Captain America: Civil War (2016) review

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The story continues in an adventure that splits the Avengers apart. Iron Man feels bad about his actions and remorse over his ways, so he wants to be the straight man now and support a registration act that would make superheroes a UN peacekeeping force. Captain America disagrees and thinks that the world is best served with independent superheroes. The rift escalates when Captain’s old pal Bucky is being manipulated to wreak havoc.

Captain America: Civil War is two movies molten together. It is a Cap America movie where he deals with his troubled friend Bucky, and it is the Marvel Civil War movie that could also have been a standalone story. Like in Batman v Superman, heroes stand opposed, but the escalation of the rift is much more intelligible and understandable in Civil War than in BvS. Both films have in common, strangely, that a confrontation in Africa gets the proverbial ball rolling, but in Civil that at least provides a setup for the introduction of the Black Panther.

There is a big gap in quality between the first half and the second half. The whole first hour is chaotic. It is a procession of snippets of story and characters. The problem is that there are so many characters and storylines that the film simply has no time for it all. It feels crammed and cramped. And the film is already long as it is, more than two hours, but even with all that time the first hour is like a scrapbook. The individual shots of this scrapbook are all quite well done, but it is difficult at times to figure out what is important and what exactly is going on.

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While the movie is juggling twenty balls, the prettiest ball is the action itself. The fight scenes are stunning, and the choreographers paid special attention to accentuate the acrobatic skills of our superheroes. More than in any previous Marvel film do we get the feeling that these people have great physical strength, quick reflexes and superhuman power. They twist and contort themselves in the air and kick their legs in all directions like shaolin monks. It is exhilarating.

In the second half, the cramped storytelling slows down, so that the scenes get some space to run their course. And with that, actors like Robert Downey Jr. finally get some space to work on their characters. I am trying to think of any other characters that get a proper fleshing out, but while Downey Jr. does an admirable job, Chris Evans as Captain America is like a wooden wall. There is little space for acting. It is mostly people running and hitting each other. Actually, only Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle show any acting skill.

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We must not let the bad actors win, Don

There is a lot to love for comic book fans. Many of our heroes show their special abilities, some new loved characters are introduced; it is a colorful show. Marvel shows time and again that they can find a good balance between action and comedy, and the Russo brothers may have emulated Josh Whedon in this regard. In the end, it just doesn’t reach above that threshold of a great movie. It is entertaining and technically well made, sure. It will give you a fun evening. It just doesn’t stir that much in me, although it is always sad to see friendships fall apart.

There are also some motivations that I don’t really understand. Captain America keeps protecting his pal Bucky, even though Bucky is a danger to himself and should have gotten psychiatric help a long time ago. Some plot elements also arrive very suddenly on the scene. I am not going to say that more setup should have been stuffed into the film, but there is this mega incarceration facility run by… the US government I guess? To lock up superheroes, and it is suddenly there.

This is a consequence, I think, of the superhero genre embodying the American spirit in many ways, and mostly a strong individualism, self-sufficiency and distrust of government. No coincidence that Cap America is on the side of individualism. That may explain the sudden superhero dungeon of the government. I would have liked to see this storyline play out over multiple movies, actually. To see a development of superheroes getting arrested and things getting worse and worse, but now the story feels forced and a bit cynical.

All in all, a nice action film. Lots of exciting moments and exhilarating fighting. The story is choppy but straightens out in the second half. There is little time or space for acting and the actors do the best with the handful of lines that they are given, but only Robert Downey Jr. makes an impact.

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