Captain America: Civil War - Thoughts & Observations
There's plenty of Captain America : Civil War (CA:CW) reviews out there that cover the film well. I don't have much of a desire to try and reproduce another, and you don't need it. Instead, I hope to simply share some thoughts and observations regarding some aspects important to me as well as others I've yet to come across (though very well may be out there somewhere).
Disclaimer: The following review contains spoilers of all shapes and sizes. Bail now if you haven't seen the film and desire to avoid spoilers both major and mild. This review is designed for those who have seen the film, but all are welcome!
CA:CW is the 13th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). One could reasonably expect some fatigue to be setting in, but CA:CW keeps things fresh while reminding us the best is yet to come. The already broad strengths of the MCU are widened while also adding some new depth. It's not a perfect film (are there any?), but I'm convinced this is the pinnacle of the MCU thus far, and it's quite an achievement by all those involved.
I love the cinematography utilized in the film. The hand held "shaky cam" used early on is effective at capturing intense and frenetic combat. Thankfully, the action is also well choreographed because without it, the "shaky cam" creates a nausea-inducing mess when given a whirl in other films. The style varies throughout the film which keeps things fresh. The airport sequence is a great switch up with its steadier shots and much more expansive frames. I think the 3D format is worthless, but if you haven't seen it in IMAX, or whatever substitute you have, go now!
I'm really pleased they decided to include Steve's "No, you move" speech from the Civil War comics. I'm even more pleased they chose Peggy as the author of the speech and had Sharon quote it during Peggy's funeral. It was a moving moment and just what Steve needed to hear. Steve was clearly against the Accords, but his friends and allies were divided, so doubt and uncertainty had crept in. Peggy was his love but also his only reliable connection (Bucky was MIA) to his WW2/Greatest Generation/Black and White world that, consciously or not, serves as a schema for him to navigate life. If, at this point, there was a chance of Steve reconsidering, Peggy, via Sharon, squashed it. Hear! Hear!
The film is packed with characters old and new. Ambition is never in short supply. This is territory in which film makers often experience failure. Markus, McFeely, and the Russo Brothers bit off a huge bite. Thankfully, for them, us, and Marvel, they have the teeth to handle it. Every character is there for a reason. Some of those reasons are small but they're reasons nonetheless. Whether words, actions, or both, the contributions of each character all serve the film in some way. They all end the film in a different place than they started. Whether literal or figurative, physical or emotional, ideological or relational, or all of the above, everyone has an arc, big or small.
There's been much talk about this really being a 3rd Avengers film or Avengers 2.5 but I feel this is an unnecessary designation to make. Granted, the majority of the crew are present but their presence doesn't automatically make this an Avenger film. In fact, at this point in the long-form story, it makes perfect sense to have most of the team present for Steve's film. Each character brings something different to the team. Steve has many attributes but his most important one has nothing to do with being a super soldier; rather, it's Steve's steadfast leadership and conviction, present prior to his serum, that binds the Avengers. A leader leads. It only then makes sense that in his story he's allowed to remain a leader. Whether it's the Howling Commandos, The Avengers, or Sam and Natasha, Steve is always leading a team in his films. He's not left alone for long. Even Tony knows that Steve is the boss.
"What do we do?" Steve is asked by Sam at the airport. We all know that, regardless of the call, they're going to follow him. "We fight," he says, and so they do.
Queens. Never before have I been so excited to see a title card. Yet, this is also such a tense moment in the film. It's not intended to be, but so much is riding on Spider-Man's MCU debut and the "Queens" title card announces that the moment has arrived. Spider-Man is my most beloved character, Marvel or otherwise. Not long after the inception of the MCU, turmoil hit Sony's Raimi/Maguire Spider-Man franchise. The 4th entry into the series was dumped and it was soon revealed that Sony would reboot. I'm a big fan of what Raimi/Maguire accomplished but the thought of starting over fresh during the early years of the MCU was exciting. I nurtured a baseless hope that we might see Spidey swing into MCU. This was obviously a pipe dream and the Webb/Garfield films were severely disappointing. Soon they were abandoned, and news broke that I had hoped for five years earlier was coming to pass. On February 9, 2015, rumors became reality: Spidey was coming home.
Upon learning that a new actor would be cast and they intended to go young, I immediately began searching for possibilities. I felt like a young girl anxiously flipping through pages of thousands of Tiger Beat magazines (Do they still make those?). After just a few weeks, I stumbled upon just the right one. Tom Holland. With each day, I became more and more convinced he was perfect for the part. I should have known I was setting myself up for disappointment, right? It wasn't until May that he was revealed to be on a very shortlist of actors up for the role. This was an equally thrilling and terrifying moment. Up until this point, the idea of Holland was wishful thinking. It was then revealed as a legitimate possibility, which also meant potential for legitimate disappointment. The weeks went by, and the anticipation grew. On June 23, 2015, Marvel made its big announcement: Tom Holland is Spider-Man. *Grins*
Holland knocked the role out of the park. I'm so glad we have the funny, chatty and sometimes awkward Spidey. He has instant chemistry with everyone on screen. Going with a 15 year old Spidey in the early stages of his career was a great choice. Yes, Spidey was 15 when he started his career in the comics, but there's plenty of reasons why this works so well. Actors do age. Starting young gives you a longer window to explore the character. Having a high school kid stand with the Avengers is a nice contrast to well establish characters in their 30's and 40's. Variety is good. This also enables Holland to grow with the role figuratively and literally which is an exciting prospect in the long form storytelling MCU.
I don't know if it's intended, but I love how Spidey's entrance into the film serves as a metaphor for his cinematic life. He was once alone and isolated, separate from the other "super" events occurring in the universe. Then, seemingly at random, the pioneer of the MCU appears and strikes an unusual deal that immediately enables Spidey to be thrust into the action.
"When you can do the things I can do, but you don't, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you."
I love that line delivered by Peter. It covers so much ground while being simultaneously poignant and full of teenage uncertainty. Holland has the humor, the chops, the look, and the skills. I hope he's Spider-Man for the next 15 years.
Black Panther makes his MCU debut, and it could not have been more amazing. Chadwick Boseman is perfect casting and is absolutely on fire as T'Challa, warrior and now King of Wakanda. If there's ever been classy vengeance, it's in full display here. He stars every time he's on screen. The few moments we see him with his father, T'Chaka, are beautiful. Black Panther bounds off the screen with a royal ferocity that's completely engrossing. This is a character I'm more and more excited about with each passing day. The Black Panther solo film is setting up to be something special and I can't wait. Ryan Coogler, another gem in Marvel's ever growing bullpen, will deliver something truly amazing. I hope to write more on Black Panther soon as not enough can be said about his contribution, character and potential. His presence in the MCU has been long awaited and as it's revealed in CA:CW, the future is very bright.
Don't forget your Helmut
Daniel Bruhl's Zemo is my favorite Marvel villain to date. He's a breath of fresh air and a perfect contrast to the "I'm going to take over the world" villain. He describes himself as experienced and patient, which couldn't be more true. His veins are also coursing with pain. This pain fuels his consuming desire to see "an empire fall" and in many ways he succeeds. Bruhl is a terrific actor, and having him give life to a character whose primary agenda is personal is the perfect fit for the film. He's a Marvel villain you can sympathize with and that's important to the character's success. I'm thrilled he wasn't killed off and hope we see him again. If he evolves to become more of the Zemo we know from the comics, his future stories will be enhanced due to his CA:CW foundation. Purple hood, please.
A major part of the film is the ideological divide that takes place within the Avengers due to the emergence of the Sokovia Accords. The events escalate in a way that feels organic and true to the characters. Both sides are given a fair shake. What's interesting is that while both sides are reasonable positions, they're both revealed to be flawed. Towards the end, Tony experiences the error in his position as he's faced with the choice of disobeying the Accords and helping Steve, or obeying and abandoning him. He disobeys and reunites with Steve, even telling him not to tell Ross or he'll have to "arrest himself." How old are the Accords? Days maybe, and Tony is already going outside the law. This impulse to help, regardless of the rules, is shared by them all but no stronger than Steve's. Steve knows this. He doesn't sign because it would be a lie, and Steve is a terrible liar. However, it's this undeniable need to help and intervene that reveals the flaws in Steve's position. If he, and Tony at the end, had yielded to the Accords, what would have happened? The bloody and shattering conflict, orchestrated by Zemo, would have been avoided. Zemo's plans relied on the behavior the those characters to pursue him no matter what. Zemo even explains that he has been studying Steve nonstop. He needed them to end up at that base in Siberia. He counted on it. The plan wouldn't work otherwise. Zemo was able to exploit their (Steve's in particular) authority-bucking nature and manipulate them into arriving just where he wanted them. Both positions are reasonable but both are also flawed.
All ideologies are flawed, especially in the real world, regardless of how reasonable. The difference is the character and integrity of the people behind them.
Stark's Debt to Bucky
Remember back to the film that started it all. Early on in Iron Man, during the awards ceremony, Tony is referred to as the "prodigal son." While always a genius it seems some of his earlier years were shaped by aloof waywardness. During the traumatic memory scene where we see young Tony (which looks incredible), it's revealed again that he seems to be squandering his talents and is committed to only the party life. This is not a man destined to follow in his father's footsteps and ultimately become Iron Man. It's inside him, to be sure, his father knows it as well. Tony needed a push. He needed something to wake him up and shock him into action. In Iron Man, the announcer said that at age 21, the prodigal son returns and served as CEO of Stark Industries. He graduated MIT at 17 and returned to Stark Industries the same year his parents die in the car crash in 1991, when he's 21. Tony's behavior must have slipped in the years between MIT and him assuming the role of CEO. What brought him back? I think it's reasonable to assume that the major catalyst in Tony returning (literally and figuratively) is the death of his parents. Without him returning, I think it's safe to assume that Tony would have never become Iron Man. While he clearly loved his parents there is definitely tension in the relationship as Tony is stuck behind his father's shadow. Their death led to his return. His return lead to him becoming Iron Man. At the conclusion of CA:CW, Tony is hellbent on killing Bucky for murdering his parents, and he almost succeeds. Bucky knocked down the first and biggest domino to the creation of Iron Man, and now he almost dies by his hand. It's a tragedy-woven layer of events.
Alright, so I can't mention all this stuff without complaining about at least one thing. I hated the letter when I first saw the film. I've hated it less with each viewing, and I'm now okay with it and the Secret Avengers implication. However, I still would prefer it not be included in the film. I think it's consistent with Steve's character to communicate what he did, but it also undercut a bit of the tension for me. I would've preferred to have Tony and James' physical therapy session interrupted by Ross calling about the prison break and then cut to the raft scene. I know, I know, I'm being picky but as of now, it's definitely something I would have left out.
CA:CW is an excellent film and as good as Comic Book Movies (CBM) come. It's a true treat filled with everything you could ask for. It is perfect parts action, drama, and laughs with a giant drop of spectacle. My expectations could not have been higher and the film still delivered.
The Russo brother's next project, the Infinity War films, may be the most ambitious attempt at film-making ever. It's on a scale we've never witnessed before with an enormous cast of characters and a bizarre villain. It's reasonable to be concerned about whether Marvel can pull it off. They way the Russo brothers and crew pulled off CA:CW gives me great confidence they will figure it out. They clearly love the characters and excel with a large ensemble cast.
CA:CW is awesome. Go see it a billion times. 4.5/5 Stars.