Every summer, a Marvel superhero film sweeps into theaters like a breath of fresh air, a standard-bearer. This May, that’s “Captain America: Civil War,” directed by Joe and Anthony Russo. There’s political commentary, emotional stakes and plenty of action, but with a lighthearted quality, zingers and jokes littered throughout to brighten up the atmosphere. There’s a hopefulness that maybe some “enhanced individuals” do the right thing because they still believe in that.
That’s not the only way to do a superhero comic book movie, but it’s dependable, reliable, comforting – like ordering at a chain restaurant. You know what kind of meal you’re going to get every time, and you’ll most likely enjoy it.
“Civil War” centers around the ramifications of the events from “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” wherein the fictional nation of Sokovia was leveled, as well as a mishap in Lagos during an Avengers mission early in the film, which results in the loss of many lives. It’s almost as if there needs to be some regulation on a band of superheroes romping about the globe, intervening in international affairs willy nilly.
That’s what Secretary of State Ross (William Hurt) believes, and Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is inclined to agree with him, taking a more liberal, pro-government stance. Not quite in agreement is Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), the libertarian type who is resistant to government intervention, and remains staunch in his beliefs that he knows what’s right and wrong. His stance is exacerbated when his old buddy Bucky/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is framed for a bombing during a U.N. meeting to ratify the Sokovia accords.
The film is refreshingly open to debate on this topic. Rather than pushing an oppressive or undisputed ideology, there’s discussion about the nuances of the right way to do the right thing, that maybe there are many different ways to be right – you can follow the rules, or follow your beliefs.
The action here is refreshingly human-scaled, rather than the skyscraper-obliterating disasters of other films. We’re introduced to T’Challa Wakanda/Black Panther (Chadwick Bozeman), and his muscly feline prowess is a welcome addition to the team. As is the chipper teen enthusiasm of Peter Parker/Spiderman (Tom Holland). Though much of it can seem like crashing action figures together, the match-ups between the heroes of different powers are thrilling, and executed with humor and smarts. However, as the film crosses the two-hour mark, the endless punching becomes relentlessly dull.
Marvel’s marketing campaign has exhorted fans to choose #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan. Within the movie, this question becomes a debate between science and emotion, protocol and friendship. Neither is the wrong way, necessarily. The Avengers have always been powered by their shared collective power, so the friendship theme is important, but hammered home again and again in Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay.
This is a Captain America movie, so the choice would seem clear – why then does the #TeamIronMan choice seem more sensible? America’s brawny sweetheart puts on the nice guy airs, but he’s loathe to see outside of his perspective, change his ways, or compromise. His old-fashioned, Greatest Generation schtick isn’t quite as charming (or effective) this time around. As an Avengers movie, “Civil War” is a cut above the rest, but unfortunately, our relationship to the titular hero is tarnished in the process.
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