Thursday, May 5, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

*** out of ****

If there’s anything wrong with comic book movies today, it’s their leading influence in serializing big-budget cinema. Captain America: Civil War is no exception. I will be surprised if anyone can follow this movie without having seen all the other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films. All I can say regarding this issue, is that the movie is very rewarding towards those who have been keeping up. No matter how lengthy and complex the plotting, I was miraculously able to follow it and feel invested in what is an excellent third “Captain America” entry –even though it feels more worthy of having “Avengers” in the title instead.

Just as the abysmal Batman v Superman rightfully addressed being part of a franchise following a trend of thoughtless collateral damage in the context of non-tragic popcorn spectacle, Captain America: Civil War tackles this theme – except it commits.

Since the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D., the world has viewed Captain America (Chris Evans) and his operating members of The Avengers with skepticism, considering the disasters that surround their heroics. The Secretary of State (William Hurt) gives The Avengers the option to continue only if they’re willing to operate under the oversight of the United Nations.

Given their wealth of extraordinary abilities, all the Avengers feel sorrow for their failure to prevent further loss of life during near world-ending events, but after the espionage antics of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Cap isn’t prepared to take chances with another corruptible institution. His validated righteousness and the now-humbled Iron Man’s (Robert Downey Jr.) wish to comply to the demands of world leaders creates an instant divide in the organization. Things are worsened when another disaster strikes and Captain America’s best friend, The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), is presumed to be responsible.

Against the wishes of the other half of The Avengers, Cap wants to take responsibility for bringing his friend in unharmed, knowing that he can’t be held responsible for the decades of brainwashing that turned him into a villain. Agent Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) all split off to assist Captain America and wind up recruiting Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) along the way (which results in some new coolness).

Meanwhile, Iron Man finds alliance with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Bettany), the spontaneously well-established Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and now – as the trailers promised – the recently acquired Spider-Man (re-invented by young actor Tom Holland). This allows an endlessly crammed movie to take an unnecessary detour so that Robert Downey Jr. can visit the kid in his Queens apartment and flirt with a rather young and attractive version of Aunt May played by Marisa Tomei. Only You, anyone?

Whew. That was a lot of basic plot to cover. I even left out Daniel Brühl’s villain character, but his motivation is best left to be found in the film. At least I can assure you that he isn’t some super-terrorist trying to destroy the world again. If that kind of plot element were in place, the movie might as well be called Captain America: World Police.

The continuation of direction under the versatile Russo Brothers allows for energetic storytelling and clear character motivation. My gripes with the Russo’s tendency to go “shaky-cam” with certain action scenes still stands since I prefer graceful action in escapist cinema. I also continue to wonder how the movies that star The Avengers developed an allergy to saturated colors, now that they prefer a somewhat gray aesthetic in contrast to the vividness of the first Avengers movie, Thor, and the three Iron Man flicks.

As with all the MCU movies, I don’t ever feel that the stakes are high. No one’s death is necessarily permanent and whenever characters are confronted with a no-win scenario, there’s always a life-saving contrivance hiding somewhere. But as usual, the tone is blessedly only semi-serious and under the quality regulation of another division of Disney who are prepared to deliver that cinematic Big-Mac, Happy Meal, McGriddle or whichever McDonald’s guilty-pleasure simile works for you.

These movies don’t take the big risks that excite me but, like a lot of other Disney properties, they do make me feel connected with masses of people who like them – unlike Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. However, like all major action blockbusters with the PG-13 rating, you can expect to see people bringing little children to the theater for two-and-a-half hours of subjection to perilous gunplay, explosions, and expositional dialogue. Maybe The Avengers should fight over this issue next time.

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