Remember a while ago when I wrote that the dominance of the Superhero genre was ending? While I still believe that the inevitable demise is coming (and much closer than it was before), I will admit to being wrong in my timeline. Of course, making entertaining, quality cinema is the best way to prolong the life of any franchise (or genre) and, where Batman V Superman failed, Captain America: Civil War has succeeded in being a fun, if inconsequential, blockbuster.
The largest problem facing superhero films today is the expectation of escalation. The audience has seen a hero fight a villain, seen two heroes fight a villain, seen six-eight heroes fight armies of villains – there’s a lot that’s already been done (and done quite a few times at this point). To keep feeling fresh, superhero movies have been getting bigger and bigger, and this has posed problems. Age of Ultron, for example – while fun in places – felt overburdened and schizophrenic. A lot happened in that movie that never factored into a cohesive whole.
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo (of Captain America: the Winter Soldier fame) deserve a lot of credit for managing what could have easily been a total mess. It takes talent to have a movie with Captain America, Iron Man, The Vision, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Falcon, War Machine, Ant-Man, Winter Soldier, while introducing Black Panther and Spider-Man. Just saying that many names in a row is tiring.
Yet the movie succeeds by keeping the conflict personal. This time around, Robert Downey Jr. takes the role of primary antagonist. Turning Iron Man into a villain could have felt like the most forced plot invention ever. The Russos supply the character with believable motivation to stand with and against Captain America. Having shadowy villain, Daniel Brühl, behind the scenes also goes a long way to help frame Iron Man as more of a pawn than a generator of malice.
Captain America: Civil War unfolds as a situation that goes from bad to worse, with a lot of the characters caught up in reacting instead of acting. On this level, the movie succeeds better than its predecessor. In part, this is helped by Civil War being so full that it can never quite take a full breath and relax. The metaphorical foot is on the accelerator from the start. This film doesn’t even have time for an opening title sequence.
What really makes Captain America: Civil War succeed, however, apart from its smart handling of central conflicts, is that it never forgets what it is – and what its source material is. This is a movie blessedly unafraid to have fun, and the multitude of jokes (both audio and visual) help keep the audience from drowning in the near-continuous spectacle of the action. Don’t get me wrong, action scenes – especially filmed as expertly as these are – are fun on their own, but not for two and a half hours.
All this being said, Captain America: Civil War is not a perfect movie. It is tough to go into the film’s failings without getting near some spoiler territory – so consider this your warning, dear reader. The first flaw I can say without fear of ruining the film – and that is that, while most of the characters function believably, there is some arbitrary line-in-the-sand side choosing.
The finale also, while being intense, does not really fulfill one of the main themes of the movie: consequence. All through the film, the audience is reminded that even heroic actions have consequences. Innocent people get hurt, sometimes die – it is the reality of fighting in the middle of populated areas. Here is where I get spoiler-y. Those wishing to experience the movie first, skip to my final paragraph.
The comic original, Civil War, ends with the death of Captain America. The film, does not. Actually… no one dies. And, for all their fighting, it doesn’t seem like ANY relationship was damaged beyond repair (maybe Tony and the Winter Soldier won’t be BFFs, but that’s about it). Captain America ends the film as an outlaw, the Avengers are at their lowest popularity rating ever, things that could have real significance – if Thanos wasn’t about to come down and declare intergalactic war on the Earth.
On that level, Captain America: Civil War is probably the most entertaining not-much-really happening I have seen in a while. Those looking for their action fix: you’ll get it. Those looking to laugh: you’re in luck. Those looking to see believable character-oriented drama: for the most part, this movie has you covered. For those looking to see the pinnacle superhero movie: this isn’t it (for the spoiler-y reasons I outlined above). That said, this newest Captain America is far more triumph than causality of war. The superhero genre lives to fight another day.
Rating: 7 out of 10, or 3 1/2 out of 5.