Movie review: ‘Civil War’ soars then slumps at the finish
–In the 2002 movie “Spider-Man,” Uncle Ben offers some sage advice to a young Peter Parker, who is wrestling with his newfound abilities and what it means for his behavior. Uncle Ben says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” In other words, to whom much is given, much is expected.
That idea forms Peter’s approach to becoming Spider-Man and to his mission in the world. But in the years since, it sometimes seems superhero movies have forgotten that. Sure, the heroes still battle the villains and save the world, but there’s a lot more collateral damage that comes along with it. It’s led some to ponder why we care so much for these heroes and so little about the everyday people that get caught in the crossfire when these titans clash.
Perhaps no group of heroes has been bigger offenders than the Avengers. While the individual members have caused plenty of damage in their individual stories, when they come together as a group it increases. In “The Avengers” New York City is largely destroyed. In “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” they up the ante, including the destruction of Sokovia.
What’s been fascinating is to see how these superhero movies are now responding to these ideas. Much of the plot of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” revolved around Batman’s anger over the way Superman’s battle with Zod nearly destroyed Metropolis. That kind of tension informs a lot of the tension in “Captain America: Civil War,” the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the first major release of the summer movie season.
“Civil War” picks up after the action of “Ultron.” Captain America (Chris Evans) is leading the new look Avengers, which includes Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and The Vision (Paul Bettany). On a mission early in the film, things don’t go as planned. Many innocents are caught in the crossfire, and the world reacts.
No longer willing to tolerate the wanton destruction that comes with the Avengers’ protection, the world bands together to pass The Sokovia Accord. The new legislation brings the Avengers under the guidance of the United Nations. Anyone who won’t agree is forced to retire or run afoul of the law.
Secretary of State Ross (William Hurt) presents the legislation to the Avengers with mixed response. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), who is haunted by those he couldn’t save, sees these limitations as necessary. Captain America is unwilling to turn over these decisions to someone else. Their ideological clash sets them at odds.
Also putting them at odds is the return of Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), the Winter Soldier. He is implicated at a bombing that took the lives of many involved in the accords. Captain America refuses to give up on his friend, pitting him against Stark, the Avengers who agreed to the accord and the legitimate authorities. Soon the friends are choosing sides and preparing to battle it out.
“Captain America: Civil War” is a brilliant and frustrating film for me. There is so much of it that’s brilliant and resonates, that at some points while I was watching I wondered if it was the best Marvel film yet. But the problematic third act — which feels like it pulls its punches — left me feeling the film didn’t maximize its potential.
That’s not to say it’s a bad film. It’s a good film, and arguably in the top three of the Marvel films. There is plenty to like, if not love. In fact, the Russo Brothers — who directed “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” — do a masterful job of weaving in all these characters, expanding the world, telling a compelling story and setting up all that follows. It’s a juggling act that few can accomplish.
The additions to the world are part of what makes it great. Marvel did a deal with Sony to get the rights to Spiderman back, and he makes his debut — played now by Tom Holland — in this film. Holland is a great choice, and the way the character is constructed breathes new life into a popular Marvel property.
Another of the new additions is the Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman. Boseman is great in the part, and the character seamlessly joins the world, setting up his own standalone film in the near future.
I loved the storytelling and performances here, too. Downey and Evans have never been better in these roles, and they bring a great deal of emotion to the story. Most of the build up is fantastic — especially seeing these characters wrestle with these bigger ideas.
Then comes the third act. Marvel head Kevin Feige said the actions of “Civil War” would have ripples through the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You don’t feel that after the resolution at the end of this movie. Rather than leaving broken bodies and fractured relationships, it strives to find some sort of neat, tidy and happy ending. And that’s a shame.
These superhero movies — and the Marvel movies in particular — have become too safe and too predictable. That diminishes what came before the end in “Civil War” and it poses a danger to the popularity of these films going forward.
“Captain America: Civil War” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem.
Three stars out of four.
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