Two weeks ago, I decided to take a step back from Flick Crave. I needed space and time to think and recontextualize my goals and hopes for this platform. In that time, I began to rewatch the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Providing reviews for six films that I consider be the best of the MCU, two from each phase, (I will review the rest sooner rather than later; wink wink) in preparation for “Avengers: Infinity War.” One film out of the first five received my highest grade because on rewatch I had to face the reality that some of these films have not grown with my love for the cinema. Cinematic language is something that, as a critic, I have to learn and continue questioning. Since my taste for the cinema and my expectation for filmmaking have grown, my thoughts on some of these films have changed. Not drastically, but noticeably. One film though has not changed, it seems to have joined me for the long haul. That film is “Captain America: Civil War.” (A.K.A. “Avengers 2 and ½”)
The Russo’s continue to prove why their Marvel’s go to pick for big projects like this. Delivering on their first go around, the Russo’s continue their success with a story that homages instead of adapting the 2006 graphic novel, “Civil War.” They along with their returning screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), fabricate a film that balances the tones of emotional consequence, entertainment, and investing character introductions into one marvelously wrapped package that is both poignant and captivating.
Instead of the Superhuman Registration Act though, the Avengers receive the Sokovian Accords. A long document, signed by over 100 countries in the United Nations that demands oversight over the “Avengers” after yet another tragedy takes place in Wakanda (the hidden version not the real one) in which multiple innocent lives are lost with no one to blame but the Avengers. The repercussions sent forth are the Accords, but they are delivered by the familiar face of Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt).
These accords split the Avengers into two sides of a debate in which Vision (Paul Bettany) provides a reasonable argument for signing the document by stating “Our very strength invites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict…. Breeds catastrophe. Oversight is not an idea that can be dismissed out of hand.” Captain America (Chris Evans) provides an equitable opposition by stating “If we sign this, we surrender our right to choose. What if this panel sends us somewhere we don’t think we should go? What if there is somewhere we need to go, and they don’t let us? We may not be perfect, but the safest hands are still our own.” Both of these arguments are sensical and breed intriguing themes such as the limits of government oversight, the responsibility of private military contractors, and the ramifications of the sins that the United States is willing to commit in a post 9/11 world.
These are not the only emotionally packed themes to be found though, “Captain America: Civil War” also dives into the philosophies of vengeance, heroism, and consequence. Assigning faces, characters, to each label. It injects a dose of reality into this universe by providing ramifications for a world of people who have watched these unlead heroes kick ass all over the Earth and leave their messes behind for someone else to clean up. It’s a battle of philosophies more than anything else for Tony (Robert Downey Jr) and Cap (Chris Evans) though. One man desires to find the punishment to his guilt, and the other can't just look the other way when something feels wrong. We saw hints of this for Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) in “Iron Man 3,” but now we see it play out with more depth added to it. Cap (Chris Evans) seems pompously noble in his actions, as always, but his desire for righteousness is consistently met with conflict as he continues to question what the right thing to do is, and what price it will cost in making that distant dream a reality.
All of this seriousness shouldn’t turn away fans though; there are still some dumb moments like the less than average VFX work done for the de-aging of Robert Downey Jr and the unpurposeful hilarious moment in which Cap (Chris Evans) stares at his bicep while keeping Bucky (Sebastian Stan) from escaping. On rewatch, it's also appealing to notice the lengths that Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely went through to keep the audience guessing. I remember being lost myself, despite being a fan of the graphic novel. It’s not just the writing and the emotionally resonating moments that keep us engaged though; it's also the Russos and the men and women behind these characters.
The Russo’s provide a gritty and worn down look to the film that erases all of the vibrant colors of “The Avengers” and clouds it with grey framing. Making Cap’s (Chris Evans) go from bright blue and red to dark blue and maroon. The action sequences and set-pieces are elaborate. They take up the screen in a great way. One, in particular, involving an airport is riddled with buttery popcorn moments. Moments of excitement and pure joy. The best of this action is in the finale though, in which emotional storytelling becomes packed into each punch, something noticeably rare for the MCU. These scenes leave your blood pumping faster than before and your excitement level at an abnormal high. Henry Jackman’s score is one of the MCU’s best too, with slow bombastic undertones that sweep in the emotion during the film’s heaviest moments in which I remember saying to myself in the theater: “Wow they’re really going for it.”
The actors go for it as well, as Robert Downey Jr delivers a heartfelt array of moments that involve his facial expressions and tone of wording that showcase his brilliance as an actor is not limited to quips. Chris Evans is exceptional as the Captain, once again. He may not be the most conflicting of characters, but “Captain America: Civil War” and Evans give the character far more intrigue than I thought possible. The rest of the cast is prominently noticed and delivers some of their best work. I would name all of them, but I jokingly named this film “Avengers 2 and ½” for a reason, and let’s just agree that there’s a lot of characters in this movie. Luckily, they're in safe hands as the Russo’s and Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely balance them seamlessly. Knowing when to reign them in and went to let them run free. Only good filmmakers can achieve that feat, a feat I hope is replicated in “Avengers: Infinity War.” (Talk about a long list of characters)
Is this “The Dark Knight” of the MCU? Not exactly. Like I said, “The Dark Knight” challenges the weight of the canvas in which it's genre resides. “Captain America: Civil War” on the other hand, tests the limits of its cinematic universe. It challenges its genre in brief moments (the idea of introducing reality into superhero films), but it's more about experimenting upon where these characters can go and if their limits are measured by that of the amount of laughter in the theater.
That’s not to say there are no jokes to be found in “Captain America: Civil War,” there’s more than enough to go around. From Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) becoming a freaked out fanboy when he joins the team to the introduction of the quirky web-slinger from Queens, Spider-man (Tom Holland). There’s plenty of levity to keep you engaged in the film, and watching it at home on Blu-ray this evening was no different. I found myself leaning out of my seat, quoting every line of dialogue, getting breezes of goosebumps, and building a lump in my throat near the finale.
“Captain America: Civil War” is what I want from the MCU, this is the cinematic universe at it's best. This film is Marvel extending an olive branch to those who wish for more bottom to these films. I didn't necessarily need one, but it's nice to know that they, like my appreciation for the cinema, continue to grow and challenge themselves. I can't wait to see how they fair with their newest experiment. Hopefully, it keeps with the trend of testing the limits of this cinematic universe, because challenge may insight conflict, but conflict can create change. I hope its another change for the better.