By: Tim Cogshell
Image courtesy of the Disney Company – 2016
April 21, ’16, 9:53 a.m. – I was sitting down to watch an early screening of Captain America: Civil War on the Disney Studios lot in Burbank, California. I received a text inquiring if I’d heard the news. As a number of noted critics and studio types filed in – all immersed in their devices, we confirmed the news for each other – Prince was dead.
One noted critic, whose name I will not mention because she may not want you to know she cusses like a sailor, posed the question aloud, “How the fuck are we supposed to pay attention to this now!?” It was a goddamn good question. I said in response, voice cracking, “No shit, I’m all fucked up!” As it happens, I cuss like a sailor, too. They started the movie.
Over the next two hours and twenty-seven minutes, the film’s full runtime through the end credits, Captain America: Civil War made me forget that Prince had died. It’s that entertaining – that good a piece of summer distraction, which is exactly what it’s supposed to be. And let’s not forget that it’s a film fresh on the heels of the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice fiasco; oddly, one whose narrative is virtually the same as that of the Marvel film.
Both Civil War and Dawn of Justice are about opposing camps of superheroes facing off – for one reason or another – in a battle to the death until a greater threat reveals itself. Batman v Superman was directed – which is to say “stylized” – by Zack Snyder; it’s exactly that, a Zack Snyder film. Which is to say, bloated, bombastic, self-consciously serious, philosophically juvenile, and downright silly.
Captain America: Civil War is directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, the brothers behind Captain America: The Winter Soldier and who will helm the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War – Part I and Avengers: Infinity War – Part II. The key difference between Batman v Superman and Civil War is that the brothers Russo are not stylizers, but rather storytelling filmmakers whose work is varied in both format and tone.
From cult films like Welcome to Collinwood (2002), You, Me and Dupree (2006), and even culty-er TV shows like Arrested Development and Community, the Russos are journeyman filmmakers with no personal agenda in their efforts other than to make a really entertaining movie. That makes sense – and it’s good.
That’s what they have done with Captain America: Civil War. It’s good enough to make me forget that Prince had died – even if only for 2 hours and 27 minutes.
Submission to authority? Tony Stark vs. Steve Rogers
Civil War opens with an action sequence. A combination of Avengers that includes the Capt. (Chris Evans), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson), among others, but notably not the Hulk, who is not in this movie. The mission goes badly, thus increasing pressure on the Avengers to come under some sort of authority. On the heels of events in New York, Washington, D.C., and the fictional land of Sokovia, nations have come to wonder if these superheroes are worth all the mayhem their protection provides.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is shaken by an encounter with the mother of a young man who was killed during one of his heroics in a scene similar to one in Batman v Superman – but done better here. Long story short, Tony wants to submit to an authority that the league of nations has endorsed. Captain America does not. Avengers align.
Meanwhile, a darker plan unfolds, none of which will be revealed here.
Fanboys hate spoilers, but I wonder if the irony in the framing of Civil War will go unnoticed by the superhero movie fans who will make this movie a worldwide box office hit. I wonder if they will get that billionaire Tony Stark, an Ayn Rand archetype of a self-made man, would not be inclined to have his individual authority usurped; while Captain America, a soldier, by default a member of and subject to the authority of government, would never refuse what is effectively a direct order from his superiors, the elected officials of the American government. Which is the point of being a Captain – a dutiful soldier.
In any case, Civil War, though technically a Captain America sequel, is really a Marvel Universe sequel that uses this clash of heroes to introduce new characters, including Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa (a.k.a. the Black Panther), king of the fictional land Wakanda; and to reintroduce Spider-Man (Tom Holland), along with a new take on Aunt May, who is played by the age appropriate and incredibly hot Marisa Tomei. Yep, Aunt May is hot.
In addition to a few other characters, who round out the fight on both sides. Yet in the end it all comes down to a showdown between Tony and Steve, and let’s face it, they never liked each other anyway.
The fact that Captain America: Civil War is this good is surprising. There have been several of these films of late and their relative entertainment value has been hit-and-miss for all but the most staunch Comic-Con-type fans. Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool were good, the previously mentioned Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and a couple of those Iron Man films I could have done without.
I don’t need any more Thor films, either. Not to mention any number of Marvel and DC TV series, from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,Agent Carter, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil to Gotham, The Flash, and Supergirl – each vying for their own galaxy in the Marvel and DC universes.
So, chances are that for me to consider Captain America: Civil War a good movie – good enough to make me forget Prince had just died – it must be pretty good indeed.
Review: Captain America: Civil War (2016).
Dir.: Joe and Anthony Russo.
Scr.: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. From the comic book by Mark Millar, and characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
Cast: Chris Evans. Robert Downey Jr. Tom Holland. Scarlett Johansson. Sebastian Stan. Jeremy Renner. Daniel Brühl. Chadwick Boseman. Paul Rudd. Marisa Tomei. Anthony Mackie.Elizabeth Olsen. Don Cheadle. Paul Bettany. Emily VanCamp. Frank Grillo. William Hurt. Martin Freeman. John Slattery. Hope Davis. Alfre Woodard.