Thoughts from a second CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR viewing (spoilers!)

tony stark civil war

While I saw Captain America: Civil War a few weeks ago, I got an opportunity to take another peek at it during the press screening that occurred this past Tuesday night. In short, my opinion is unchanged, and I still believe it is easily the best Marvel film to date. While I’ve enjoyed a great majority of the studio’s output to varying extents, this is the first effort that I came away outright loving with basically no reservations. I wanted to take the opportunity this week, with a little reflection and two screenings down, to put down some other scattered thoughts I had to “paper”.

If you’d like to read my totally spoiler-free thoughts, go here. If you venture any further, you’re treading into heavy spoiler territory and I’m going to be merciless. You’ve been warned.

Actually, I’ll give you one more chance, here’s your Scott Lang buffer.

scott lang dad

Awww…

Okay, now that we’re clear:

  • One of the areas that I found myself admiring in this screening was how narrative was structured. Lately, I’ve been extra fatigued with the superhero film three act approach, with the same application of rising and falling action regardless of whether we’re talking about X-Men, Thor, or Guardians of the Galaxy. This is of course doubled by just how often we’re faced with these films on a regular basis. Sure, the superficial details are different, but as an exercise in actual screenwriting, those same major beats are hit over and over again. While I won’t sit here and say that Civil War reinvents the wheel, it certainly gives it a few new spokes. In a way, watching Civil War felt akin a reading a really good (superhero) graphic novel, where it approximates the same feeling you get from set of issues that might comprise a really good story arc. Between major beats, you can almost sense where the “to be continued” tag might go. Some may not appreciate this approach, but the wide-scope, richer character usage, and unusual pacing (for a cinematic effort) really helped any sense of exhaustion I’ve been feeling about the MCU as a whole. There’s even big white text to delineate each geographical change! I love it!
  • Interestingly enough, this is the first time I’ve felt like Marvel’s long-term strategy has been to their benefit. For most of the MCU’s run, I’ve thought quite a bit of the set-up films, even up to last year’s Age of Ultron, carried a sense of being an obligation to get to the next beat in the “megastory” without ever feeling like any entry is really playing with toys as they’ve been set up previously, but Civil War tosses that on its head a bit, where the back-stories of previous films and our attachment to each of these characters pays off. Watching Cap and Iron Man come to blows in the final sequence is especially heart-wrenching, as we know what a role Tony’s parents have played in the person he’s become thanks to the previous three Iron Man films. Without that background, without watching Tony struggle to collect himself in the shadow of his departed father and eventually make peace with who he is, his anger at Bucky and Steve would feel much more hollow. But, instead, knowing that Bucky is the person that took everything away from him, suddenly Tony’s anger becomes magnified and basically justified because we’ve gone on that journey with him. It’s a hell of a touch, and a far cry from how this conflict was pulled together in the comic event of the same name. They even explain why Tony was back in the suit after Iron Man 3‘s big exploding suit finale, and it’s a pretty fitting bit of reasoning that works terrifically in context.
  • One of the areas where the Russo Bros. differ a bit from Joss Whedon, beyond just having a much better grasp on Captain America as a character, is how they shoot action. While some decry their usage of coverage in order to splice together an action beat vs. Whedon’s more roomy approach, with Civil War, I think their staging has improved immensely from their previous outing with The Winter Soldier. The opening scene with Crossbones and his minions is an especially good example of this, maintaining the hand to hand ferocity of that film but providing a bit more open space for the camera to zoom around in and follow its individual players. This happens a number of times and leaves me pretty breathless for what they’ll do next in the upcoming two all-IMAX shot Avengers sequels. And the airport battle? Easily my favorite super-powered collision I’ve seen in a comic based film.
  • Marvel often gets dinged for its villains, and rightly so, as apart from the Netflix baddies and Loki, they always seem to take a back-seat to their much richer and better defined heroes, and I say that as the biggest defender of Trevor Slattery I know. Helmut Zemo doesn’t do much to change the game here, but I did find his actual purpose in the story to be compelling enough that I found something to admire. The idea of just regular (though highly trained) person taking down the Avengers with just enough patience and know-how, is a terrific concept. We don’t really get to know much about him (he likes to eat bacon, his family died in the Sokovia incident) and his plan doesn’t *really* hold up to scrutiny if you think about it too hard, but there’s something rather intriguing about a bad guy that’s so unassuming, probably the most of the entire MCU Rogues Gallery, that it leads to Avengers fighting themselves as if to compensate. Daniel Brühl’s ability to compensate for what may or may not be on the page should also warrant some mention, underplaying in a way that’s hard to come by in broad spectacles like these. He provides an interesting dose of nuanced humanity in this clash of larger than life titans.
  • I’m quite excited about Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther. His costume is great, his character comes fully formed right out the gate, and he’s an easy fan favorite. At our first screening, I was especially heartened to see many people of color that were in the audience get very excited about the character and cheer whenever he made an impact. Diversity is of paramount importance and there’s certainly an audience hungry for it in their popcorn fare. Additionally, a detail I loved is that everytime he lands and runs past the camera, you can barely hear him. I can’t wait to see what Ryan Coogler cooks up for his solo outing, and based on the mid-credits stinger, will Steve and Bucky play a role. Also, was that Shuri telling Natasha to “move, or you will be moved”?
  • Nothing about Civil War had me more excited than the appearance of Giant Man! It’s probably the most excited I’ve gotten about a reveal since Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent became Two-Face. In truth, Ant-Man gets many of the best moments of the film, with laugh-lines galore and the best overall power display. I mean, who couldn’t get excited when he’s pulling apart the mechanism of Tony’s suit?
  • The new Spider-Man is also pretty promising. I didn’t expect the appearance of Marissa Tomei’s Aunt May, but that too was a pleasant surprise, and gave me a good deal of hope regarding Spider-Man: Homecoming, despite not necessarily being the biggest fan of the writers attached. There’s some level of distraction with the obvious spliced-in nature of Tom Holland and Robert Downey’s scenes together (Holland was cast at the tail end of production), and Spidey looks a little more CGI rubbery than I’d like, but given what we’ve just come off of with the character I will take it, especially that Romita-inspired costume. Spidey and Cap’s little New York moment was nice too.
  • I spent the whole movie wondering when one of our heroes, probably Cap, was going to die. That didn’t happen, and given that we know it’ll just get reversed anyway, is alright. Maybe I should have seen it coming, though, given how quickly Crossbones was dispatched with (permanently?). There was also, to my relief, no Infinity War set-up or more than a casual mention of the Infinity Stones by Vision. This is one of the few superhero movies I can recall that doesn’t have a macguffin at its center, or at least driving the concerns of the story, give or take how you might define the importance of that Winter Soldier/HYDRA codebook. I’ll add that the mere mention of the Hulk and Thor by Secretary Ross had me excited about the possibility of Thor: Ragnarok being the side-story of what those two are up to during Civil War.
  • The only real complaint I have is fairly minor, as once again Marvel has employed a pretty dull score in the backdrop of all the other excitement. Really, it’s par for the course with the rest of their output in this regard, but one can sense that James Gunn had the right idea with the “yacht rock” soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy. I do hope that perhaps Marvel can enlist Alexandre Desplat or someone of equal measure to bring this one currently subpar element up to speed with everything else that’s going so right.

What did you think of Captain America: Civil War?

Comments

  1. Erik Scott says

    I absolutely loved it, although I think due to the minor minor complaint I have about it’s pacing, I still liked Winter Soldier ever so slightly more, as I hold WS to be one of the best (if not the best) paced action movie I have ever seen.

    I liked Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, although because she eternally looks to be about 35, I have a hard time imagining who could pull off an UNcle Ben to her AUnt May that I would find believable. Also, from a plot aspect, the Sharon Carter/Cap thing felt forced and a little too creepy to me.

    I think on pretty much everything else, the Russo Brothers either improved or stayed consistent with what they did in WInter Soldier. SPider-Man and Black Panther were pitch perfect, and the fact that not a moment was wasted in character development between characters (from the Brooklyn/Queens Spider-Man/Cap setup to the Falcon/Bucky who’s the real best friend jealousy to the very last lines spoke by Rhody) which has been one of my main sticking points about the Whedon movies, the lack of authentic characterization between characters.

    And the airport fight scene is a Perez page come alive on the screen. I was in my ten year old glory there.

    If this is a teaser of what they can do juggling multiple characters, I think the Infinity War movies (or whatever they end being called) are in very very good hands.

  2. Kyle Pinion says

    On the Uncle Ben front, as with all things, I’ll toss out Jon Hamm as my favorite go-to choice. I’d say Kyle Chandler, but I’m not sure he can shake the southern accent.

  3. MBunge says

    Great movie. It’s nearly 2 and 1/2 hours long and completely deserves every single second.

    There’s only two legitimate complaints.

    1. Too much shaky cam, but that may just be for old farts like me.

    2. It may be the most continuity-dependent film Marvel has done to date. They do a remarkable job making these characters real people but all of their problems are comic book problems.

    Mike

  4. Jon says

    I LOVED how they make you think the “final boss fight” will be with the five Russian super winter soldiers but then swerve away from that.

  5. Kate Willaert says

    What Jon said, that was one of my favorite bits.

    But also, everything they did with Spider-Man was perfect, and every Ant-Man moment was a high point.

    I also loved that it acknowledged the other movies more than any of the other movies have. One of the things that really bothered me in Age Of Ultron was how it completely ignored the ending of IM3 where Tony has promised Pepper to stop building suits. In this one not only acknowledged that, but Pepper isn’t speaking to him anymore because of it.

    My only complaints were: 1) that the movie was maybe a little too action-scene heavy (I start to get bored after too many fight scenes in a row without plot advancement, but I’m aware I’m in the minority there), and

    2) that the post-credits scenes weren’t worth sitting through credits for.

    The Black Panther one would’ve worked better cut into the movie proper, and then sitting through the rest of the credits just to see Peter get a fancy Spidey-signal from Stark that the camera and music try to play off as important and epic, but it’s just a dinky Spidey-signal…

    But at least they didn’t do the reverse like BvS, where there were several not-plot-relevant scenes cut into the movie that should’ve been post-credits (the whole scene with WW looking at footage of future characters? The only way that could’ve been any more of a post-credits tease would’ve been to have Nick Fury pop up in each vid to recruit them).

  6. Kent Lorenz says

    Great movie! I was worried that introducing two major characters like Spider-Man and Black Panther would feel forced, but neither did. And even though the movie was 2 1/2 hours long, I did not once get antsy.

    I can’t help but wonder if this was setup for a Dark Avengers/Thunderbolts storyline and that’s why they announced they were changing the names of the Infinity Wars movies right before the movie came out. Wouldn’t be surprised if they announced the new titles next week.

  7. says

    I thought it was great too!

    The shaky cam was a little over-bearing in the first half, but either it cooled down or I got used to it by the end.

    So happy to see Dean Pelton’s appearance, and it would be amazing if the Russos snuck one member of Community in each movie in a bit part (Abed in WS).

    I’ve enjoyed following the media on this; the ripples of rage from manic Batfans continues, still angry that the world didn’t embrace ‘their’ movie. The one star fan ratings on Rotten Tomatoes are cute, if petulant and sad at the same time.. I can see someone finding this movie tiresome, and giving it a 3/5 rating, but from the quality and cleverness of the sequences, to the coherence of the story, or the delineation of the characters, there has to be some respect for what was accomplished. This is not a tea-scratching Transformers movie.

    It’s not ‘great art,’ and few films are, but this achieved the highest level of popcorn movie for me. And Paul Rudd was in it, so that was a cherry on top.

  8. says

    All good points. I too think on reflection it was probably the best Marvel movie to date. Only real flaw I found, like yourself, is that Zemo’s plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

  9. George says

    ” … the ripples of rage from manic Batfans continues, still angry that the world didn’t embrace ‘their’ movie.”.

    Everyone seen this Zack Snyder interview from 2008? It’s been recirculating quite a bit lately.

    The Dark Knight wasn’t dark enough for Snyder because Batman didn’t get raped in prison. Perfect guy to direct a Justice League movie! (he said with sarcasm)

    http://nerdreactor.com/2016/05/04/old-interview-with-zack-snyder-raises-new-questions/

  10. Scottie says

    Fanboys are easily pleased by garbage. This movie had plot holes you could fly a Chitauri space worm through.

  11. George says

    Scottie said: “Fanboys are easily pleased by garbage. ”

    I don’t know if that’s true, but fanboys do tend to overrate movies that are just OK, average and routine. They go to every comics-based movie dreading another BATMAN AND ROBIN or HOWARD THE DUCK, and when the movie turns out to be competent entertainment, an acceptable time-killer, they’re so relieved they wildly overpraise it.

    Hence the fanboy rantings that THE DARK KNIGHT was the best movie ever made, and the vicious attacks on anyone who was even mildly critical (especially if the critic was female). This has been repeated every time a half-decent superhero movie has come out.

  12. says

    Scottie seems to be the same guy moaning about articles all over this site. It’s a sad person that’s so down on comics and such, and then spends all his time (and probably lots of money) surrounded by them.

  13. George says

    Yes, it sounds like Scottie needs a new hobby. There’s no reason to spend time and money on something that no longer gives you pleasure.

  14. says

    I share a lot of the impressions with the reviewer.

    The thing that surprised me the most – apart from Zemo’s not getting deformed (nice twist, Russos) – was how sad CIVIL WAR war.

    It starts with bloody AGENT CARTER dying. Not a great timing for me as I was just watching season 1 with my wife… I mean, she was really old and sick in WINTER SOLDIER, but come on. It’s Peggy, and she might not even get a 3rd season now.

    then Cap is kind of an asshole for holding so long to the secret of the 1991 mission (it gets brilliantly set up under our noses but we don’t even realize until the end) and chosing to protect Bucky despite the consequences. No hero properly dies in this movie but I felt Iron Man did… on the inside. And then Cap tells Tony that’s all too bad but, hey, suck it. Oh, and if you need me just call.

    How will they ever work again in the future? Stark must simply hate those perfect teeth even more now. Obviously Thanos being a cosmic threat of no precedents will put those two on the same side again, but it just felt so bitter (not sweet at all). The Avengers died there and Zemo did what no previous villain managed to.

    It was a fun sandwich, but made with sorrow bread.

  15. Jeff Walther says

    The camera work ruined this film. The writing/story was pretty good, but I couldn’t lose myself in the tale for the first 2/3 of the film because the abominable camera work kept booting me out of the story.

    Close-up shakey cam is not a cool technique; it is just an excuse to not properly choreograph action and makes it impossible for the audience to actually see what is happening. I blame “Gladiator” (the film, not the imperial guard). But i also blame the puerile film school rejects who embraced this low quality technique, which might have been novel while hunting a witch in the woods, but otherwise is just an excuse not to do their jobs while putting on airs of how hip they are.

    Every time the camera panned it went out of focus. Close ups cut off the tops of everyones’ heads and looked like they were shot from under the actors’ chins. One entire non action scene looks like it was filmed with the camera on the floor.

    At first I surmised that they hired the lollipop guild to run the cameras, but ultimately decided they just mounted them on the backs of goats. In close ups, judging from the camera angle, the goats are clealy trying to nibble the actors’ crotches.

    Near the end of the film, adult supervision was (mostly) returned to the camera work, focus and steady functions restored and, presumably, the film school students sent back to the goat ranch, whence they came.

    Or perhaps the horrid camera work was a metaphor for Tony being off his meds the first 2/3 of the film and finally getting back on them at the end, sort of. If so, it was a metaphor that ruined the film, which otherwise had a great story to tell.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *