"Captain America: Civil War" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime: 147 minutes
Review by: JJ Mortimer
Arguably the best of the Avengers-based films, Captain America: Civil War is the biggest, most thematically relevant of the series, thanks in great part to the deft hand at direction from brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, who manage to balance large-scale epic action and entertainment with poignant dialogue, character development, and high-stakes superhero drama.
The sign of a great director(s) is balance - the ability to draw audiences to the edge of their seat and ultimately sitting them back in relief; the ability to make them laugh one moment and then cry a few minutes later; and in the case of Civil War, being able to present one of the biggest and best superhero fight scenes ever presented while also finding time and purpose for each and every of the dozen characters involved in the mayhem.
I loved this film to death. The giddiness of seeing the first pairing of characters in the 2012s Avengers had initially passed, but what I saw was a more adult motion picture that had the confidence to take more than double the amount of characters and give each and every one of them a moment to shine. Even without having seen the prior films with which many of them were introduced (Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man, for instance), the audience is still able to get a grasp on the powers and purposes of heroes like Vision, the Scarlet Witch, and low-scale outlaw Scott Lang. This is a film that has confidence in its audience, even introducing us to the next incarnation of Spider-Man without resorting to yet another origin story (we see him with Aunt May, but no Uncle Ben, meaning that part of the story has already been established, thankfully).
Despite its epic scale and feeling like a third Avengers film with its scope of character and dramatic consequences, Civil War is still a Captain America film at heart. Continuing where Winter Soldier left off, the film keeps a centered focus on Steve Rogers and his search to find his friend Bucky, and learn the truth about the Winter Soldier program that turned his friend into a wanted terrorist and super-powered, brain-washed villain.
Going into the film and knowing what I knew about the Civil War story arc and how the government wants control on superheroes who are at times classified as "weapons of mass destruction," I knew I was going to side with Captain America. But what this film and the writers do that truly amazed me was, for the first time that I can remember, we have a film where people could be on both sides of the argument without there being a clear "good guy" or "bad guy." Each and every character who chooses what side they are on are clearly doing so with purpose and their personal influence. Specific scenes have some of the smartest, most relevant pieces of dialogue I've heard about government control (or lack thereof) that I've ever seen in a motion picture. The film's writers, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, took a staggering task of writing a film that easily could have seen Tony Stark as the bad guy, but instead gave him and all of the people he influenced good cause for their choices, while also giving Captain America's side a damn good reason to be where they are in the political division.
The action scenes are mostly shot well by cinematographer Trent Opaloch, who thankfully takes "giant" action and allows us to see every bit of movement clearly without all the shaky cam bullshit (a technique he used that ultimately ruined some of my experience in the film Elysium, which he at times implores in the smaller chase sequences in this film). The initial "Civil War" battle between heroes is understandable and smart, with each character having checks and balances over each other (no hero is overpowered, with one or another having a power that seems to counter another hero's power, and vice-versa), with some surprises to comic fans thrown in for good measure. The inclusion of Black Panther fit well into the story, with his character introduction and origin being at the foreground during the initial event that puts the story into play.
Small tidbits may irk a few fans and purists, such as Stark's involvement in the story of Spider-Man (namely his costume), but in the scope of the what the Avengers-based films have done, it works without taking away any of the genius or intelligence of Peter Parker. The film's musical score, from composer Henry Jackman, doesn't stand out as well as a score should have in a film of this magnitude, but underscores the action giving it the little bravado it required.
If you pay attention to the smaller scenes throughout the film (specifically the first time we see Tony Stark presenting new technology involving extraction of memory, and a final scene involving Bucky and Steve), you may begin to piece together certain story elements that may come into play in the future. I've come to realize that there is never a wasted scene in a Marvel film - no bullshit "oh hey let's just do this because it looks cool" scenes. Everything has a purpose, and producer Kevin Feige must have this thing time-lined harder than the producers of ABC's Lost ever did. Even one of Bucky's Manchurian Candidate-like code words for activation highlights the subtitle to Marvel's standalone Spider-Man film, Homecoming.
Overall, the film surprised me even though I had HUGE expectations going into my viewing. Marvel continuously knocks their productions out of the park by finding the right directors, writers, and stars for each of their projects. While Civil War may seem like a platform for future films (namely stand-alone films for Black Panther, Spider-Man, and the next Avenges team up), it is still a rather contained story that presents huge consequences that will ripple through future films, either bringing the Avengers closer together, or tearing them further apart.
Captain America: Civil War is a worthy continuation of Marvel Studios' insistence upon making humorous, entertaining, and relevant comic book films. On an entertainment level, as well as a dramatically-and-politically relevant standpoint, Civil War should do epic, Avengers-level numbers at the box office. It's that good.