07 May, 2016

#GAfilm Review: "Captain America: Civil War"

Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. star in "Captain America: Civil War."

Taking pause from the tropes, "Captain America: Civil War" sobers the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in eloquent and effective fashion; asking its audience, clearly and concisely, to consider the cost. For once in the MCU’s history, we don’t have mass-casualties justified by 'the greater good,' nor the grand contradiction of heroism that tends to accompany them. Instead, Earth’s mightiest heroes are asked to take a hard look in the mirror and redefine their brand of heroism.

Directors Joe & Anthony Russo impress with how they approach these themes; they’re not flashy or shiny, they don’t use 'entertainment' as an excuse for mindless destruction, and they don’t insult the intelligence of their audience. As I watched this film, I was floored by the risk taken in trading out the big bangs for the big ideas, yet it never once felt like an disingenuous soapbox capitalizing on an election year. Moments that we’ve cheered for in previous installments are replayed for both us and our heroes with renewed, real-world, perspective—allowing us to feel the weight and consequence of their actions, as they do.

Smart, effective, play.

As a result, responsibility and strength of character are thrown in the ring and asked to hash out where the line is drawn between hero and villain.

Now, as history more than proves, that fine line is all over the place; it’s complicated and messy and what "Civil War" aims to do is examine why—and they unapologetically want you to sit down, shut up, and pay attention. To this end, they make an expert play in having no traditional villain; they don’t want you distracted from the point and I can’t say enough good things about how inspired a choice that was.

And I LOVE villains—they’re usually my favorite part. You know, when they’re good, and not late-90s Batman bad.

"Let's kick some ice!" —Mr. Freeze in 1997's "Batman & Robin."
Daniel Brühl’s Baron Zemo is technically the villain, so I assure you, it isn’t one of those self-righteous 'the greatest villain is yourself' stories. However, with a few tweaks to Zemo’s story, it could easily resemble the origin of many superheroes and other protagonists.

Which—gasp—is the point!

But fear not, if well-written villains are usually a huge draw for you too, due to their often interesting psychology and origin, that’s all there. But instead of pouring a ton of evil into one uber-evil individual, and having him be a big evil baddie spewing evil, Zemo instead plays a little shuffle-cup with that line between hero and villain, throwing the Avengers into civil chaos.

With sides led by Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Tony Stark (Iron Man), differing perspectives in how the Avengers are held accountable for their actions creates discord—and Stark’s uncharacteristically matured, yet still ever-present arrogance, doesn’t help. Instead of a straight good guy vs. bad guy fight, we have characters weighing the importance of foresight; struggling with personal interest and vengeance; dealing with consequence of previous action; and figuring out how to balance all of that with the greater good.

It’s the difference between having super-ability, and being a super-hero. I know, mind blown.

Sounds like a lot to tackle in one film, doesn’t it? Especially with an expanded cast. But this installment majorly capitalizes off all its predecessors, keeping firmly in mind what has already been developed/revealed with the characters. As a result, they didn’t need to spend much time setting up the payoffs; leaving a wealth of screen-time for Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Ant Man to have meaningful and memorable roles within "Civil War’s" plot.

Which brings me to the heart and soul of "Civil War"—Chadwick Boseman’s magnetic performance as Black Panther. Without the wealth Boseman brings to this character and the subtle, but powerful, impact of his purpose, this film would not have achieved anything it set out to do with its story and message. All over the internet, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is being credited as the film’s show-stealer—I respectfully disagree. Holland is by far and away the most accurate and refreshing reincarnation of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man; he deserves total credit for that. But Boseman’s Black Panther is critical to the soul of "Civil War."

There’s very little negative that I have to offer in regards to this film. Martin Freeman should have a more significant character in this universe; he was criminally underused. Tonally, the film shifts at the end of the second act, and while it’s weird it’s still fun. And the first extra scene in the end credits is a little baffling and makes you think—why wasn’t this suggested sooner? But aside from that, this film might be my favorite from the MCU.

As the third installment of Captain America’s story and an entry into the MCU timeline, "Civil War" reigns in what’s necessary in order to continue the franchise with true arc for its stories and characters. I have nothing but respect for that accomplishment and couldn’t be prouder that such a psychologically ambitious and integrity-focused film was made right in my backyard here in Atlanta, Georgia.

Must admit, seeing the Georgia peach in the end credits gave me goosebumps.

4 out of 5 stars. 

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