Directed by: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Characters: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Comic Book: Mark Millar
Screenplay: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Steve Rogers/Captain America: Chris Evans
Tony Stark/Iron Man: Robert Downey Jr.
Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier: Sebastian Stan
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow: Scarlett Johansson
Sam Wilson/Falcon: Anthony Mackie
Lt. Col. James Rhodes/War Machine: Don Cheadle
Vision: Paul Bettany
Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch: Elizabeth Olson
Clint Barton/Hawkeye: Jeremy Renner
T’Challa/Black Panther: Chadwick Boseman
Scott Lang/Ant-Man: Paul Rudd
Peter Parker/Spiderman: Tom Holland
Sharon Carter: Emily VanCamp
Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross: William Hurt
I saw Captain America: Civil War on the Monday night following its first weekend, and the theater was full. According to Forbes, the movie has already surpassed $700 million in box office receipts worldwide. It is, in many respects, a second Avengers movie. The only major characters missing are Nick Fury, Thor and Bruce Banner/The Hulk. The latter omission is actually plot-related.
Marvel continues to produce marvelously entertaining movies, visual spectacles replete with state of the art computer graphics that live up to, and in some respects, surpass, the imaginations of the cartoon artists that created the characters. This is the kind of movie that, in an Internet age, still draws people into theaters where a ticket, popcorn and Coke blow more than $20 dollars, more than buying the movie on DVD will eventually cost.
I won’t give anything of significance away. Much naval-gazing has already been done about the central plot conflict. While it does indeed reflect some contemporary conflicts, one need not take the symbolism beyond that. Doing so in this particular political season could easily drive some to mass murder, or at the least, insanity. It’s a movie, an entertaining movie, enjoy it!
In the Marvel universe, the Avengers and the individual members thereof, are mostly superhuman beings who deal with bad guys beyond the abilities of normal authorities. They are the only people that can do it, as in The Avengers (2012) where they actually save the world. Understand the significance of that. Without the Avengers, acting altruistically, risking their lives, controlled by no government or agency, the world would have been conquered and enslaved by hostile aliens. Hundreds of millions would have died. While people certainly died in The Avengers, the movie did not focus on that inevitable collateral damage, but on the heroism of the Avengers in saving the world. In the current iteration, heroism, loyalty, and honor are still very much on display, but in ways not as immediately obvious as in past films.
The movie opens with a relatively small group of Avengers stopping a vicious gang of mercenaries, led by the former Shield/Hydra agent badly burned at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In stopping the mercs, who are stealing a deadly biological weapon, which remains unnamed, but must be bad indeed, the evil, burned merc tries to blow up everyone, including hundreds of innocents. Elizabeth Olson as The Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff), stops him, but a handful of innocents are killed. All of the Avengers are seriously affected by that, but Captain America, of all people, understands that in war, innocents always die, an understanding missing in much of the rest of the movie by many of the characters who should know better.
This sets up the central conflict when the Avengers are visited by the Secretary of State, played by a slender William Hurt, who declares an ultimatum: accept absolute UN oversight or be treated as criminals. Captain America has the most rational viewpoint. He understands that the Avengers are truly a force for good, and that if they accept UN oversight, they might be forced to misuse their powers, or when they desperately need to act, might be prevented from acting. Tony Stark, on the other hand, driven by all of his many demons and guilt complexes, is determined everyone embrace their UN overseers, even though he is not a guy to takes direction well, as he later demonstrates. This plot arc demands people chose sides, and they do.
Obviously, there are parallels between the Marvel and actual universes. Who in their right mind would accept UN oversight of their very existence? In our universe, the Avengers would be wiping out Israel, establishing worldwide communism, punishing Islamophobia, and draining and redistributing all of America’s resources within weeks. In the Marvel Universe, however, the UN is portrayed, for a time, as a more benign, high-minded, actually effective and altruistic organization.
However, at the very meeting where the accord subjugating the Avengers is to take place, a bomb is set off, and The Winter Soldier, who is no longer under the evil mind control of Hydra, is framed for the murders. Before the movie ends, our heroes are manipulated in multiple ways, there are many plot twists, and we end with the Avengers separated, but with a way to once again, assemble.
The movie has some of the wry humor for which Marvel movies are famous, but not as much as many of the other movies. The emphasis is on action, and the action sequences are truly exceptional, except those of the opening scene where the kind of slightly out of focus, shaky camera work employed by directors who think it edgy is used. In reality, such tricks only make the action hard to follow, almost unsettling, though it doubtless can cover shaky fight choreography. Since the rest of the action scenes are properly filmed, the fight choreography outstanding, it’s hard to figure why the directors chose that lame technique to begin this movie.
Chris Evan excels as Captain America. It would be almost impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. The role could easily be thought corny by some, but Evans, with the help of good writing, makes patriotism cool again. He is unashamedly American, and the embodiment of all of the good that is America. Margaret Thatcher once said “Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy. Captain America represents that philosophy, those values. He recognizes that the Avengers must always stand for the rule of law and justice, but that when both have been corrupted, good men and women must restore it. Given the opportunity for vengeance when virtually anyone would think it justified, he takes the more noble, humane choice. Having the opportunity to kill Tony Stark after Stark has done his best to kill him, Captain America lets him live.
In this movie, he even, for just a moment, gets the girl. He discovers that former SHIELD agent/current CIA agent Sharon Carter, played by the lovely Emily VanKamp has a previously unknown personal connection to him. Their brief but passionate kiss draws one of the relatively few moments of heartfelt humor in the movie, though there is a cute Star Wars reference.
New to The Avengers is Paul Rudd as Antman, with a, as Donald Trump would say, “yuuuuge” surprise for viewers. Also new is Tom Holland, as Spiderman. Both play surprising and interesting roles, and the Spiderman of this movie is one that may inject new life into the character. Also new is Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, a very interesting character who, due to his inherent nobility–in more ways than one–aligns himself with Captain America, and provides several means for furthering the franchise (a solo Black Panther movie is due within the next few years). Anthony Mackie as Falcon takes several additional steps toward becoming Captain America’s sidekick.
In telling any compelling story, one must allow the writers some latitude with reality and logic. The very idea that all of the Avengers would not see the inherent dangers in allowing international bureaucrats power over their very lives, beggars belief, and many of them do end up abused and imprisoned. Guess who frees them?
In multiple attempts to capture The Winter Soldier–Captain America helps him escape–none of the cops or soldiers that try to capture them are killed, yet the authorities don’t wonder why someone that is supposed to be a brutal assassin is being helped by Captain America, nor do they wonder why he didn’t kill anyone when he easily could have.
On the other hand, the authorities demand control of The Avengers, supposedly because they violate international borders, and innocents get killed when they stop immensely powerful and dangerous bad guys, yet they seem unable to understand that if the Avengers did not act, millions would die, perhaps even the entire species. Following the logic of the plot, none of the Avengers bring this up either. No one points out to the Secretary of State, whose small role is basically that or an arrogant bureaucrat, that innocents will inevitably die when terrorists–to say nothing about god-like beings–attack innocents. The good can stand by and do nothing, or fight to prevent the deaths of millions; there is no middle ground. Nor do any of the Avengers, even Captain America, bring up the obvious: the UN is all about money, power, and the control of others, and it seldom acts for good. Much of its work around the world is characterized by corruption, rape, and the support of abject evil, as when its agencies allow terrorists to store weapons and fire on Israel from their properties. This is, however, the Marvel universe, and not ours.
Is it any wonder The Hulk, who tends to lay waste to cities when he fights, is not in this movie? He would not be impressed by international accords. “Hulk: smash!” yes. “Hulk: sign the accord!” Not so much.
Why, one wonders, doesn’t America give the Avengers credentials, law enforcement/military cover? Or is the America of the Marvel Universe like ours? Too successful, too affluent, too complacent, embroiled in corruption and instead of upholding the Constitution, allowing petty crooks, arrogant, self-imagined elites and would-be despots to usurp it? There are parallels, but again, it’s a movie.
Production values are first rate. The casting was very well done, with not an actor obviously unfit for their role. The acting was uniformly good, though there was little in the script to allow anyone to distinguish them self. Character development is essentially nonexistent, but again, this movie is about action. Tony Stark is a troubled, conflicted character at the beginning and end of the movie. Captain America is noble and willing to go it alone, to do whatever is required to do right, at the beginning and end. Stan Lee’s last minute cameo–he has one in every film–was delightfully funny.
Oh, and be sure to remain after the initial closing credits. As always, there is a brief addition to the story before the final closing credits.
Captain America: Civil War is, without a doubt, one of the best movies of its genre ever made, much better than much of what passes for entertainment at the cinema these days. It is worth seeing on the big screen, and absolutely worth having on DVD.