Review: Captain America: Civil War

civil war

In this cinematic climate of ever escalating franchises, perhaps it’s best to evaluate these films as one would another variety of franchise: fast food. If the comparison seems unfair, it is simply a reflection of how these types of films have taken over the popular culture. Much like fast food, these films are meant for mass audiences and thus are consumed by them. Each new outing is about the equivalent of a new item on the menu. There may be some minor variations, but crowds will always return because they know what they like. Sure, in most cases, the films may be tasty and familiar, but is there any actual nutritional value? Marvel has mastered this form of branding better than any other active franchise. Indeed, their films are fairly entertaining, and more importantly to the studio, all of them have enjoyed financial success. Captain America: Civil War stays true to that brand, proficient and even rousing in spurts, but given the stakes such a title forbodes, it also manages to somehow be minimally consequential.

“Actions have consequences” is a well known phrase, but for a while, one could be mistaken for thinking that many of these superhero films left it out of their vernacular. Captain America: Civil War aims to dispel that notion, by taking that issue head on as its own thematic framework. After the past disastrous climaxes in previous Marvel films, the United Nations seeks to put the Avengers in check. An accord is put forth, in which the Avengers should answer to and take orders from the U.N. directly. Those who defy such safeguards will be prosecuted or forced into retirement. This puts the group at odds with itself. On one side is Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who once dissolved his own weapons manufacturing when he witnessed its devastating collateral damage. As the bankroller for the Avengers, Stark takes personal responsibility for their collective actions. Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans), on the other hand, sees the Avengers as the best equipped to handle their unique missions, and sees the accords as limiting their ability to prevent worse catastrophes. With the reemergence of the Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), lines are drawn between loyalty to friends and loyalty to nations, with conflict sure to follow.

There’s a bit of a strange dichotomy at work with Captain America: Civil War, which is that it is both Marvel’s most thematically compelling film to date, yet it takes safe and occasionally contrived paths in order to reach its conclusion. There’s a key antagonist played by Daniel Bruhl who chooses to expose the brainwashed flaws of Bucky Barnes to wreak havoc, but his motivations and objectives are half baked. A conflict stemming from within the Avengers themselves makes for richer drama rather than manipulation from a new third party. The head arguments between former comrades set the foundation for the sparks that fly later on in actual combat, but the ultimate resolution lacks any real impact or, if Marvel truly took a risk, trauma.

Given how large the cast is, it’s easy to see Civil War as Avengers 2.5 instead of a Captain America film, but it does a good job from being too overcrowded. The supporting characters’ sides in conflict essentially come down to their preexisting loyalty to either Iron Man or Captain America. The new additions here are welcome, even if their integration into the plot varies. Prince T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) brings a stoic honor to super heroism, and the third cinematic iteration of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) feels the most shoehorned, and yet he provides the most dazzle and wit to the entire affair.

When we see all of these heroes drop the gloves and brawl each other, the natural reaction is a fanboy’s wet dream. The action choreography in the German airport showdown is top notch, and the acrobatic camerawork keeps things comprehensible along multiple points of conflict. It’s a visually tremendous sequence, as are a couple of other action scenes, but there’s a lack of melancholy in seeing former allies duke it out. When those emotional cues finally do hit in the late stages of the film, they’re a product of an unfortunate plot contrivance. There’s still a good deal of fun and excitement to be had in Civil War, but as directors, the Russo Brothers seem to be operating at a more baseline proficiency level rather than risk anything major for their heroes. Of course, this is all in service of maintaining the brand for Marvel, which has touted long form storytelling, and has certainly delivered on spectacle, but is also too reliant on tried and true formulas. Sometimes a Big Mac is a Big Mac, and on some days that’s good enough.

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~ by romancinema on May 8, 2016.

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