Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo || Produced by: Kevin Feige
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeeley || Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Bruhl
Music by: Henry Jackman || Cinematography: Trent Opaloch || Edited by: Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 147 minutes
If 2015 was the year of the non-comic book reboot (e.g. Mad Max: Fury Road, Creed, and, you know… Star Wars), then 2016 is shaping up to be the year of the superhero movie — again. It’s not like we’ve had any of those before, right?
That brings us to Captain American: Civil War (henceforth, CA3), the 13th and latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). While Deadpool (2016) was a much needed nut-punch of self-awareness for the superhero subgenre, and Dawn of Justice (2016) was a subversive rebuttal to the continued box office dominance of the MCU, CA3 sticks to what Marvel Studios has done best since 2008 by building quality cinematic diegeses around a cast of colorful characters, all while nailing a consistent tone around crowd-pleasing spectacle.
What makes CA3 one of the better films in the MCU is how the film executes that tried and true Marvel formula in a single, coherent movie. While the satisfaction one reaps from each and every confrontation, each and every one-liner, will depend somewhat on one’s familiarity with the rest of the MCU franchise, cinematic “homework” is not necessary for appreciating CA3 as a whole because most every character, motivation, and conflict is set up and paid off within the confines of this story.
The secret sauce to balancing CA3‘s large cast and, at first glance, complex and intimidating premise is the script’s focus on the characters and conflicts that matter. Much discussion and praise in social media has noted how “every character gets their chance to shine” and “everyone is balanced perfectly, all the time,” and this is sort of true, but there’s more to it than that. CA3 essentially doubles as an Avengers 2.5, or the dramatic followup to the original 2012 ensemble that Age of Ultron (2015) was supposed to be.
While most of the characterizations in are spot-on and the action is a good degree above the MCU median, the inciting incident of the story and the primary morality quarrel from which the rest of the film extends is unbelievable to say the least. I bought Captain America’s/Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) loyalty to The Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) every step of the way, but the Sokovia Accords angle much less so. The Avengers’ debate over the alleged power of the United Nations to do anything with regards to international regulation made for interesting philosophical debate, but it seemed altogether frivolous for the plot at hand.
Another area where the film runs into trouble are in the few larger-than-cameo roles that the Russos were surely obliged to insert given the franchise’s interconnected baggage. Paul Rudd (Scott Lang/Ant-Man) and Tom Holland (Peter Parker/Spider-Man) involve some of the movie’s funniest moments, but they and their entire characters feel out of place in this film and could have been removed from the final cut, and no audience-member would’ve been the wiser. If one felt inclined to bemoan the presence of Doomsday in Dawn of Justice for its tonal inconsistency, then inclusion of Rudd and Holland here is downright baffling.
Bolstering CA3‘s screenplay in spite of this is how most every major character in the film, supporting or otherwise, maintains an arc throughout and/or has their moment to shine. If Age of Ultron was the example how not to balance a massive cast of diverse superheroes, CA3 is the counterexample of how to do it right. The entire cast has great chemistry with one another and contributes unique personalities to both the expository scenes and the action set-pieces. Hell, even the film’s de facto villain, Daniel Bruhl as Helmut Zemo, is arguably the most compelling villain in the entire MCU other than Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. His character feels real and he has an understandable motivation for hating the Avengers.
As for the film’s combat-direction, the Russo Bros. live up to their bravado action-debut in The Winter Soldier (2014). Not only does CA3 retain the Bourne-esque hand-to-hand combat and controlled handheld camerawork from Cap’s first sequel, the film further melds a cocktail of zany superpowers from the aforementioned ensemble cast, which react with each other in repeated rock-paper-scissors style confrontations that even 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise (2000-present) hasn’t yet achieved. This film quietly avoids the bloated apocalyptic threats, alien/robot invasions, and now infamous blue-lasers-in-the-sky that have plagued the superhero renaissance for over a decade. CA3‘s largest set-piece, the airport showdown prominently featured in much of the film’s marketing, is scaled back from even The Winter Soldier’s helicarrier finale. All the action set-pieces are restrained enough to emphasize the personalities fighting within them, and the close-quarters-combat stunts remain the Russo’s bread-and-butter to highlight this action movie’s physicality and raw emotion.
My biggest complaints with this movie are surprisingly my main ones with Batman v Superman: Its length and editing. Much of CA3‘s exposition outside its action set-pieces are overwhelmingly dialogue-driven and slow the pace of the movie for no good reason. I haven’t come to expect creative shot-reverse shot techniques from the MCU, and its films aren’t really built to do that, but in a film this long (nearly 2.5 hours), the number of scenes where characters sit in a room and talk at each other accumulates. Every now and then there is a memorable non-action sequence like the tight tracking shot that introduces Peter Parker, or the memorable confrontation between Black Panther and Zemo (which does not end in a fight scene) that relies on effective racking focus in several telephoto shots, but most of the thrust outside the action-sequences seem to be powered by the actors and their banter.
To that end, many of the scene transitions are abrupt or awkward cuts instead of smoother fade-ins, fade-outs, or dissolves, the latter three of which seemed to have virtually disappeared from mainstream cinema at this point. This doesn’t help the film’s pacing given its considerable length, and sometimes feel as inappropriate as the excessive quips characters interject when you’d expect them to be pummeling each other. Much of the tarmac sequence summarizes these tonal and editing clashes, as does Spider-Man’s entire unnecessary guest appearance.
Still, it’s hard to get too down on the Russo Bros.’ sitcom-style dialogue or a random interjection of fan-service when the overarching story and characters themselves are so strong, and given how satisfying and creative each of the numerous action scenes are. The Russo’s appear to have learned from many of the mistakes Joss Whedon made in Age of Ultron and corrected course, keeping their focus firmly on Steve Rogers and, to a lesser extent, Tony Stark and Black Panther, while also allowing screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely to build an organic, cohesive, contained narrative around their character drama.
What this amounts to is that Captain America: Civil War is not only one of the better action blockbusters this year, but it’s also the best MCU film of the past several years… at least since The Winter Soldier. Not bad for two former television directors from Arrested Development.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Though its direction is somewhat less taught and stylized than The Winter Soldier’s, Civil War boasts arguably the best story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as the most emotional payoff. Its action sequences are varied and intense, sporting handheld close-quarters-combat camerawork that would make Paul Greengrass proud and superpower one-upmanship that should make X-Men fans jealous. The cast is talented and balanced to near perfection. This second Captain America sequel is fast, fun, and full of heart.
— However… the film remains overly long, blandly edited at times, and over reliant on exposition. Some of the quips are either distracting or inappropriate, regardless of the Marvel label. As fun as they are, Spider-Man and Ant Man didn’t need to be in this movie, and the airport sequence doesn’t mesh tonally with the rest of the story.
? Longing. Rusted. Seventeen. Daybreak. Furnace. Nine. Benign. Homecoming. One. Freight car.