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Friday, May 6, 2016

Movie Review: #CaptainAmericaCivilWar

Captain America: Civil War is an elegant throw-down-glory machine.

Review by Matt Cummings

If recent James Bond films owe everything to Jason Bourne, it's clear that Hollywood should throw superhero movies a giant parade; without them in the mix, Hollywood would be struggling to keep the lights on. Consider the ultimate proof in the absolutely stunning Captain America: Civil War, a mature right-turn for a franchise that seems ready to present us with an earth-shattering shake up of its world. The start here makes it the best film so far in 2016, not only due to its terrific action sequences but in the questions it raises about heroes and their place in the world.

Captain America (Chris Evans) has assembled his own Avengers team to handle crises throughout the world. But the results haven't been perfect: when a battle with Crossbones results in another huge body count, Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Vision (Paul Bettany), and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) are made to answer by The United Nations, who are ready to pass The Sekovia Accords. In it, The Avengers and all costumed heroes will serve the UN, and only on missions they deem appropriate. That sits just fine with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr), as his entrepreneurship hides deep personal problems and a growing fear that their new-found powers are causing more damage than they'd envisioned. But Cap doesn't see it this way, even when his pal Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) launches an assault at the UN vote for the Accords. Among the injured is Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who swears vengeance against Winter Soldier in the name of his kingdom Wakanda. Determined to protect his friend, Cap and his cohorts refuse to sign The Accords and become hunted themselves by none other than Stark and his team, which includes War Machine (Don Cheadle), Panther, a reluctant Widow, Vision, and none other than Spider-man (Tom Holland). But what neither team realizes is that a shadowy figure (Daniel Bruhl) is pulling long strings of deceit, manipulating them into a series of battles with no easy way out. Faced with a stunning reveal and a dark cover up, tensions between Iron Man and Captain America explode once again as both place their friendship on the line while their colleagues peer into an uncertain future for their disassembled team.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo have crafted yet another Captain America movie that takes bold chances in its storytelling but never makes you feel like those changes are happening just to raise interest. As Secretary of State "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt, reprising his role) takes the team through one perceived failure after another, it's clear this new world order isn't making friends in the way it had hoped. Our directors further seed distrust into the team by deftly forcing each hero to analyze why they're serving in the first place. For Stark it's to atone for Ultron; for Steve, his reluctance is based on his sense of duty to right wrongs when he sees them, especially where Bucky is involved. Everyone else exists somewhere along that line, and their struggles to maintain some sense of order with their world crumbling around them is highly satisfying.

A film this big with so many characters in play could result in one feeling cheated, especially considering that the title suggests a much smaller tale. And yet Captain America: Civil War gives each just enough time to either showcase their incredible skills or simply bask in the joy of being selected to attend Superhero Throwdown 2016. The battle at Berlin's Leipzig Airport is one of the best action sequences ever to grace a superhero film, while a chase for Bucky in a crowded stairwell and through a highway tunnel are fantastically choreographed. There's also moments of levity, especially when Stark recruits Spider-man (a very good Holland) to his side. Scarlet Witch on the other hand makes her decision known with fiery ferocity.

But more important, Captain America: Civil War feels like a house with all the children gone. This isn't the wide-eyed bushy-tailed storytelling of The Avengers, but a mature right-turn as the child heads out on their own against their parents' wishes. The rifts that emerge from such a thrown-down are serious and not entirely settled by film's end; even though the fighting's stopped, there is no team that remains. There's a sense that these Avengers are permanently disassembled (to borrow a comic book title), perhaps not to reunite until Infinity War. Civil War elegantly sets up those pins of loyalty and duty so fate can knock them all down.

It goes without saying that Downey is Tony Stark (although the cameo scene paints a hilarious alter-ego that should have the Internet buzzing for weeks), but it's the developing storm cloud around Stark that's made this version so appealing. He's clearly still dealing with events from Age of Ultron, but now has even more heaped on his plate. And it's really one very simple scene between him a parent - played so skillfully by Alfre Woodard - that pushes Stark over the line. Evans too has matured into the perfect Cap: he portrays a man still out of time, a hero who's trying to cut up a complex world with an axe instead of a scalpel. Even Bettany, Johansson, and Mackie make huge strides in their characters, as each is forced to choose sides in a battle that's surely going to turn a few heads. And speaking of, it's quite a rumble.

But again, Captain America: Civil War succeeds for far more reasons than pretty battle scenes. What follows is only possible because of Marvel's set up of the previous 12 films. If WB did not learn that from BvS, Civil War gave it the knock-out punch it probably never saw coming. Sony is probably holding onto the ropes as well, for its five-film franchise of Spider-man barely compares to what The Russos do in just 10 minutes. Holland steps nicely into role as a kid who's just there because Dad told him to; he doesn't truly understand the team's dynamics, but is a blunt weapon for Stark to send into battle. Black Panther is someone different, a true rebel whose absolute mastery of his skills seek balance with the world knowing his people even exist. His struggle is as appealing as Spider-man's naivety, and the two are staggeringly good.

And then there's the ending. Without giving anything away, it's a powerful broadside collision that elevates the whole terrible conflict onto a new level. Audiences might only remember its set up if you've seen Winter Soldier enough, and it's a brilliant way to end the film. Credit not only The Russos but the long-time writing duo Steven McFeely and Christopher Markus who clearly command the field, not just because they can craft action, but because they know these characters. That makes every set piece shine a little brighter and every joke feel like a true family tearing each other down at the dinner table. Captain America: Civil War ultimately succeeds for what it leaves on the table: there's no happy ending here, no reuniting the team to take down another meh-baddie, and and it's not meant to.

In the end, Captain America: Civil War is the best film of the year so far, not because of its DNA as a developing superhero epic, but because it has the strength to shatter its own world by asking tough questions about its heroes and the job they've taken on. The results aren't pretty and the fallout is sure to dominate the next series of films, but this more-mature Avengers seems absolutely primed for a bigger stage, if that's even possible. Like it or not, big changes are coming, and Civil War feels like the anvil that will forge an impressive Phase 3.

Captain America: Civil War is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem and has a runtime of 146 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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