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Arts Film Review

New film: Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War
Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

“Captain America: Civil War” is a fun movie but also a flawed one. It has much in common with the recent “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” but manages to stay ahead of the problems of that film by remaining light and brisk rather than brooding and slow.

Both films are unnecessarily crowded and feel as though they’re crowding more than one installment’s worth of material onto the screen. In “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” we had what might have been a solid revenge-fueled showdown that was undermined by subplot in which Lex Luthor discovers other superheroes, a low rent cave troll wannabe, and a sudden change of heart that was almost neck-snappingly awful. In “Captain America: Civil War,” there’s a decent sequel to “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” partially hidden behind a story involving conflict among the Avengers and a need to remind us that there are more characters in this universe.

In “Captain America: Civil War,” as in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the issue of collateral damage has become a problem. Despite the best of intentions and a desire only to help the innocent, Iron Man, Captain America and their Avenger buddies have a tendency to destroy property and occasionally kill folks who get in the way. This isn’t sitting well with world leaders and a move is made to rein them in, using an international governing body of sorts to decide when they can act.

This doesn’t sit well with the team and they aren’t in agreement as to whether or not to go along with the plan. It’s not that any of them are thrilled with it, but some see it as better than being shut down altogether, or worse, while others see it as unacceptably removing all semblance of autonomy and freedom of action.

It’s an interesting premise for a superhero movie, especially as it avoids the normal pitfalls of deciding who to have them fight. Human villains of the non-super kind never seem like all that much of a threat, and there’s only so many times you can pull aliens out of the sky before it becomes ‘Star Avengers.’ And the idea that colleagues would do battle over questions of morals and freedom, without causing either faction to appear villainous, is a neat one. However, it feels as though there are two major problems with the execution of that concept.

The first is that if one were thinking of a major character going rogue while another behaves, it seems more likely (at least to me) that hot shot maverick genius Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) would be the rogue element and straight-laced military do-gooder Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) would follow orders. In that sense, the whole disagreement seemed inverted. Meanwhile. most of the other characters are simply picking sides/allegiances rather than debating ethics.

The second is that the potential debate itself is undercut almost before it ever starts by having a personal friend in jeopardy. Rather than have some relatively neutral disaster occur ,which might have allowed for a meaningful “Should we or shouldn’t we intervene even if we’re told not to?” dilemma, Captain America immediately jumps into action, not just because he’s inclined to exercise his own decision making abilities, but because his childhood friend Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastien Stan) is at risk. And so the entire premise is squandered and it becomes more about friendships than about control.

In addition to those complications, the filmmakers felt the need to throw Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)and Spider-man into the mix, both for comic relief and to introduce the franchise’s new Peter Parker (Tom Holland). These two performances are fine, and they serve their purpose of fueling interest in more movies with those characters, but in this movie they seem unnecessary and they just add clutter to an already crowded screen. It’s not like there aren’t already enough other Avengers in the mix and it further serves to dilute any time spent with the rest.

All of that said, it still manages to be a fun movie. It’s overly busy and trying to do too many things at once but it’s never boring (except possibly in one bloated fight sequence that features the expanded lineup, less the absent Thor and Hulk who are apparently off doing Thory and Hulky things). The Winter Soldier story line is the best explored aspect of the movie and while the rest seems poorly realized, it isn’t problematic enough to sink the film. And even if not as well developed as they might have been, storylines that add human depth to these characters are generally welcome – there’s a limit to how much repeated overthrowings of evil villains and tests of strength can sustain the subject matter. It’s just a shame that a film with this many flying fists has a screenplay that pulls its punches.

 

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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