Thursday, April 28, 2016

Captain America Civil War review: Five stars and it earns its stripes

Captain America Civil War review: Five stars and it earns its stripes
by rick olivares

The anguished memories of a rubber suited Reb Brown have long faded. Reb who? I know, right? Reb was an actor during the late 1970s to 80s who is best known for his role in that post-Vietnam POW rescue film “Uncommon Valor” with Gene Hackman that I thoroughly enjoyed. But Brown is also known for his two Captain America television films that unfortunately weren’t very good. I remember them for how they mangled the origin story while using a terrible-looking rubber costume while riding a star-spangled bike that had me thinking of Evel Knievel. 

And more than three decades before Brown wore the stars and stripes, there was Dick Purcell as a revolver-toting Captain America with a hint of a pot belly in a 1944 film (that was made during the height of World War II). He didn’t even play Steve Rogers but some bloke named Grant Gardner who was District Attorney!

As bad as those films were, I had to endure them. Now they are a distant memory now that elicits a chuckle. After all, we have the Captain America trilogy done right. And the latest installment, Civil War, strongly makes a case for one of the best superhero films if not action films of all time.

What makes Civil War worthy of such praise?

The plot that pits the heroes against one another makes sense.
The synopsis and plot that divides the heroes is know to all: because of the destruction in the wake of the enhanced human activity — New York (The Avengers), Washington DC (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Sokovia (Avengers: Age of Ultron), and Lagos (at the start of Civil War; London which sustained some destruction during Thor: The Dark World wasn’t mentioned) — the United Nations drafts the Sokovia Accords that seeks to regulate superhuman activity. That splits the Avengers in half. Some, led by Iron Man favor government oversight, while the others, as led by Cap, prefer their freedom to operate away from men with agendas while trusting in their own natural goodness. 

Taking advantage of the ideological differences is Baron Zemo, who is changed from the comics’ Nazi villain to a Marvel Cinematic Universe Sokovian soldier bent on revenge for what befell his country’s fate. Zemo frames the Winter Soldier for bombing the UN Conference and plays both sides. Thus, Cap’s faction is hunted down. 

Much has been made about the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s lack of a villain who is larger than life. One who isn’t a disposable. I am glad that Zemo wasn’t offed and was spared. There is nothing like revenge for a motivation instead of world domination. And really… the spectre of Hydra’s tentacles reaching out everywhere is frightening enough. Just like those extremists in sheep’s clothing. 

But having the heroes fight one another. There is a lot of grey matter in between that makes both sides right. And the end result can be heart-wrenching no matter which side you pull for. 

You might wonder why Cap, being a former soldier, does not step in line with the Sokovia Accords. Cap is consistent. In The Winter Soldier, when Nick Fury shows the new Hellicarriers, he vociferously disagrees, “This isn’t freedom. This is fear.” In Civil War, he reprises that to a certain degree, “I know we’re not perfect, but the safest hands are still our own."

Success in juggling a large cast.
Speaking of two sides, Civil War juggles an uncommonly large cast with A-list stars at that! However, Anthony and Joe Russo, the film’s directors, are able to superbly give the ensemble the characterization and the depth they need. Even late-in-the-film comers Hawkeye and Ant-Man have their moments. 

I love how Civil War continues the sexual tension between Black Widow and Cap. It’s a naughty and tantalizing tease. In the comics, Steve and Sharon Carter (Agent 13) have been an item for the longest time. So it was nice to see the latter character played so cooly by Emily VanCamp take the next step. But somehow, I like Cap and Natasha (more than she should be with Bruce Banner). 

Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/The Falcon is more than a Wingman here. If Rick Grimes and Daryl Dixon are the Butch and Sundance of cable television then Cap and the Falcon are like Starsky and Hutch or Riggs and Murtaugh.

As for Robert Downey Jr., he’s always a scene stealer. Except in this film, he isn’t the only one. Paul Rudd, in his few scenes as Ant-Man is amazing. But I’ll have to amend that perhaps because Tom Holland as Spider-Man is freaking amazing and spectacular (now, I’ve thrown in the two adjectives from comic lore).

Yet, even with an Avengers 2.1 vibe to it, Civil War is still about Cap and Chris Evans, in five MCU films, has perfectly nailed the character of Steve Rogers.

It has been said that Evans lacks charisma as Cap. 

Let me say this, when Evans portrayed Johnny Storm in the first two Fantastic Four films, I thought that he got the wise-cracking hot-headed character down pat. Steve Rogers? He's is a serious man. As serious as Clark Kent is. He is a man out of time from the tough streets of Brooklyn. He came from a post-Depression era with the storm clouds of war on the horizon. Evans is Cap in many many ways that Reb Brown and Dick Purcell are not. 

In the first MCU Cap film, The First Avenger, the Red Skull asked Rogers during their initial confrontation, “What makes you special?"

Cap responded, "Nothing. I’m just a kid from Brooklyn."

Exactly. If you don’t get that point that Cap isn’t the playboy Iron Man or the angsty Bruce Banner or the jovial and roughhousing Thor, then you don’t get the film or the comics. 

The script was excellent. As always.
Whatever Marvel and Disney are paying Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (the duo that worked on the Chronicles of Narnia, Thor: The Dark World, and these three Cap films), they should double or triple it.

It’s well paced and never drags. Famed Captain America comic book scribe Mark Waid put it best when writing the Man with a Plan — he torpedoes from one scene to another without regard for himself. Markus and McFeely gave us that incredible scene on the boat in Winter Soldier and now that chase scene in Vienna. 

If The First Avenger had this Golden Age feel and The Winter Soldier had spy thriller written all over it, Civil War is a superhero film with a Jason Bourne vibe (the multiple locations of the film help).

The wisecracks and one-liners are superb and not contrived. The use of humor, a staple of both Marvel Comics and the films, comes at points where you least expect it and it allows the film that deals with such a complex issue to breathe. 

I love how the film pays homage to a lot of great films or fan favorites. The First Avenger picked up from where The Rocketeer left off (in no small part to the director Joe Johnston). The Winter Soldier, with Robert Redford in tow, paid its respects to Three Days of the Condor. Civil War, aside from its comic book influences, has The Manchurian Candidate to lean on.

And that leads us to the action.

That was a spectacular battle.
Can’t have a superhero and action film without a fight. The teaser left a lot to the imagination as when the two opposing forces of Avengers collide in the airport. Boy, that is a fight. That is a fight and it’s absolutely creative and powerful. We’ve seen a lot of large scale destruction in all the MCU films. In such a small place, the devastation and action is even more spectacular. 

And with every superhero fight (there are three of them), it gets more gut and heart-wrenching. And the lines that separate both factions are greatly blurred.

The end result is a 147-minute film that entertains, leaves you thinking of the ambiguity of who was right and who was wrong, and in awe of the incredible fight scenes. 

Civil War is a great way to start the MCU’s Phase 3 of films. Yet we won’t be seeing any of this cast save for Spider-Man, Iron Man, and the Black Panther until the now-highly anticipated Avengers: Infinity War that brings back the original cast. It also completes the Captain America film trilogy that incredibly and ironically makes it Marvel’s best (I thought they had their chance with the early Spider-Man films) and competes with Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy as the genre’s best.

Now that’s going to be a hot debate among fan boys and critics alike. One more worth anyone’s time more than the disaster that was BvS.

At the Captain America Civil War special screening that preceded the regular release.
Watched it again two nights later on IMAX. The airport fight scene looked great in IMAX.

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