Let’s compare and contrast…
Just when you think the nation cannot get more divided, we’ve now had two two-and-a-half hour movies this year in which ideologies clash, public opinion turns against costumed avengers and our best and brightest heroes punch one another in the face. One from DC Comics; the other from Marvel.
I think I’ve made my thoughts on Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice pretty clear by this point, so I don’t particularly want to beat a dead horse. Suffice to say, that movie largely sucked all the life out of the room. It’s as if Zack Snyder and his crew were mad they were making a comic book movie.
Thank Uatu, Marvel Studios has got their collective shit together. Not sure if this constitutes as a spoiler, but this movie was the complete antithesis of….that other film. It boggles my mind that they were originally slated to open on the same day until DC wised up and moved to an earlier date. At this point, Marvel has nothing left to prove.
It’s pretty simple actually.
One did it wrong.
The other right.
Let’s see why!
“With many people fearing the actions of super heroes, the government decides to push for the Anti-Hero Registration Act, a law that limits a heroes actions. This results in a division in The Avengers. Iron Man stands with this Act, claiming that their actions must be kept in check otherwise cities will continue to be destroyed, but Captain America feels that saving the world is daring enough and that they cannot rely on the government to protect the world. This escalates into an all-out war between Team Iron Man (Iron Man, Black Panther, Vision, Black Widow, War Machine, and Spiderman) and Team Captain America (Captain America, Bucky Barnes, Falcon, Sharon Carter, Scarlett Witch, Hawkeye, and Ant Man) while a new villain emerges.” – IMDb.com
Okay, where to start?
Almost immediately give a shout out to writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, directors Joe and Anthony Russo (the cream of the crop in my humble opinion; no easy sentiment to make given that pool includes the likes of Joss Whedon and James Gunn) and anyone else over at the Marvel brain trust for actually providing us with a movie called “Civil War” and actually making us question whose side we’re on. You know…like an actual civil war should, something Dawn of Justice ultimately neglected to. Hell, it does a better job at that than the original comic written by Mark Millar on which this is based did.
In the comic, we were firmly meant to be against Team Iron Man as it made Tony and his side act completely act out of character, hiring super villains to hunt down renegade heros, building a super prison in the negative zone to illegally hold captured vigilantes and even creating a clone of Thor, who went on to accidentally kill the superhero Goliath (think Ant-Man, but only increases in size). In fact, the comic in general required a huge suspension of disbelief. Given how many decades upon decades of near-universe ending events, it’s hard to believe (no matter how tragic) that one event is going to be the be-all, end-all inciting incident that leads to the Superhero Registration Act. It took Marvel years to recover with constant backtracking to justify it all (Skrulls! It was always the Skrulls. And Spider-Man’s marriage never happend….FUCK YOU, “ONE MORE DAY”!!!!!!)
What’s important in an event like this is that, as in life, things are never so black and white as they appear. Tony sees the Avengers as a source of power, while capable of incredible good, that also needs to have a level of oversight given his firsthand experience with the consequences of his superhero antics whereas Steve, having seen how those in control can misuse that power (i.e. the Nazi’s, S.H.I.E.L.D, etc.), is instinctively mistrusts handing over the keys as it were. In other words, the movie perfectly captures the idealogical difference between these two men. They want the same thing, but they have different ways of getting there. Neither side is wrong. They both see the other’s argument, but as is often the case in today’s political landscape, their emotions get the better of them. In BvS, Batman and Superman want the same thing…and they do the same thing…and they are same characters…but they still want to kill on another.
Marvel also never loses the levity it is justifiably praised for. This movie gets pretty dark; just as dark as BvS in fact but it’s still fun. How on earth can a movie that has serious, complex themes still actually be an enjoyable experience that doesn’t feel like a chore? Fuck me, right?
The other substantial win Civil War achieves is THAT airport sequence.
HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT.
Just so we’re not hear all day, let me preface by saying every action set piece in this film is fantastic. Each has a difference feel and emotion behind it. None are ever gratuitous or over-long. When they need to be fun, they’re fun. When they need to be serious, there is great emotion and heart in every frame.
But the fight between Team Steve and Team Tony at an evacuated airport takes not only the film to another level, but the comic book film genre as a whole.
I’d go on record as saying it is flat out the greatest sequence I’ve seen in a superhero film up to this point. I cannot hyperbolize the sequence enough. I don’t think there was any point in which I wasn’t making either this face…
Or this face…
I could without a doubt dedicate an entire several thousand word post to this scene alone. Chances are you’ve read better writers praising it by this point and I don’t want to belay the point. It’s simply the culmination of what Marvel has been building to, and if you thought the sequence in which the Avengers first assemble was spectacular, get ready for the NEXT step.
It’s playing on the playground with your friends, throwing your imaginary super powers at one another.
It’s validation to those late night arguments who would win in a fight.
It’s fulfillment to anyone that’s ever picked up a comic book.
As a friend pointed out, I almost always say, “How in the hell are they going to top that?” after many of these films. I once again find myself asking myself that very question. This scene is the bar and it’s higher than ever before. We’re seeing over 8 years of story-telling pay off. The movie transcends from comic book movie to actual comic book come to life. It’s a sequence we are going to be talking about for years to come. Good luck to all that come afterward.
They do a far more effective at balancing every character than Age of Ultron did. There is still the typical sequel bait, but its so much more organic here. No one goes off and does their own thing simply because they need to get some legwork out the way for a future film. In other words, there is not a sequence were Thor takes a bath to see the future or whatever the fuck that scene was in AoU. It is in fact possible to create a sense of longing in the audience for more of another movie without ham-fisting entire sequences to movies that haven’t come out yet.
On top of including so many familiar faces successfully, Marvel does a bang up job at adding new ones as well. I’d don’t want to break down every one as the cast is pretty damn substantial and we still have the new recruits to get to. Let me just highlight each really quick as they are all fucking great and deserve heaps of praise.
Chris Evans, Captain America/Steve Rogers – Continues to be the heart and soul of the MCU; basically since the first Avengers film, he’s been doing commendable work at taking what could easily be a boring character and making him a man with
Robert Downey Jr., Tony Stark/Iron Man – Still the best. He will always be the best. He’s a bit more somber than we’ve ever seen the character before, which is appropriate given the proceedings but he never looses that patented Downey wit. His scene with Tom Holland’s Peter Parker (who will get to in a moment) is still buzzing in my brain and something I’m still trying to comprehend.
Scarlett Johansson, Natasha Romanova/Black Widow – The argument for a solo film grows only stronger every time she shows up in one of these films. Maybe if they’d done so sooner we wouldn’t have the whole Ghost in the Shell controversy on our hands.
Sebastian Stan, Bucky Barnes/Winter Solider – Served much better here than in Winter Solider if only because he gets a bit more development a.k.a. dialogue.
Anthony Mackie, Sam Wilson/Falcon – His friendship with Cap is one of my favorite things about these movies now. They banter, they work well together. They’re both military men that see America for what it is; broken, but worth fixing.
Don Cheadle, James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine – Probably the most underserved of all the heroes. He gets a few moments to shine (as does everyone) but his presence isn’t as strong as it could be.
Jeremy Renner, Clint Barton/Hawkeye – A personal favorite of mine from the comics. So happy to see him as the guy who comments on the absurdity of the situation while ultimately being the one help out without question.
Paul Bettany, Vision – Still great. Seeing him trying to woo Scarlett Witch did my nerd heart good. Also seeing him in his civilian clothes was just a fantastic absurd touch.
Elizabeth Olsen, Wanda Maximoff/Scarlett Witch – Much like Bucky, she is better served here than in the previous film in which she first appeared if only because she gets more to do. I like her as the one the team is almost uniformly scared of (except Vision) as she tries to find her place both on the Avengers and the world at large.
Paul Rudd, Scott Lang/Antman – I love Paul Rudd, and I smile to myself almost every time I remember THIS guy is a part of the MCU proper.
He isn’t in the movie too much but he gets what is perhaps the best moment in a movie comprised of “best of” moments. Much like Peter Parker and Clint Barton, Lang provides much needed everyman aspect to a roster of characters that may be sorely lacking in their absence.
I think heading into this, I was most interested to see how Black Panther was pulled off. Seconded only by Doctor Strange, he is a character I have been eagerly anticipating to be included in the MCU (I was scared as hell Fox somehow nabbed him with their Fantastic Four deal). I worried that he’d be an afterthought, much in the way Wonder Woman was in BvS that was simply wedged in to preview his own future film. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised that not only is he a major player throughout, he is perhaps the most compelling element of the film as a whole.
His arc also serves as a pseudo-origin story, which hopefully means his eventual solo movie will not have to much baggage in terms of establishing his world. I’m not too familiar with Chadwick Boseman as an actor (he’s ranged from passable to awful in other films in which I’ve seen him perform), but he completely won me over here. T’Challa initially has more reason than any other bring in the Winter Solider, and actually goes on to be the emotional crux for the entire film. He is in the film plenty, but you’ll be longing for more of him and his kingdom of Wakanda. (“Come for the vibranium, leave because of the scary jaguar god!”) Put simply: he’s an actual addition, not the appetizer for a future movie. Which brings me to the Spider-Man of it all…
Apologies if this comes off as graphic, I think the millisecond the title card reading “Queens,” I may have had the most earth-shattering nerdgasm of my life.
I’ve made no secret of my love of the character (going so far as to post a fan fiction for a fourth film in the Sam Raimi series) and going into vivid detail about my….let’s say disappointment with the Marc Webb helmed reboot series.
Spider-Man coming back to Marvel proper is just about everything I’ve wanted since the announcement of the cinematic universe. Unlike the X-Men, Spider-Man’s section of the MU can’t truly flourish in its own cinematic universe. No one was clamoring for a Secret Six spin-off, right?
Now it’s way too early to commit to this, but Tom Holland may just be the best Spider-Man we’ve ever had. He certainly has the potential to be if only for the fact that we have an actual teenager in the role who can quip and shoot off banter with the best of them. He single-handedly won me over on the thought of yet another reboot based solely on his youthful enthusiasm and boundless energy. We may finally get a PERFECT Spider-Man film, you guys. No more, “Well, at least they got that right.” Don’t get me wrong: I love Spider-Man 2, but how fucking amazing would it be if when Doctor Strange was referenced, they could have followed it up with Peter interacting with the Sorcerer Supreme himself?
Let me expand: You could cut him out of the movie completely and not really lose much. However, in this case, Spidey is a great addition to already great movie as opposed to Wonder Woman, who was a faint glimmer in the darkness. Whether by design or complicated inter-studio agreements, Spider-Man was not the forefront of the marketing for this movie. Sure, he was there but he was not shoved down our collective throats as to trick us into thinking he’d be a critical part of the movie.
We also get Emily VanCamp returning as Agent 13, William Hurt back as Gen. “Thunderbolt” Ross and Frank Grillo’s Crossbones making an appearance to top it all off. Hell, they even brought in Martin Freeman as Everett Ross (no relation to “Thunderbolt”), who I presume will play a larger role in the Black Panther solo film along with Andy Serkis’ Klaw. It all strengthens the MCU as a viable, believable world where characters we know pop in and out from time to time.
Out of the weaknesses this movie has (and their are very few, none which ruin the film), I’d say the villain’s plan (yeah, they cram a villain in here somehow) may have been the only noticeable kink in this film’s incredibly impressive armor. It’s no secret that Daniel Bruhl plays Zemo (no longer a Baron). What his plan is exactly I won’t spoil, but it’s another one of those unbeatable plans that relies on one too many unpredictable elements that modern action films seem to flock to. I did like it a bit more once his grand plan was revealed as it tied in the larger themes of the film, but he just wasn’t super memorable in the long-run particularly when stacked up against everything else going on. I just wish there had been a better way to get to his scheme while also making him something to the level of Loki, the only villain truly worth noting in the MCU thus far. The TV shows are a completely different animal as we got guys like the Purple Man (David Tennant) terrorizing Jessica Jones and the glory that is Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin over on Marvel’s Daredevil.
Also, not really a complaint but more of an observation, while Captain America is a leading force in this film, I wouldn’t consider it a strict Captain America movie, at least not in the same way The First Avenger or The Winter Solider was. Maybe could have just called it Marvel’s Civil War? Do we really need to throw in the Captain America to draw interest? I thought they had proved the Marvel part was enough with Guardians of the Galaxy. Again this is a very, very, very, VERY minor nitpick if even that.
To conclude, Captain America: Civil War isn’t just better than most superhero films; it’s better, by and large, than most movies of this scale. It could have easily been a train wreck given all of its moving parts and runtime. It’s never dull and always moving, as it invites us to both enjoy the big-budget spectacle and also contemplate the bigger themes lying just under the surface for those that chose to look. It’s the superhero movie we need right now as we forward into the most vitriolic election year this country has seen in decades. (Well played, Marvel.)