch solo movies for many of the characters and at least two more Avengers movies. If this was the only Avenger movie that would ever be made, a lot would be missing. Because of that, it is starting to feel like we are watching long episodes of a television drama.
If you are generally satisfied with comic book adaptations, this one will not disappoint. It is loud and flashy with moments of truly slick visual effects. It would undoubtedly make several hundred million dollars and have ardent defenders and that is not without merit. Making a film with this many moving parts and having it mostly hold together in a logical and straightforward way is no small feat. In comparison to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which attempted many of the same things, this is a rousing success. I just hope we are building toward a story that will eventually deliver instead of selling the next movie.
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