As a huge, huge, massively huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, you would think that I'd have seen Captain America: Civil War on opening day. And heaven only knows I wanted to so as to avoid spoilers that plague the internet... but work got in the way. Today I had to run an errand for work, and decided to see the film on the way back home.
And it. Was. Spectacular...
I'm putting my full comment in an extended entry so people who haven't seen it yet can do so... but, suffice to say, it's absolutely everything you want in a comic book movie. Go see it immediately.
For everybody else? Continue at your own risk...
I'm just going to come out and say it now, because I just can't top myself... this movie was a comic book lover's dream come true and the introduction of Black Panther and Spider-Man were flawless. Flawless. Which is as good excuse as any to run through my take on the characters in the film before getting to the story...
BLACK PANTHER. As a longtime fan of Black Panther, his note-perfect portrayal by the amazing Chadwick Boseman was expected, but I was still nervous. I just didn't see how they could do the character justice by shoe-horning him in a film filled with eleven other super-heroes. But hat's off to the Russo Brothers, because they somehow managed to not only do T'Challa justice, but also make him an integral part of the film. Almost shockingly so. He has a story arc and isn't just scenery. For Black Panther fans, there are some immutable facts about the character that cannot be glossed over... 1) He is the king of the country of Wakanda. 2) He is unfathomably wealthy (presiding over the only source of the most valuable mineral on earth). 3) He is from one of the most technically-advanced civilizations on the planet. 4) He is African and African culture is integral to the character. 5) He is super-humanly powerful, possessing lethal fighting skills. — And I'll be darned if the Russo's didn't manage to work all of that into the story. This is not some facsimile of the Black Panther depicted in a movie, it IS the Black Panther. And I cannot wait for his solo film.
SPIDER-MAN. I'm not a huge Spider-Man fan, but I did enjoy the first two films with Tobey Maguire (age 39). The Andrew Garfield (age 31) films were a giant step down, but still not entirely terrible. Where both films got it wrong, however, was by making Spider-Man too old. In the comics, Spider-Man is just a kid, and that's a huge part of what makes him so compelling. Civil War finally rectifies this by casting 19-year-old Tom Holland in the role. AND HE NAILS IT. All the wide-eyed wonder, enthusiasm, and thrill is there in every scene he appears. And then they gave him the most comic-faithful costume we've seen yet. What's new is how they tied his development to Tony Stark. It's Stark who figures out who Peter Parker is and drags him from obscurity. It's Stark who puts him in the super-hero world. It's Stark who creates his costume. And while that's not exactly faithful to the comic book... it feels very faithful to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You'd have thought that with Black Panther in the movie, Spider-Man would get shafted on story and screen-time, but I don't think that's true. I'm just thankful we didn't have to sit through his origin story for the hundredth time.
CAPTAIN AMERICA. Chris Evans so faithfully gets the vibe of Captain America that it's tough to imagine somebody else in the role. He nailed it in the first Cap film, solidified it in the Avengers flicks, and embodied the character completely in Winter Soldier. This time around, the entire film hinges on Evans' ability to make us believe in Captain America's stance on freedom, and he never waivers.
IRON MAN. If ever there was a showcase for the emotional weight Robert Downey Jr. brings to this role, here it is. In context of the story, he plays the "bad guy" but isn't a bad guy. That's a duality that could have failed miserably in the wrong hands. Lucky for us, the lynchpin of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in good hands. Stark appears in this film far more than I thought he would... Civil War could almost be said to be
BLACK WIDOW. Scarlett Johansson gets third billing in the movie which, given her critical place in the MCU, is well-deserved. Unfortunately, she wasn't put to best use here. Yes, she has a critical part... and an even more critical story beat... but we're getting nothing new. This is a disappointment after the meaty weight she was given to work with in Civil War, but the space for Black Panther and Spider-Man had to come from somewhere. Marvel has said they're committed to a Black Widow solo movie, which she needs (and frankly, deserves) so badly. It's about damn time.
HAWKEYE. Though Jeremy Renner was given a couple cool moments, it was fairly obvious that the sole reason Clint Barton was in this film was to balance out the team count for Captain America. Since he's essentially retired and off the grid, there are zero consequences for anything that happens in this film. Credit to the Russo brothers for one thing... his fight with Black Widow did provide a much-needed humor beat at the airport battle. I know that Hawkeye could conceivably be a big part of the Black Widow movie... but please, please, please can we get a Netflix series? Preferably written by Matt Fraction and following the comic book series? Despite being written off by just about everybody, Hawkeye can be a fantastic character in the right hands.
IRON PATRIOT. Rhodey gets a few bad-ass moments, but his purpose in the film was to suffer the consequences of the war. To this effect, Don Cheadle knocks it out of the park and, lucky for us, it's not by dying. In the absence of any more Iron Man films, I guess this is as good as it's going to get, which is a shame.
FALCON. If there's a misstep in Civil War, it's that Falcon gets so badly short-changed. He has nothing major to do, no story to tell, and no arc to push his character into new territory. One could argue that his small part in Ant-Man was more critical to the character, but we did get Redwing, at last (in the form of a drone) so I guess that's something. A part of me is dying for a Captain America and Falcon film, but I'm dreading it as well. I can only guess that such a movie will end with Captain Rogers' death and Sam Wilson becoming Captain America. I'm not ready for that, even though it would finally give Anthony Mackie something to do with the character.
WINTER SOLDIER. As the nexus for much of the film, The Winter Soldier manages to beautifully fill the role he has to play. Part of that is thanks to Sebastian Stan's brooding bad-boy interpretation of the character, but most of that had to do with the Russo's finding a way to fit his long history into a major plot point of Iron Man's past. While brilliant in so man ways (seriously, the last beat of the film makes no sense without it), it also felt like the hack it was. At the end of the film, Bucky was frozen again... hoping that one day Wakandan technology can find a way to remove the programming from his head... which is as good a way as any of "solving" the quandary of his character. Something tells me he'll be thawed out for The Infinity War, but a part of me thinks this is a good way to leave the character.
ANT-MAN. If there was a shock in Civil War, it was the rather crucial role Scott Lang played in the film's major airport battle. Not only did we get some terrific Ant-Man moments, we also got an incredible GIANT-MAN moment right out of the comics. Consider my mind blown. What I love is how Giant-Man was handled. They made him giant, yes, but he is a lumbering giant that moves a bit slow and exaggerated. They also made it clear that growing is something he can only do for a short time. These two "weaknesses" beautifully solve the problem of a having a powerful character that's too powerful and off-balance to work in stories. Needless to say, Paul Rudd... the best possible casting for the character... had a few awesome moments. Which is nice considering almost his entire performance was CGI. Really anxious for Ant-Man and the Wasp!
THE VISION. What we really need is a Scarlet Witch and Vision movie to fully explore everything that's going on with the character but, in lieu of that, the Russo's did their level best to grow the character within the confines of his small role. Vision wears "human" clothing when "off-duty" now, which implies a struggle to find humanity when you're not human. Since we've seen this so many times before in fiction (Data in Star Trek comes to mind), I guess they really don't need to go too deep... but, man, do I want to see Paul Bettany do more of that. His releationship with Scarlet Witch is touching in all the right ways, which is a nice nod to comic fans, but there's not much else going on. We get a better look at his density-shifting powers, sure, but the way they put a damper on Vision's considerable powers was to put him opposite Scarlet Witch as a "distraction," which worked... kinda... but was far from ideal.
SCARLET WITCH. In the comics, Scarlet Witch has nebulous, undefined, probablility-altering "hex" powers which are changed to suit whatever purpose they need for the story. This has always been a bit of a sticking point for me, but it's also an interesting element of the character. In the movies, it's more of the same, but harder to swallow. Elizabeth Olsen's Wanda can move stuff with telekinesis, which also allows her to fly and shoot energy blasts. This is put to good effect in Civil War. She also has some kind of telepathy/mind manipulation powers that aren't fully explained and, quite inexplicably, completely ignored in Civil War. In Avengers: Age of Ultron she was able to take out almost the entire team of Avengers by messing with their heads... which would be an important power to have in this movie... but nothing. Even if they had offered just a cursory explanation as to why she no longer uses these abilities, that would have been preferable to just forgetting about them. I spent a big chunk of the film wondering what in the hell happened. In the major plot-event, Wanda makes a mistake that sets everything in motion. A mistake that could have been entirely avoided had she took over Crossbones' mind. But no? Why?
And, on with the show...
So often in comic books, the villain is a massive powerhouse threat that is about as subtle as a nuclear bomb. The tact that the Russo brothers took for Civil War was exactly opposite. They took the outlandish "Baron Zemo" from the Cap comics...
And turned him into Count Zemo, which is this...
A much more subtle behind-the-scenes character that manipulates the Avengers into destroying themselves rather than coming up with some kind of brute-force attack. So far as villains go, I have to say I like this take. It's a little too pat how everything falls into place, but suspension of belief is what makes comic book movies work, and so...
Zemo's entire family was killed during The Avenger's battle with Ultron in Sarkovia. Because of this, he decides to destroy Earth's mightiest heroes just as he was destroyed by the result of their actions. This is achieved entirely via manipulation after discovering that it was Captain America's best friend... a brainwashed Winter Soldier... who killed Iron Man's parents.
Along the way we are treated to some nice action beats... the most jaw-dropping being the now-famous "airport battle" between Team Cap and Team Iron Man at Leipzig/Halle International Airport in Germany. This... this... is everything you want in a comic book movie. Fantastic characters with fantastic powers battling it out in a way that no other movie can deliver. And boy does this deliver. The nods to the source material are legion, but my favorite would have to be Hawkeye shooting an arrow with Ant-Man on the arrowhead. That's so "comic book" it hurts...
The way this battle comes together... the way it escalates with the unexpected appearance of Giant-Man... the way it ends with Iron Patriot going down... it's all just so delicious. This is the culmination of every comic book film that's come before, and it raises the stakes in a way that's mind-boggling.
After the airport battle, the MacGuffin of the five evil Winter Soldiers that Cap and Bucky are chasing down would be my favorite part of Civil War. The entire movie seems to be culminating in a massive showdown of Cap & Bucky versus Zemo and the super-powered Russians... and then you have the rug pulled out from under you when Cap & Bucky arrive to find that Zemo killed all five evil Winter Soldiers. The real battle for Cap & Bucky is with... Iron Man.
And had I not already seen the scenes with Cap & Sucky battling it out with Iron Man 2-on-1, it would have come as a complete surprise too.
Are there problems with this movie? Of course. You can't juggle this many balls and not drop one or two... but they're not even worth exploring. As a whole, Captain America: Civil War is absolutely perfect, and I loved it.
And Doctor Strange is next up in November.
Lord have mercy.
Time to update my "Y2K Super-Hero Comic Book Renaissance" scorecard with a movie that broke the scale...
The Avengers... A+
The Avengers: Age of Ultron... A
Batman Begins... A
Batman Dark Knight... A+
Batman Dark Knight Rises... A
Big Hero Six... A+
Blade 2... B
Blade Trinity... B-
Captain America... A+
Captain America: The Winter Soldier... A+
Captain America: Civil War... A++
Daredevil (Director's Cut)... B+
Fantastic Four... C
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer... D
Guardians of the Galaxy... A+
Ghost Rider... C
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance... D
Green Hornet... D
Green Lantern... C+
Hellboy 2: Golden Army... A
Incredible Hulk... B
The Incredibles... A+
Iron Man... A+
Iron Man 2... A-
Iron Man 3... A+
Jonah Hex... F
Kick-Ass 2... B-
Man of Steel... F-
Punisher War Zone... C
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World... C
Spider-Man 2... A
Spider-Man 3... D-
Amazing Spider-Man... B
Amazing Spider-Man 2... B-
Superman Returns... C+
Thor: The Dark World... A
The Wolverine... B
X-Men 2: United... D
X-Men 3: Last Stand... F-
X-Men Origins: Wolverine... D
X-Men: Days of Future Past... B-
X-Men: First Class... B