Marvel’s latest superhero epic should have been called Marvel Civil War rather than its character-specific title. That’s my only complaint. See you next week, folks.
Wait, you want more? Brace yourself. Captain America’s third solo outing feels more like a third Avengers adventure—granted, sans Hulk and Thor—as Cap (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) butt heads over government regulation of superheroics after a mission in Africa ends with the tragic deaths of several Wakandan peacekeepers. For those who do not know, Wakanda is the home of Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), better known as Black Panther, one of the fresh faces added to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, lovingly acronymed the MCU.
Those deaths—plus the aftermath of the Chitauri invasion of New York (see The Avengers) and the devastation in D.C. (Captain America: Winter Soldier) and the destruction of Sokovia (Avengers: Age of Ultron)—has led the United Nations to clamp down on the unilateral actions of Earth’s enhanced population. While Tony Stark, James “War Machine” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Vision (Paul Bettany) sign on to the government’s plan after Cap’s old pal Bucky “Winter Soldier” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is implicated in the act of terrorism, Steve Rogers and his buddy Sam “Falcon” Wilson (Anthony Mackie) hold out, much to the chagrin of the MCU’s biggest curmudgeon, Secretary of State Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt).
If Civil War lacks anything, it’s the presence of a Big Bad, but when the enemy is your friend, who needs Doctor Doom (the MCU, obviously, but that’s another story) to further complicate relationships?
Captain America: Civil War loosely germinated from Mark Millar’s terrific 2006 overhaul of the Marvel Universe. The movie personalizes that plot for the red, white and blue-suited Avenger with yet another attempt to save Bucky Barnes. (I am pretty sure Barnes is not worth several movies worth of trouble.) By borrowing Millar’s Civil War narrative frame, the movie permits itself to be more Avengers 3 than Cap 3 and utilize the strengths of multiple heroes while introducing several more crowd favorites.
Both Avengers films, as well as Guardians of the Galaxy, proved that big-screen superheroes work best as a team. Cap’s stalwart do-gooder softens Iron Man’s snark, while the latter provides the former with much needed levity; Hulk never needs another solo adventure, ever. (A Wolverine and Hulk smashup would be another story.) Jumping straight to the big leagues, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man fits Cap’s “Rogue Avengers” lineup perfectly, as does the introduction of yet another Peter Parker (Tom Holland, The Impossible), aka Spider-Man, for Iron Man’s law-abiding crew. Holland’s energetic, youthful take provides new hope that Sony’s sixth Spidey movie—this one finally under Marvel’s creative control—could be the best since at least their second (no origin story, please). The webslinger’s humor-laden action stands out in the film’s major hero-versus-hero set piece that sets up the final act.
The first appearance of Black Panther adds more diversity to the MCU, and those retractable vibranium claws are tough! (However, Boseman and his filmmaking collaborators will need to up the fun factor for his 2018 solo flick; giving up the revenge angle should help.) With the enlistment of new blood as well as several well-known Avengers, everyone but Hulk and Thor fans should leave satisfied.
Captain America: Winter Soldier directors Anthony and Joe Russo and the screenwriting team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely smartly follow the Avengers blueprint devised by Joss Whedon: Mix in copious amounts of humor amongst the huge dollops of well-choreographed CGI action while not forgetting some emotional gravitas to keep the whole super-powered affair from hoisting itself on its own silly unitard. And somehow, they balance the screen time so no hero wears out his welcome or gets short shrift.
The “Community” veterans even improve upon Whedon’s last MCU entry, Age of Ultron, and their own Cap 2. Their air of lightheartedness helps when dealing with the existential questions pondered by persons capable of destroying the world via their fists, minds or powered suits of armor. Though Captain America: Civil War lasts over two and a half hours, I could have stuck around for 30 more minutes of shield slinging, repulsor firing, web shooting and size manipulating.
Like a seersucker suit in the middle of a humid Southern summer, this incredibly sturdy superhero movie is constructed of such lightweight material it does not exhaust the audience like its heavier peers. The summer 2016 blockbuster arms race begins with Marvel adding substantially to its arsenal of top-tier escapist entertainment. Watching a Marvel blockbuster does not leave a bitter aftertaste of “I liked it, but…” Make mine Marvel, as long as Marvel keeps making its movies so enjoyable.
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