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Review: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Directed by: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Premise: Following the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Avengers: Age of Ultron, the governments of the world attempt to reign in the Avengers with a UN resolution. This causes tensions among the superheroes that are exacerbated when Captain America’s friend Bucky (the Winter Soldier) is named the culprit of a terrorist bombing.

What Works: The Captain America series has emerged as among the better titles in Marvel’s Avengers franchise and Civil War is another successful film. One of the most admirable things about this series is that Marvel has avoided the Hollywood pitfall of sequels as remakes in which the same formula is reiterated over and over again. Instead, Marvel has grown these characters and Civil War brings ongoing tensions and character developments to their logical conclusions. The primary conflict of Civil War occurs between Captain America and Iron Man (Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr.) In their origin stories, Captain America began as the hero of the establishment and Iron Man was the rebel. Over the series, each superhero has been given a credible trajectory with Captain America losing his faith in the establishment and Iron Man experiencing post-traumatic stress. Those years of development pay off in Civil War and it is gratifying to see how Marvel has nurtured this series and taken its time to develop the characters (as opposed to DC who rushed into the same kind of story with Batman v Superman). Civil War is overall a smart and character-driven movie, which is unusual for a special effects heavy tent pole picture. The inciting incident of Civil War is a United Nations resolution prompted by the collateral damage the Avengers have accrued in their many adventures. The resolution would put the superheroes under the supervision of the U.N., something Iron Man welcomes but Captain America resists. This conflict allows the story to address a fundamental yet often ignored reality of superheroes; these people jet across the world and kill their enemies without respect for due process or international borders. This criticism has a contemporary urgency. In the same way that The Winter Soldier addressed concerns about drone warfare and state sponsored assassinations, Civil War dramatizes the debate about unilateral military intervention. 

What Doesn’t: There are a number of story flaws in Civil War. The key problem of the movie is that that so much of it is forced. Captain America and Iron Man and their respective teams don’t ever seem to be fighting over anything tangible or meaningful. The film entertains high-minded ideas of unilateral independence versus legal restraint but none of that is really at issue when the superheroes finally have their grand brawl at the airport. Instead it’s all a lot of special effects and stunts. It’s all quite entertaining but it doesn’t have much emotional or dramatic impact because very little is at stake. The real villain of Civil War is Zemo, played by Daniel Brühl, a man whose family was killed as collateral damage in the climax of Age of Ultron. Zemo is an uninteresting character and his plot to destroy the Avengers is overcomplicated and relies on a lot of coincidences. That’s most obvious in the ending in which Zemo lures Captain America and Bucky and Iron Man into a trap. There’s no way for Zemo to know who will arrive at the isolated location and the scheme is ultimately unnecessary. Civil War is also overstuffed with characters and not all of them have good reason to be in this movie. Ant-Man and Spider-Man (Paul Rudd and Tom Holland, respectively) are shoehorned into Civil War only for the purpose of enhancing the Marvel brand and setting up other movies. There is also a love story between Captain America and agent Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) that is tagged on and doesn’t go anywhere.

Bottom Line: Despite being overloaded with characters and subplots, Captain America: Civil War is an impressive entry in Marvel’s Avengers series. The film is smart and exciting and it makes for a good time at the movies.

Episode: #594 (May 15, 2016)