Mark Reviews Movies

Captain America: Civil War


3 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Daniel Brühl, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, William Hurt, Martin Freeman, Frank Grillo, Marisa Tomei, John Slattery, Hope Davis, John Kani

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem)

Running Time: 2:27

Release Date: 5/6/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 5, 2016

By the end of Captain America: Civil War, there are no more pure heroes. The superheroes who are the central focus of the film make poor decisions, form questionable alliances, and/or display and act upon the sort of selfish motivations that we typically associate with the villains of these stories.

The film's villain, by the way, seems to have the standard-issue plan for world domination, but the truth of his motive is far simpler, more understandable, and decidedly human. After so many of these movies have relied upon a generic villain with a world-threatening plan to arbitrarily raise the stakes of the story, it's refreshing to see one of these films actively toy with the notion. More importantly, though, the villain becomes a reflection of a couple of the heroes. If we can say that the story's villain somewhat resembles the heroes, certainly we can also state that the heroes end up looking a bit like the villain.

All of this complexity doesn't fully reveal itself until the film's climax, which reduces the scale of the conflict to a very personal fight. Still, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely's screenplay builds to it throughout the film, even as it takes a few too many detours to continue to expand the scope of the overarching universe that these Marvel movies have been constructing. Does this film need to include all of the superheroes that make appearances here, especially when the climax only depends upon three of the 11 superheroes that the film includes? It doesn't, but for once, some of those diversions are effective, particularly when the film introduces us to a new incarnation of a certain web-slinging hero and offers an inventively staged battle royal between two competing factions of superheroes.

The scope of the series' universe is, perhaps, necessary in this particular instance, because this film is about the consequences of a world in which superheroes have free rein to do whatever they see fit (Despite the title, the film stops feeling like another Captain America story fairly early). So far, the results have been disastrous, as city after city has fallen victim to some climactic battle. Here, the heroes are forced to watch the consequences of their actions from the ground level, as edifices fall in various metropolises and, during the prologue, an exploding bad guy kills a group of innocent people after one of the heroes unwittingly launches the villain toward a building.

The superhero movie develops a conscience here, and the resulting battle between factions is a fight over how to proceed from the moral conclusion that everyone has drawn: When left to their own devices, "enhanced humans" are potentially dangerous. Everyone believes these super-powered individuals should take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans), believes that superheroes can and should police themselves, lest they become caught up in the political morass of wrong action or inaction. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., offering new layers to a character that seemed to have become static), believes that an outside body with oversight should be in control of what the ever-growing team of the Avengers does. He assumes that it's only a matter of time—and an inevitably higher casualty count—before that body leaves them no choice in the decision.

The schism between the two heroes and their respective allies deepens with the return of the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), a mind-controlled assassin who was once—and still may be—Rogers' best friend Bucky. Rogers wants to protect his old friend, and Stark, under orders from the U.S. government and the United Nations, wants to bring him in for prosecution.

Lines are drawn. Old characters, such as Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and War Machine (Don Cheadle), return. New ones, such as the vengeance-seeking Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and the villainous Zemo (Daniel Brühl), are introduced. Vision (Paul Bettany) remains a nearly-omnipotent bore while he tries to assuage the guilt of house-arrested Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Even the absence of certain characters, which is typically treated as a joke in these movies, means something: The Secretary of Defense (William Hurt) equates the Avengers being unable to account for two of their members to the United States losing track of a pair of nuclear weapons.

We get what we expect—the action sequences, which are diverse and finely choreographed—and what we don't—the tough ideological and ethical questions of what the role of superheroes should be in a world that, in some ways, they possibly may have made worse. In the midst of a kinetic sequence that pits the conflicting sides of heroes against each other, we even get a gag of two tiny-animal-inspired heroes—Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Spider-Man (a pitch-perfect Tom Holland, combining the aw-shucks wonder and amusing awkwardness of being a teenage superhero)—duking it out on an airport tarmac. Within the full picture of that sequence, directors Anthony and Joe Russo let the characters show off their skills and indulge in their gimmicks without abandoning logistical cohesion or losing the central idea that there are consequences to the chaos.

There's a lot going on here (as is becoming the norm with these movies, perhaps too much), but it's balanced by the fact that there's a lot to digest, too. Captain America: Civil War may look as if it's made from and operate as if it's beholden to the mold of the regular, old superhero movie, but it doesn't feel that way. Even superheroes cannot always save the day. There are some battles that no one wins.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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