Sunday, May 15, 2016

Captain America: Civl War (2016)

Film: Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Stars: Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, William Hurt, Daniel Bruhl, Marisa Tomei, Alfre Woodard (seriously-what was the casting budget on this movie?!?)
Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

I grew up with comic books in my house, and so I've always had a slightly weird reaction to the world of comic books becoming so common-place on the big screen.  Unlike other guys who will spend hours upon hours rehashing different multiverse theories and the intricacies of universes in the current Marvel world, I can't keep up there, but I do still read the occasional comic book (especially after one of these movies I'll sneak out and buy a few from my local store just to check in like fans of a soap opera), and feel a kinship with my youth when my brother and I would spend our allowance at the local Pamida buying up the latest installments.  We were definitively a Marvel household, and so seeing all of these characters come to life on the big screen, all of these Avengers that we had seen dance across the page, it's truly a wonderful experience and I try not to be one of "those guys" who name-checks facts and dates about every character on the screen to their friends who aren't as familiar and just want to go to the latest awesome superhero movie.

What continues to stun me, though, is how the movies have really reshaped in a lot of ways my thoughts on the comic books at large.  After all, the comic books that I loved growing up aren't remotely the same as the movies that I've gravitated toward.  X-Men, probably the comics I have read the most of through the years, never really felt right as they were too focused on a specific mutant at the cinema (Wolverine, then Professor X, and now Mystique), but what made that series so special was that it was a group of individuals, and you didn't know if the next story-line would center on one of the major headliners or just a sideline character getting their moment in the sun (who else is pumped that Jubilee is finally going to be in a movie?!?).  My favorite comic books as a child were Fantastic Four, and yet their movies have been a complete and utter travesty-I'm still flummoxed how they have managed to botch my beloved family of superheroes so often, and how I'll probably never get a definitive motion picture (though I'll eternally be indebted to Chris Evans for bringing my crush on Johnny Storm so perfectly to life).  Instead, the best movies have been centered around arguably one of my least favorite comic book heroes, Captain America.  I always found him to be a bit blase, not as morally complicated or interesting as a Wolverine or Incredible Hulk, and not as much fun as the Human Torch or Black Widow.  And yet, Chris Evans' incarnation of Captain America is such a joy, and his films are the ones that come the closest to reliving that magic of my youth onscreen, the comic books I fell so deeply in-love with and escaped into when I was feeling blue.

(Spoilers Ahead) This is a preamble to tell you that I once again left Captain America's third outing (from the looks of things his final outing as a solo venture) duly impressed.  The film centers around, once again, Captain America's complicated relationship with Bucky Barnes (aka the Winter Soldier), who is once again wanted for murder, this time for blowing up the United Nations building, and in turn killing the king of an African nation.  This is amidst a growing fear of the Avengers, and a powerful retribution for the destruction that they are bringing about to the world.  The idea of holding superheroes accountable for their actions is hardly new, but it's become the centerfold of almost every single superhero picture in recent years so I was curious how Civil War would handle it (there are people in those "Hulk Smash!" buildings, and they aren't just extras anymore).  There's a terrificly acted scene with Alfre Woodard early on in the picture (sadly, she doesn't become one of the Avengers later on), where she essentially admonishes Robert Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark for destroying her world, even as he thought he was trying to save it.  It was arguably one of the most impressive monologues I've seen in a Marvel picture, and kudos to Woodard for not making it feel like a cliche.

Stark's newfound moral compass (though really-isn't Stark always finding his moral compass again and again in these pictures, only to seemingly lose it again by the start of the next movie?) leads to a break between he and Captain America, as Stark wants to be under the control of the UN while Captain America doesn't feel that he can be held down in that manner, despite the consequences.  Battle lines are brought forth, with alliances like Black Widow and War Machine joining Tony Stark while the likes of the Falcon and the Scarlet Witch go with Captain America.  All-the-while, at the center is the Winter Soldier, who is being framed for a series of crimes by an agent-of-chaos (Bruhl), whose intentions quite frankly never feel properly revealed, except that he wants to destroy the Avengers.

The film's best moments, and what was always so incredible about the comic books but hasn't been realized cinematically until now, is that you don't always needs a villain.  Frequently the infighting of groups like The Avengers (or X-Men or Fantastic Four) were the most compelling moments of the written pages, giving us insight into the desires of the superheroes that didn't just rely on them saving the universe.  That is true of Civil War, where we see Steve Rogers stand by his principles and his best friend of a hundred years or so even while Tony Stark, his new commander whose stance isn't without merit, becomes his enemy and they largely split up by the end of the picture.  The movie is, without question, the best Avengers movie that has been created so far.  Unlike the two actual films that claim the group in their title, Civil War feels like an ensemble, one that gives time to each character without it ever feeling like a checklist.  Perhaps because some of this film's stars aren't as large as the likes of Mark Ruffalo or Chris Hemsworth at this point (though it feels like Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland will soon be able to demand more respect in this regard) you are able to have a tale without an equal amount of story going to a different character, and since you know the central focus will be on Captain America, you aren't bummed you didn't get to have more time with a Thor or an Ant-Man.

The film is not without its faults, of course.  While the central Avengers vs. Avengers battle was truly wonderful, and I loved the introduction of Spider-Man, there are still problems.  RDJ can land a one-liner with aplomb, but his Tony Stark is constantly rehashing the same memories, and I know it's part of Tony Stark's origin story, but this episode felt a little bit too Batman for me toward the end.  For every character that felt fresh (Ant-Man-I haven't seen his stand-alone yet, but it's now on the To Do list) or interesting (the Black Panther was my favorite new character to the series, and I think Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow is still the best element of the original core Avengers), you are left with some characters that feel underwritten (War Machine, Scarlet Witch), and too preachy (Vision).  Also, I am still coming to grips with the television-like aspect of these films, which feels cool in the moment but I can't quite get my hands around the fact that it feels never-ending, and while that mirrors the comic books, most stories even there eventually came to an end.

Before I leave, I do want to say one thing because it's been highlighted a little bit in the press tour.  I think it's incredible that we have a major motion picture that has three black leads in the cast (Cheadle, Mackie, and Boseman), but the Marvel movies still haven't quite gotten to the diversity of the actual comic books quite yet.  I'm stunned, considering she's about to get her own stand-alone film that they didn't go for Captain Marvel in this picture.  Maybe they're saving Carol Danvers for a future picture-perhaps Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2?, but it's a bummer that we don't have a Bechdel Test pass for this particular movie.  My biggest qualm, though, is I wish we'd finally see a gay character in one of these movies.  For all of the talk (and there's a lot of it), about how actors and studios want to feature more gay characters in blockbusters, it never actually happens.  I'm sick and tired of clearly homosexual elements in films (come on, Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes are really close for friends), being the only thing that we get on-film.  My vote would be that they make Spider-Man gay or bisexual, even though Sony and Stan Lee aren't there for it, as it would make so much sense within the confines of his character (loner, outcast, really close with his aunt), but really it's time to have a gay character on the big screen that we can root for and not just see at an art-house or as a side character on an ABC sitcom.  The GLBT community deserves a seat at the table, and if Marvel/Disney want to put their (insanely huge amount of) money where their mouth is, it's time to go there.

Those are my thoughts (more of them than I initially thought I'd have) on the latest installment of the Captain America franchise.  What are your thoughts?  What are you hoping for next in the Marvel saga?  Share your thoughts below in the comments!

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