CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
A REVIEW (Largely non-spoiler; but avert your gaze NOW if you wish to go in and be surprised, completely; also long review again but then so is the film..again..)
STARK INDUSTRIES FACT FILE:
Directors: THE RUSSO BROTHERS
Star(k)s: CHRIS EVANS, ROBERT DOWNEY JUNIOR, TOM HOLLAND, SCARLETT JOHANSSON, WILLIAM HURT, ANTHONY MACKIE, DON CHEADLE, PAUL BETTANY, SEBASTIAN STAN, CHADWICK BOSEMAN, ELIZABETH OLSEN, EMILY VANCAMP
Genre: COMIC BOOK / ACTION-ADVENTURE / POLITICAL THRILLER ?
Run Time: TWO HOURS TWENTY APPROX
Certificate: 12 A / PG-13
MARVEL STUDIOS /DISNEY
WHAT’S THE STORY?
STEVE ‘CAPTAIN AMERICA’ ROGERS remains in charge of THE AVENGERS, an elite super-hero squad. And he leads them to prevent an international catastrophe in Africa. But when that mission collects some collateral damage, the world’s authorities decide to regulate all activity undertaken by the good Captain and anyone displaying similar abilities.
Captain America suspects that signing down for regulation is a bad move and that someone is playing Agent Provocateur on a global stage with his heroic friends. And so, he decides to take a stand and oppose the order, whilst also proving the innocence of his old friend and comrade, ‘Bucky’ (aka the deadly Winter Soldier), who has been cited as a terrorist mastermind.
Sadly, TONY STARK sees things differently. He believes regulation is in fact an opportunity to preserve the last vestige of independence for the super-hero community, via a small compromise. It is a decision that will bring he and his allies into direct conflict with Captain America.
And so, the stage is set for a battle between factions of the previously united Avengers and the start of the titular CIVIL WAR. Things will never be quite the same again. Get ready for a true clash of ideologies and skill /power sets, in the ultimate Marvel Cinematic Universe mash-up. You’ll see old friends driven to fight each other but you may also make a few new ones on the way..
First off, let’s just get it ‘out there’. CIVIL WAR is better than AGE OF ULTRON. A.Lot. I certainly enjoyed this more. It’s faster, funnier and clearer in its conception and execution. But so what? It’s a comic book film, dammit! It SHOULD be FUN! MASSIVELY FUN. By that I do NOT mean ‘camp’ and no I am not one of these pompous sorts who think the material somehow beneath reverent treatment or that there are ‘too many comic book films’ (no such thing).
But it says something about quite how the game has changed in say, four years, that I am leaving a screening feeling I was entertained and yet still, somehow, wanting MORE and LESS at the same time. So, something is not QUITE right with this film and please do NOT expect the flawless masterpiece that so many are raving about, frequently at the expense of BATMAN V SUPERMAN (which commits many of the same sins as CIVIL WAR, just in a different key and with less good will to pad it out).
Second: and permission to speak freely? Critics are not regulated, unlike the super-heroes of this film. These things are ultimately a matter of taste. But I am right on this one and you know it. (semi-spoiler alert..but not really). Yet again, they tease the return of Gwynnnieee (that’s Gwyneth Paltrow to you) as Pepper Potts. But she’s NOT IN IT!
Instead, they highlight the character and actress’ absence and that, in turn, at least to my mind, harms the tone-y of the IRON MAN scenes. Have said it before and will say again: DOWNEY JR and PALTROW are a classic double act. Funny, warm, glamorous, likable. By all means have her fall out with Stark and leave him in the film, only to be a driving force in his return to the side of right? But STOP mentioning her and thereby taking one out of the main thrust of the story? Plus, she’s lovely. And I miss her. Terribly. Sorry. Where was I? Oh yes..CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR!
Notice. I forgot to preface CIVIL WAR with Captain America a few times. Deliberately. Whilst this IS his movie for the most part and CHRIS EVANS continues to put in a valiant performance as a true hero in every sense, one is also watching AVENGERS 2.5. Or ‘Marvel wishes to apologise for your disappointment with AGE OF ULTRON and hopes you will enjoy this filler piece before we give you INFINITY WAR‘.
This is a VERY crowded film. With LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of super-heroes. More than any previous Marvel outing, in fact. And yet, still, somehow, not enough! Spoiler – there are some absences -. Double spoiler – in the comic books, this was a wider universe, with X MEN and FANTASTIC FOUR in on the action. That’s simply not possible here (rights issues with other studios: damn them!); and so we must accept that the big face off is in fact, well, a little small?
Evans’ Captain America does stand out. He is both way in and way out. You do want him to win and the surrounding characters are part of his arc. But he managed a similar achievement with THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014) which, for all its pretensions to be a 70s conspiracy thriller, is simply a finer film than CIVIL WAR. Less crowded on one hand and yet somehow bigger in stakes and scale. Simplicity can be virtue. Less can be more and vice versa.
Tonally, this movie is just a mess. One minute we are subjected to ponderous and pseudo-erudite political speeches. Lots of lectures about collateral damage and suchlike. All the heroes need say is ‘we saved the world; sorry the baddies killed some innocents en route: we did not cause that’..but that would be a short film. So they pad things out with a contrasting series of buddy buddy winks and skittish smiles and nods. Muddled, muddy, murky tone. Sorry.
I did laugh on a number of occasions but dragged out my laughter, deliberately. I WANTED this to BE something: either dark thriller in manner of DARK KNIGHT or a kind of high functioning escapism like 2008’s IRON MAN (manages to go to some serious places, without ever undermining an essentially colourful and energetic optimism of tone). This movie is a most uncomfortable mish-mash of both approaches, whilst never truly satisfying as either.
There are two competing plots in effect. On one hand, we have Captain America on a quest to save his old buddy, Bucky, from being framed as an evil terrorist. On the other? An escalation of a conflict in ideology between Tony Stark the ‘good’ guy and those representing the legacy of when he has been a borderline villain.
Both strands are potential movies in their own right. Merging them, however, is just plain messy and that impacts one’s ability to truly enjoy the action, which is choreographed brilliantly (THE AIRPORT SCENE: WOW!) yet somehow disjointed in its baton passing between heroes and associated styles. Adult attention spans will be tested, severely and some scenes are plainly unsuitable for kids below 12, despite the fantastical nature of the characters’ powers on display here.
However risky it might have been and longer it may have taken to complete as a cinematic project, the sensible thing might have been to just give us IRON MAN 4 and CAPTAIN AMERICA 3, then somehow crossing into the next sequel together, via thematic overlap?
Downey Jr is certainly crying out for more to do in this movie. The antagonist and yet not villain; the paternal leader of a rival clan of heroes and yet still trying to show off the eternal naughty boy sense of fun that both redeemed and defined his character so completely in the first IRON MAN film.
Iron Man simply does not function well as a brooding BATMAN type. His whole appeal lay in sharing similar character beats (wealth / power / skill rather than actual ‘super-powers’) whilst injecting a sense of the absurd. He still exhibits his old charm here, fear not! Worth the price of admission, as ever. But that’s still slightly numbed by the darker direction in which his character is sometimes taken in the film.
Matters not helped by the visuals here. We get moments of exotic tech and lasers /lights etc, only to then revert to what amounts largely to uninspired blocks of concrete and industrial gray, presumably in failed bid to evoke serious cold war thriller vibes? Confused. Answers on a post-card, please. But fear not: if it is FUN and OPTIMISM you want? Look no further than that hero crawling the walls. He’s here to save the day. And this movie. Just in the nick of time!
By now you should know that SPIDER-MAN is a kind of guest star here, setting up his own solo outing next year (subtitled: HOMECOMING). TOM HOLLAND is a revelation. Funny, gifted in action scenes and with the character’s verbal fireworks and above all, supremely adept at body language: balletic brilliance.
In one shot, with minimal dialogue, Holland is able to sum up Spider-Man /Peter Parker better than three films with TOBEY MAGUIRE and two with ANDREW GARFIELD ever could. This is definitely a star in the making and hopefully his iteration of the wall crawler will run and run before any notions of yet another re-boot spin their inevitably sticky webs.
Holland has a perfect rhythm with Downey Jr. This could be a double -act to remember, gifted with perfect comic timing and a genuine sense of emotional affinity underscoring the superficially glib one liners. This is yet another gem in this still problematic movie; making it on one hand essential and yet at the same time, the most frustrating viewing, because the greatness never gets a chance to breathe, let alone truly shine.
But this does bode well for the future of Marvel movies, especially considering that Iron Man will indeed feature in next year’s adventure for Spidey.
The rest of the cast do what they can. There are no air punching stand outs or epic fails here, with all competent and committed to their either superfluous or overstretched character and plot functions. SCARLETT JOHANSSON looks more comfortable in the action here, though I am still at a loss to know what her super power is (other than the fact that she is..well..SCARLETT JOHANSSON!). EMILY VANCAMP is also rather lovely and almost made me forget the absence of Pepper Potts. (I said: ALMOST).
FINAL VERDICT :
Much like its eponymous hero, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR tries, desperately, to do the ‘right’ thing by everybody. But on film, as in life (comic book and ‘real’), that is simply not possible. The result is a mixed bag of promisingly philosophical premises that go overboard into earnest overdrive, amidst a backdrop that is satisfying neither as escapist fun nor daringly mature thriller.
There are MOMENTS of pure MARVEL MAGIC and when this film takes off in certain scenes, it SOARS splendidly. Don’t expect the masterpiece that everyone is raving about but equally be sure to enjoy some quality scenes of entertainment from the finest craftsmen in all departments: amusing while there and frustrating when not.
Certainly worth a weekend watch and yes, unmissable if you like the genre and are watching the Marvel brand with interest.
3 out of 5. A for effort. B for Progress. Cleared for Active Duty.