4 out of 5
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
As I was in the minority of viewers who didn’t feel that Winter Soldier was that much of a step forward – coming across as both over-stuffed and under-baked, despite having some good character development – I wasn’t sure how I felt about the directors Russo becoming the post-Whedon guiding forces of the MCU, the scope of which kept getting bigger, and felt like it might be on shaky ground – as in too big for its britches – with the second Avengers flick. With the full Winter Soldier team returning for Cap 3, which would loosely adapt an uneven Event series from Marvel, every new announcement of added characters – Black Panther! Spider-Man! – felt like an underlining of the qualities I was seeing that weren’t all that appealing.
And Cap 3 is over-stuffed: the Russos tried to “balance” Winter Soldier’s world-destroying volume with quieter moments, leading to a juddering pace of BIG and then languorous and back again, and with Civil War they just adjusted that formula by toning down the scope a bit but upping the frequency, meaning we can’t make it past a single conversation without a well-choreographed brawl going down as a result. The positive outcome of this is that the film’s centerpiece, when all those listed appearances inevitably come together to brawl, is actually pretty impressive, because it’s not lost amidst a whole bunch of other large scale battles.
But there’s a more important takeaway: that this centerpiece is exactly that: somewhat at the film’s center. While Civil War is, as mentioned, busy with the fightin’, it successfully uses the majority of those clashes to actually move the plot along. You can get away with having your big show-stopper in the middle, and a more character-intensive scuffle as your denouncement because these elements are actually engaging on a story level – even if part of you rolls your eyes at how quick to punch each other these people are. Then again: that’s comics. And that’s what ends up making Cap 3 a pretty important milestone, standing alongside the first Iron Man flick as a Marvel film that satisfies on both those levels: as a realization of an experience (I.e. reading comics) and as a movie. While Winter Soldier – and some of the other MCU stuff – struggled with balancing family friendly with comic book fantastic with grounded reality with serious ramifications, causing some definite immersion breaking points, Civil War exists wholly, seamlessly in its universe. And that potential character bloat is a boon: calling it Captain America: something something subtitle is just so we can lynch it to a franchise, but it’s not just an undercover Avengers movie either. It’s an event movie. It’s the several-film culmination of character arcs from previous films. It’s a frickin’ comic book crossover, y’all, tossing aside the Civil War print version’s soap opera sensationalism for a logic that builds off of what’s been established in the MCU, which, unlike comics, isn’t yet weighed down by decades of previous events and history.
…Meaning, yeah, it’s gonna be hard to do this this well again, without too much history weighing it down or the same good grace earned by the mostly consistent lead-up.
Captain America: Civil War uses a crime pinned on Bucky – the Winter Soldier – to kick off a splinter between dueling personalities / opinions: Iron Man’s desire to navigate matters politically by agreeing to government oversight of the Avengers, and Cap’s belief in the guiding force of justice, which shouldn’t be a political tool. Sides are taken and kerfuffle’s are had, and appreciably, the film doesn’t clearly vilify or exonerate one character over the other, fairly cleverly balancing some good humored back and forth with punch-laden gravitas so that we see the relative goodwill and ignorances stemming from both points of view, while still juggling the Bucky carrot so that things don’t completely devolve into just he said / he said.
After some spectacle, you might stop to consider why some of this was necessary, or chortle at the sillily complex machinations apparently triggering this whole rigamarole, but none of this diminishes the entertainment value of the flick, and the fact that you were too distracted to worry about it for two plus hours certainly says something.
While the movie-going experience isn’t what it once was (I.e. I watched this on Netflix), the MCU is the closest thing to a Star Wars-type uniqueness that we might get in this generation: something that changes the way we interact with and watch films. They’re not all perfect, but it is damned cool to see this coming together, and Civil War is an especially successful iteration of that.