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Monday
May092016

Review: Avengers 3 aka "Captain America: Civil War"

This review was originally published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad. It is reprinted here in a slightly expanded version.

Captain America and his man, the Winter Soldier

Poor Captain America. You know how it is. You’re frozen in a block of ice and when you wake up several decades later the world has gotten so complicated! Everyone you loved is dead except your 96 year old girlfriend with Alzheimers (Agent Peggy Carter) and your brainwashed homicidal boyfriend (Bucky/The Winter Soldier) who is totally ghosting you.

New friends are plentiful but also trouble. Either they have two faces (Black Widow/Agent 13) or they’re constantly vanishing for personal reasons (Thor/Hulk/Hawkeye) so you totally can’t rely on them.

Or maybe they aren’t your friends at all. Take Iron Man, causing you grief. (Remember that whole Ultron mishegoss? Totally his fault!)

Captain America vs The Black Panther

Due to expert handling of the world’s most beloved super soldier by both Marvel Studios and Chris Evans over multiple films somehow this is all terribly relatable. It’s hard not to feel for Steve Rogers as we return to him just when the s*** is hitting the fan again.

See, at the beginning of Captain America: Civil War The Avengers accidentally cause a building to explode in the nation of Wakanda and civilians are killed. The accident kickstarts a global government debate about how to keep Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in check. Before the team can do damage control tragedy strikes again - The Winter Soldier has apparently gone on a new killing spree. Steve can’t believe his beloved Bucky would do that but everyone else is totally all ‘yup, sounds like him’.

Enter Prince T’Challa, aka The Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, commanding and thoughtful) who wants to avenge his people. Captain America can’t have that because Bucky is his friend!  Honestly, are superheroes more trouble than they’re worth?


Oh, for the nostalgia of simpler times. Captain America has had a hard time adjusting to the modern world but that’s because he isn’t from it.  While nearly all of the Marvel superheroes that dominate pop culture today were created in the turbulent 1960s (X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, you name it) and quickly changed comic books with their personal angst & character flaws, Captain America made his first appearance way back in 1941. Those were less confusing days when even foreigners like Superman and Wonder Woman were patriotic for America and always on the right side of every fight. The bad guys were easy to spot, too, because they had their skulls on the outside of their faces or were wearing Nazi uniforms.

So, Happy 75th Anniversary, Captain America! To celebrate you’re going to war with all of your new friends over the Sokovia Accords, which will basically put a leash on supers, requiring them to act only with the approval of a United Nations council.

 This movie assigns homework

Half of the Avengers, including Captain America, think this is a terrible idea and half are all “Where do I sign?” and thus the infighting begins. The fight begins with words (so many words for a superhero movie!) and then with fists… and shields… and claws (Hellooo, Black Panther. Very exciting to meet you) and energy bolts… and spiderwebs (yes, it’s true: New Spider-Man is bliss)… and arrows … and disorienting shrinking… and whatever it is that Scarlet Witch and Vision are doing because nobody understands that.

The superhero genre is often compared to the western and for easy to spot reasons: there are the clearly delineated lines between good and evil (even signified by costumes when deeds aren’t enough), the moody loner hero who runs toward trouble rather than away from it, showdowns and duels as the ultimate arbiter of justice, and (sigh) the women being mostly decorative.


But if the superhero movie is the new Western we’re obviously moving into the late John Ford years and towards the Clint Eastwood era when everything became more introspective, politically troubling, and the arid yellow landscapes went all grey with moral murkiness and even regret about the violence.

Less than two months ago DC/Warner Bros’ Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (reviewed) wrung its hands wondering what could be done about the collateral damage of super-battles. And now it’s Marvel/Disney’s turn to sweat it out over the mass casualties.

The difference this time is a) the movie is not garbage b) the action is coherent and c) it makes sense for these particular characters to behave in these particular ways because the movie is true to their personalities and not a gross misrepresentation of everything they stand for (but enough about Superman!) .

The end result, curiously, is much the same: by forcing movie audiences to confront the particulars of what visual mayhem would do to our real world within this fantasy context (why?) the movie studios are taking much of the fun out of the spectacle. And the spectacle is the whole reason for the genre! In one battle sequence a hero rips the wing off of a grounded plane to fight with it and instead of feeling a gleeful “wow!” at the action I found myself distracted thinking “who is going to pay for that?!” which is really not what you should be thinking when watching a superhero film.


What is going on here? Do movie studios feel guilty about all the money they’re making from CGI spectacles of destruction?! I’d love to report that Captain America Civil War is the best Marvel Studios film yet, because that’s what I’ve been reading and probably what you’ve been hearing, too. But I cannot. As noble Steve Rogers himself says (paraphrasing here) in all earnestness, in one of the key scenes:

Doesn’t matter if the whole world decides that something wrong is something right. When they tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree and tell the whole world… ‘no, you move.’

My conscience prevents me from getting caught up in the hype and declaring this The Best. It’s the least focused on Captain America (the best character in these films) because it’s essentially The Avengers 3: The Sokovia Accords.

While it’s a huge relief that Civil War only makes one reference to those damn Infinity Stones (by the time that story happens it’ll be totally anti-climactic) and the Russo brothers in the directors chair show a fairly deft hand at balancing a dozen characters and keeping the action exciting, elsewhere there’s a bit of flailing.

The villain, as in most Marvel films, is worthless. The setup for the Sokovia Accords takes forever which also tries the patience. We know all along where the film is heading and unless every future film gets bogged down in the Accords (unlikely, else the heroes will be criminals in every film going forward) it’s a MacGuffin anyway. And while each action sequence has its own thrilling moments and structure they’re uniformly sparse and low rent visually. Perhaps it’s the overcast minimalism of the grey sterile sets: airport hangars, plain stairwells, empty apartments, ancient science labs; it’s like the studio didn’t want to pay ANY extras this time around and wanted to repurpose their own abandoned sets.

When the ending arrives 2½ hours later you’re left with the feeling of “….and?”

It’s as if Marvel has given up telling whole stories at this point and knows that we’re all a captive audience bingewatching a supersized TV series together in movie theaters. Despite Civil War‘s deft handling of comic asides to keep the tone light, it’s a little sad and incomplete. The overall effect is contemplative rather than thrilling. That miserable reflection feeling has worked wonders before in franchise films like The Empire Strikes Back and The Two Towers but they were middle films in trilogies with a clear ending in sight. Civil War is the umpteenth film in a series possibly without end so its deployment is not quite as satisfying.


To leave you on a happier note, my 10 favorite beats in the films.
OBVIOUSLY SPOILERS FOLLOW

  • "Are we still friends?" (Scarlett Johansson forever people.) 
  • Also her mid-fight Team-Switch. Ever the double agent.
  • The Vision's sweaters. I mean...
  • Ant-Man touching Steve's chest while admiring his muscles (But why does the camera stay on the faces? Argh! The joke would've been so much funnier in medium shot.)
  • Ant-Man's surprise super size move and Iron Man's follow up quip
  • Spider-Man's awestruck joy at everything that's happening and Falcon's annoyance "there's not usually this much talking"
  • Tony's armored hand blocking Winter Soldier's bullet (even after seeing it a gajillion times in the trailer, it still packs a wallop of agonized 'it's come to this?' betrayal)
  • The Empire Strikes Back reference when Spider-Man webs up Ant-Man's legs
  • The linear rush of that Captain America chasing Black Panther chasing Winter Soldier battle
  • That gloriously showy but weirdly serene moment mid final battle when we see Captain America and Iron Man locked in immobile battle with only the shield between them.


Grade: B (B-?)
Oscar Chances: It's not likely to break the mold for Marvel films (which get either 1 nomination or none - Iron Man was the exception with 2 nominations) though you have to assume, given the critical raves, that's it's in the running for at least one but whether that singular nod comes from Visual FX, Sound Mixing, or Sound Editing we can't yet know. It depends on how the rest of the year goes and on whether or not Doctor Strange hits a magical sweet spot

Related:
Top Ten 2014 Captain America: Winter Soldier is the only Marvel Studios film to make my annual top ten list... though not the first superhero film. Superman II (1980... though I haven't seen much from that year), Batman Returns (1992), Spider-Man 2 (2002), X2 (2003...but that was a weak year), and The Incredibles (2004) also made the top ten in their years. Marvel Studios has the happy/sad problem of being consistently strong but almost never truly great.

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Reader Comments (18)

I know that this film will likely be ghetto-ized into tech categories. But given its audience and critical support (has about a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) it deserves to be in the conversation for Best Picture. It's just that good.

May 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMatt St.Clair

A very entertaining entry in the MCU, but NOT "the best superhero film yet" it's being touted as. It has plenty of thrills, laughs, surprises, fan service, WTF moments... and I simply love hanging out with these superfolks. And there's no doubt that it ticks off another box in the shrinking comics-to-film checklist: beautifully done battle between a really large group of heroes, just like in the old Marvel books!

But while it labored mightily to be "relevant", it just didn't have the shockingly believable real-world analogues that CA: The Winter Soldier did. (E.g., Dr. Zola's algorithm to predict which people would become threats based on their Internet activity, and kill them from the computer-controlled helicarriers before they even become threats... that's terrifyingly close to where I'm afraid we're heading!) And as Nathaniel observed, it fell into the same mass-destruction-is-bad... but-such-fun-to-watch! trap as Batman V Superman.

Too long, somewhat confused in trying to make valid points on both sides of the question, and perhaps a bit too overstuffed with characters to be a proper Captain America film. Having said that: it IS a very good start for the Black Panther and new kid Spider-Man. (Though I'd prefer a slightly older Aunt May.)

So... Let's hoist a glass in honor of the memory of our beloved Peggy Carter!

(Question: How can 30-ish Sharon Carter be 97-ish Peggy's niece? And quite apart from the age issue, didn't the Agent Carter series establish that Peggy's only brother died back in WWII? Couldn't they have made her Peggy's great-grand-niece, or second/third cousin once/twice removed, or some other, somewhat more believably distant relative?)

May 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDoctor Strange

My favorite beats are the character parts (I try to conscientiously watch the action sequences, but it can feel like homework).

I did love Falcon's suit in action, so cool! And Falcon & Cap's friendship, Anthony Mackie is great.

Sebastian Stan is so cute (sorry), I could look at him all day. And I appreciate the way his acting professionalism and skills break through my gaze to make me think about the character.

Emily Van Camp, I've missed you. So glad to see you again.

One of the best Stan Lee cameos.

Sometimes Spider-Man gets too angsty and self-pitying for me. This Spider-Man take as bright and enthusiastic is welcome. It's Cap who paved the way showing how positive qualities are interesting and lively.

I'm more ambivalent about:

I don't want Don Cheadle sidelined in future films.

For pity's sake: more women!
Not enough Black Widow.

I don't remember/ understand Vision and Scarlet Witch's powers, although I like them.

Black Panther didn't quite click for me- yet. A vengeful loner plus a male hereditary one-precenter, idk. I'd kind of like to see his ring being passed to his sister, or his aunt, or his grandmother. But maybe in his own movie, we'll get some strong female characters alongside this good actor.

And I also raise my glass to the memory of our beloved Peggy Carter.

May 9, 2016 | Unregistered Commenteradri

It was all over the place, as I knew it would be, but still entertaining despite its predictability. The villain was terrible as usual. The Sharon Carter character was a joke - seriously, why isn't she in jail too? Do you mean that between Iron Man and Colonel Striker, sorry, General Ross, they couldn't figure out who was helping the Avengilantes? T'Challa was the new main attraction with the coolest super suit in the MCU. Black Widow switched sides, something everyone knew was coming. And finally, another great car chase sequence. Captain America + high speed chases = magic.

Here were the two biggest surprises for me:

- Spider-Man was awesome. I assumed the worst when we discovered Spidey would be introduced here but it turned out to be the best side-story in the movie and I can't wait to see the Tony and Peter show. Speaking of...

- This was RDJ's best performance as Tony Stark since the first Iron Man. So much better than the Avengers films. I wonder if this was the work of the Russos - if the audience is truly going to feel conflicted between the two heroes, we have to feel at least close to the same empathy and understanding of Tony's situation. The twist was very well done, and I totally bought the rage beyond reason - I would feel the same way too.

As for the MCU, it did what it was supposed to do - get me excited for Black Panther and Spider-Man. It's true, this has become an extended television series at the cinema, but I don't care, it's still awesome.

May 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

Well it was clearly the most Jason-Bourne-Manhunt-Through-Europe of the Marvel Movies.

SPOILERS:

I had a few issues with it. The pacing was all off, way too slow in some parts and way too fast in others. And the narrative kept jumping around the globe without much time to linger in one place.

Another huge problem was that some of the characters' motivations made no sense. Why would Sharon Carter (side note: is this confirmation that Peggy's brother is indeed alive, as hinted at in the Agent Carter finale?) ever risk SO MUCH for something that I don't quite understand (why was Cap so invested in getting to Bucky before authorities even before he found out the truth?) Sharon's whole character was introduced as someone who will do her job at all costs (except in this movie where she repeatedly sabotages her job).

Black Panther and Spider-man are secret-identity vigilantes, so why would they be on the pro-Accords side? And Tony Stark has just gotten to be too much of a villain to even tolerate his sob story and eventual heroics anymore. He is literally the reason Ultron was created (Cap and Wanda fought him to try to prevent him from making it) but he thinks the group needs government oversight? HE IS THE BAD SEED. None of the characters ever really point that out. These are just a couple examples of things that made no narrative sense, which was frustrating.

But my most important issue was that this was supposed to be Cap's conclusion, and they made it so much about Iron Man, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Winter Soldier, Falcon, etc. etc. Not that this is inherently a bad thing (The Winter Soldier focused on Black Widow and Nick Fury almost as much as Cap, and that is by far the best Marvel movie), but this series deserved more of a personal narrative for Cap as its conclusion. Civil War should have been an Avengers movie.

The Russos have very little time to correct their incoherent character juggling before Infinity War, which is going to have a lot more going on than this. Joss was truly a master of that.

Positives:
Cap and the helicopter -- WOW
Black Widow continues to be the best part of the MCU
That they're not killing off villains, good to introduce them and then have them come back stronger in another movie
It seems like this will be consequential to the relationships and dynamics in the future
That final scene of Cap saying he puts his trust in people and they haven't let them down was magnificent. He really goes all in protecting people he loves and ideas he believes in. These movies have absolutely captured that
Hawkeye has become a much better character since Thor/Avengers now that they are writing to Jeremy Renner's talents
I wouldn't be surprised if we got a Scarlet Witch and Vision movie soon...
Tom Holland and Chadwick Boseman were both excellent, looking forward to their movies (Even if Spider-Man 2 is the most perfect superhero movie of all time and could never be topped)

May 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Spider Man 2 still is the best super hero movie!

And BTW, I'M BACK IN THE PRESIDENCE, BITCHES!

May 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDILMA

Also, was the "Dot" who Steve and Bucky were talking about a reference to Agent Carter's glorious Dotty character..?

May 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Let me summarize: the film is great, and the best of the MCU so far, in my book.

The comic-book it's based on, it's even better. This should have been 3 movies or 4, 2 hours each, and one of them should have been exclusively Wolverine searching for the ultimate responsible for everything that unfolds (after a super battle kills hundreds of children at a school)... really daring twist there, very dark and very deep.

May 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

Nat
Waiting for your review on The Family Fang please :)

May 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMontage

Guardians of the Galaxy got two noms too.

May 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterN8

The "why" for these films in particular is that you can't have 20 films without any greater dramatic arc. The "why" for Batman V Superman was because people hated the way the character was so glaring in his violence and destruction and they needed to address it.

I really liked the movie. So much so that - yet again - I wished it wasn't tied to the MCU so heavily. It will be frustrating in 20 years if people go to watch these movies and realize they have to also sit through five others plus a TV series just to make heads or tails of it. It is basically a glorified Avengers movie - or CAPTAIN AMERICA VS IRON MAN, but somebody stole a similar title earlier this year - and I want a Captain America movie. I don't want Iron Man there so much. As enjoyable as Black Panther and even Spider-Man was, a ten-minute diversion to watch Tony Stark recruit Peter Parker? You're no longer a Captain America movie, you are an Avengers movie that is working with several other franchises to be coherent. It bugged me despite enjoying most of what was going on.

I loved the reappearance of Paul Rudd as Ant-Man. The further we get away from it, the more refreshing his stand alone movie was. I hope its sequel doesn't fall into the same old traps of other Marvel movies. His big surprise of being super-sized was a delight and the best visual effect in the whole movie. I thought the vfx were the best of the entire Marvel franchise. So more seamless than before. Bodies look (almost always) like real bodies. I loved the Bucharest fight scene, especially the segment in the stairwell, because it felt like bodies on bodies throwing real punches and used the space really well.

May 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

It was ok to me. I liked the big airport scene and Spider-Man and Black Panther were nice additions but I think I'm getting a bit worn out. It would be nice if Scarlet Witch went all House of M and was like "No. More. Superheroes" and they take a whole year or two off from releasing superhero movies.

Also I really want Scarlet Witch's powers. She's basically the Jean Grey that we all wanted from the X-Men movies even if her powers are kinda different in the comics.

May 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

I loved it.

Agree it's definitely more of an Avengers movie than a Captain America movie.

I loved Black Panther, Spidey & Ant Man, they felt fresh and new and earned their place.

Black Widow was MVP again. WHEN will she get her own movie?

Scarlett Witch, Vision and Don Cheadle are just filler. Sorry about it, but they are. Cut them out, they add nothing.

May 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJB

Surprisingly enough, by the end of the movie, I am #TeamIronMan

May 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

I also enjoyed the clash between Captain America and Iron Man. I am from #TeamCaptain. The movie is very entertaining Specially Captain America and his costume. And finally I found it here www.angeljackets.com

May 24, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Robert

I did not like this movie. I wanted a third Captain America movie and I got a third Avengers movie, which is nearly dominated by Iron Man. What the hell, Marvel? Why did you do this? Why couldn't you have allowed the third Captain America movie to be about Steve Rogers and his relationships with Sam, Bucky and Sharon? Why couldn't you have used this movie to round out a trilogy regarding Steve's clashes with HYDRA?

Why stuff an Avengers film into a Captain America movie . . . and nearly allow Tony Stark to dominate the movie? Why did we have to sit and watch Tony recruit Peter Parker for a good ten minutes or so and not allowed a scene in which Steve recruits Clint Barton and Scott Lang? Why did you ruin the second or third HYDRA villain by making him some Sokovian intelligence soldier, who wanted revenge for what happened in "AGE OF ULTRON"? Why?

The movies involving Captain America - "THE FIRST AVENGER" and especially "THE WINTER SOLDIER" have been among my favorite. And Marvel, you screwed it all up. Thanks a lot!

June 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRosie

Excellent part. I was delighted! You can see it here http://xmovies8.watch/3069-captain-america-civil-war-2016-3.html

August 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterann

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