drwex (drwex) wrote,

We saw Captain America: Civil War and it was a great evolution in superhero movies

Spoilers will be below the cut and may appear in comments. You have been warned.

Captian America: Civil War is really an Avengers movie that happens to center on Cap. It's also an excellent meditation on the nature of friendship and responsibility. 4/5 stars

It's impossible to ignore how closely this movie followed on the disastrous Batman vs Superman not least because they overlap significantly in themes. This movie could have been titled "Captain America vs Iron Man" because yes these two iconic superheros do duke it out. But it's so much more and the ways CA:CW succeeds highlight a lot of BvS's failures. Captain America movies have not, from the first, been feel-good pictures. This movie is not going to cheer you up, either. But it's not about "darkness" - whatever that might be - it's about how people can have very different ideas on how to achieve goals they all see as right. How each of us has different tradeoffs we're willing to make. And what it means to be friends when your friends are trying to kill each other.

Another thing this movie has going for it is its exploration of consequences and growth. The heroes have to wrestle with the fact that they (despite saving the world several times over) have devastated cities and that innocents have died. Those acts have consequences - nobody in this movie walks away scot free. Also, everyone grows. That's a credit both to the actors and to the writers here who manage to show growth almost entirely without hitting us over the head with it. Comparing how everyone acts in this movie against how they behaved in their earlier appearances you can see they've gotten older, wiser, more cautious, more aware.

Below be spoilers...

I would like to see some opinions from reviewers of color, but as a white guy who tries to be aware of such things it struck me as notable that there are three significant black roles in this film. All three are competent full people, each with his own agenda. Although it's not directly teased I think we're seeing set-up for a Black Panther movie. Chadwick Boseman rocks the house and John Kani is excellent as his father. I want to see an origin story with the two of them.

The movie does somewhat better than past films on the presentation of women but it still feels lacking. Wanda/Scarlet Witch spends most of her time interacting with Vision and Scarlett Johansson turns in a fantastic performance but she's caught in the middle of the civil war and doesn't have a lot of screen time. In the last Captain America movie she had the "best buddy" role. Here, she ends up looking more lost.

Two other women of note in the film: Emily VanCamp is the Oh Yes Please we've all been wanting since the last movie. She's smart and competent and funny and totally someone you want on your team - but she spends almost all her screen time interacting with Cap. And Alfre Woodard packs more emotion into one small monologue than most actors get into a whole chapter. But it's just her facing off against Tony Stark. Despite all the excellent female actors and roles I think the film still fails the Bechdel test.

In talking about past Captain America movies I've asserted that the film does best when it's in close-up. One-shot or two-shot and you're in on the characters. The first film failed badly in its wide/group shots. The second was better. This one manages to avoid that fail by not having such shots except for the epic battle at the airport, which I think is the film's weakest bit.

That airport battle goes on too long and showcases two characters that I think could have been cut from the film entirely. I do like what they seem to be setting up to do with Spider Man and I do need to see the Ant Man movie but really neither one belongs here. Growing the ensemble by two just for this one fight seems pointless and makes the whole thing drag out too long. The important emotional impacts of this chapter - Black Widow facing down Black Panther, and Vision's missed shot - take far too long to show up. A Smash Brothers superhero brawl is ... OK I guess? but what's the point. The good parts are in those pairings, or the interactions of Black Widow and Hawkeye (then Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch).

Even in the opening sequence where the Avengers are taking on the terrorist gang, most of the shooting is done close up, with few wide shots and no group battling. It's split up, tight, and works way better for it.

But all the slugging and punching and shooting aside, this is a character film and every character in it plays their parts well. I think the filmmakers don't yet know what to do with Vision (he was problematic in the comics I remember as well) but even there we get hints. It's a remarkable hat trick, when you think about it - a continuous narrative done over multiple movies, taking comic-book characters and bringing them to believable life on the big screen, while having the characters go through growth, maturity, change, and authentic conflict.

Tags: movie, review
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