“Captain America: Civil War” Makes Avengers Great Again

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As the last battle was being fought in “Captain America: Civil War” I realized I couldn’t remember the first battle, the one that opened the film. Put it down to short-term memory loss or approaching senility.

MV5BMjQ0MTgyNjAxMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjUzMDkyODE@._V1_SX214_AL_But it is just as likely the sheer length of the film, 146 minutes, and apathy brought on by superhero fatigue.

Despite its title “Captain America: Civil War” is very much an Avengers film.

Instead of asking which Marvel superheroes are in it, easier to say that only Thor and Hulk do not assemble. Heroes battling heroes is the new template  for comic book movie creators that have run out of fresh ideas.

In “Civil War” a human villain played by Daniel Bruhl, knowing he couldn’t destroy the meta-human characters by himself, maneuvers to get them to battle each other. When this was attempted in “Batman v. Superman” it was more strategy than theme. But “Civil War” uses it to debate the concept of greater good.

Fans do not flock to such films for lessons in morals or ethics. But when super beings fight each other in places that look like where we all live its valid to ask what happens to people in the building or city they destroy in the process and wonder if this further desensitizes our reaction to real world disasters.

In the face of such mass destruction “Civil War” deconstructs the very idea of “collateral damage.”

In the real world, collateral damage what happens when a smart bomb misses its target and hits a hospital. In “Eye In the Sky” it is a child being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Action films blow things up.

It’s their job and their appeal using what is euphemistically called “fantasy violence.”

So it’s brave for, and about time that, a comic book franchise tackle this theme.

David fought Goliath in the Valley of Elah. This is where “Civil War” lives.

Except both sides are giants.

After an opening battle destroys an African town the world collectively decides that the Avengers need oversight and accountability. Some – Robert Downey’s Iron Man, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow – agree. Others – Chris Evans’ Captain America and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon – worry it will handcuff them.

And when Captain America believes his former friend Bucky aka the Winter Soldier is innocent of a new tragedy, his decision to act unilaterally forces the other Avengers to pick sides.

The battle between the two sides at the three-quarter point allows the characters to behave in familiar ways established over eleven films featuring variations of this group since “Iron Man” in 2008.

It also highlights Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, an African prince who believes his father was killed by the Winter Soldier; a teenage Spider-Man, played by “Billy Elliott” stage veteran Tom Holland; and allows Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man to inject some needed humor.

Spider-Man is the only major Marvel character not under Disney studio control and his appearance here allows Sony to revive the character and set him in the Avengers universe, and they in his.

Boseman, of “42” and “Get On Up,” will also star in a Black Panther spinoff. All is revealed, including Bruhl’s motives, in a kinetic final showdown between Iron Man and Captain America in a way that sets up the next films in the cycle. And its all coordinated by “Captain America” veterans, Anthony and Joe Russo who directed the last franchise entry and Chris Markus and Stephen McFeely, who wrote all three.

If you like stand alone stories, such character, plot and creative continuity can be irksome.

But here it allows a self-reflection that makes the Avengers great again.

*** Three stars

With Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Paul Rudd, Chadwick Boseman, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Holland, Daniel Bruhl. Produced by Kevin Feige. Written by Chris Markus, Stephen McFeely. Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Rated PG-13, fantasy violence, language. Approximate running time 146 minutes.

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