Captain v. Iron Man: Dawn of Spidey

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I always approach my personal opinion towards every movie from the most possible objectivity I can, but before I go deep into Captain America: Civil War, the latest in the now-thirteen movie Marvel Cinematic Universe and third entry in the Captain America sub-franchise, I need to acknowledge a few potential disclosures and biases. I’ll start with the one least likely to affect my opinion.

I have a friend – maybe at this point reverted to acquaintances now, given we are not still in contact; hence I don’t think it’s gonna matter – who has worked on Civil War. I worked as a 1st AD on two of her productions in film school and she wrote a couple of letters of recommendation for me as the President of our alma mater’s Film Association before I chickened out of attending grad school for… I think the second time. So, there’s that. Pretty small and ineffectual (needless to say, I am extremely proud to have known her), but no stone unturned when it comes to disclosure.

The second one that threatened to matter but I actually don’t think occurred in the back of my mind is… I hate Mark Millar. The comic writer who is the head – I don’t wanna say brain – behind the Civil War comic book event where the superheroes get to arguing about being registered and regulated by the government made that story into an overflowed, inconsistent mess in every front and one that was ignorant of motivations and characterizations. As a comic book reader, I find it one of the great farces of the medium. And as a hater of Mark Millar, I think it’s a miracle he didn’t shoehorn sexual assault into it like he does literally everywhere else.

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That doesn’t seem to be a problem with the film itself. Sure, it’s not a perfect script but Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do an admirable job of condensing the storyline without losing its ambitious international scope, of fleshing out character psychologies by having them be anchored by the events we’ve already seen them go through, and by having an ear for the language and cadence of certain interactions. The script is not perfect – certain characters are completely disposable by all means and nearly all of them have no real change between their characterization in the beginning of the movie and the end – but it works and satisfies me.

The third and final bias, one that actually sort of affects my attitude towards the movie, is how I was on the edge of my seat until I finally saw the movie a few hours ago flipping over whether or not we’re getting a new Captain America movie or an Avengers installment. The former has consistently been the most enjoyable rung on the MCU branch that isn’t Jessica Jones or Guardians of the Galaxy for me, while the latter felt like a constant obligation and remarkably divided from the development of any character.

I half-regret to inform you all that it is leaning more to Avengers story than Captain America entry. Only half because regardless, it is maybe the most consequential of the MCU works yet. Everything has a weight, everything feels like it matters.

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe has always had some amount of self-awareness towards collateral damage and casualties, so it is no surprise when after such a disastrous mission occurs in Nigeria at the opening of the film, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and the rest of his 2.0 Avengers are met by Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and General Ross (William Hurt) with the Sokovia Accords. After all the damage done, the UN demands to have oversight over the Avengers. Stark jumps at the opportunity to sign it and try to convince his supermates to do so as well, given his hand in Ultron’s wrath during the previous Avengers film as well as other factors I’ll get into. Rogers is not so convinced, particularly on the aftermath of the revelation of liars and villains living inside their very own government in the previous Captain America film. Thus he and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are met with certain retirement.

That is until a terrorist bombing occurs at the sight of the Accords’ ratification in Vienna and it appears that Bucky Buchanan/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) whom Rogers was once allied with in WWII is behind it. Knowing that Stark, Ross, and the rest of the authorities will undoubtedly take Buchanan dead without intervention, Rogers jumps into racing to find him first and causing a massive rift between Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

In a movie like this, there is easy ability to bog one self down in fan service and, to be fair, Civil War does take advantage of that for part of a time – that’s kind of the reason Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and especially the newly procured MCU version of Spider-Man portrayed by Tom Holland are in the movie – but… Civil War gets well enough away with this apparent overindulgence by having the best ensemble of the entire MCU. And I’m not just talking about the front-and-center superheroes themselves, though we can clearly see where Evans, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, and all the others grew more and more into their characters. Chadwick Boseman as Prince T’Challa/Black Panther gets the most to do with his vengeance arc after his father is among those killed in Vienna and nails it, Daniel Bruhl breaks Marvel’s curse of having uninteresting villains with a broken humanity unexpected, and Downey Jr… after a series of films that implied he was fucking done with the character and giving little effort behind his choices, Downey Jr. did the unexpected and raked in all the psychological aspects of Stark’s breakdown as a character – especially the PTSD and uncertainty of his actions and the exhaustion behind all the decisions he made in the franchise – to give his best performance as Iron Man yet, above and beyond even the first film. His line readings show him clenching muscles playboy Tony Stark wanted to pretend he didn’t have and the trailers don’t show half the internal commentary behind his response to Rogers’ “He’s my friend”: “… so was I.” It is the “I wish I knew how to quit you” of this movie.

Hell, even if I’m not as impressed with Holland, he’s a damn sight better than Andrew Garfield. Stan is the only weak link, but that’s ok, we were stuck with him from the beginning.

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The result of these performances being as well-tuned as they could possibly be is that we get a movie that can move by swiftly on its dialogue and clashes, even if it doesn’t really give its arguments depth, which is fine. I don’t really think a politically charged MCU film is ideal if the third act of The Winter Soldier nearly ruining it is any indication. But even moreso, we have an entirely familiar gallery of characters so that the latter half of Civil War, where conflicts truly come to a blow, can actually experiment with how the characters fight and work together and as a result, the battle in the Berlin airport becomes just a fun bombastic piece of action cinema, never running out of things to do with anybody.

And the true miracle of Civil War is having a fully impactful third act, with a central fight scene between Captain and Iron Man that turns fucking vicious early on and feels every bit exhausting and relentless. Being a fan of Community and thus the Paintball episodes that got directors Anthony and Joe Russo their job here, I couldn’t help thinking of the tension in the end of “A Fistful of Paintballs” with the four-way standoff and realizing that the final fight in Civil War is essentially all of that tension completely let loose.

In the end, Civil War still little more than a product by Kevin Feige to keep the MCU rolling, but it’s a product that did its job while entertaining me and leaving me more satisfied than I truly expected all things considered. The Captain America films continue to be the shining elements of the MCU and I’m only all the more excited to see how Ryan Coogler will treating Black Panther in his own upcoming movie. It’s refreshing after 2015 gave us the two of the most typical and uninspired comic book movies from the MCU.

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