Captain America: Civil War (*****) Goes where the Avengers cannot

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Captain America: Civil War

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo
Written by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Brühl

Who would imagine a question posed in Marvel’s very first feature would take until the 13th film overall and the 2nd film in Phase III to be answered?  That is patience my friends. And confidence. And damn fine film-making. The question and answer is one of the many incredible things about Captain America: Civil War.

The story acts as the epicenter of two crossroads. The first is the trajectory of the Avengers. There have been two films thus far and thankfully we have not until now been forced to waste celluloid covering petty disagreements blown out into meaningless brawls. In this case, the disagreement is philosophical in nature, and has organically grown from the character of the principal leads, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. The time and care they have taken in developing the characters and motives for the two has been remarkable in that one can see it happen bit by bit in each movie (even in the Avengers) for the superheroes, but still retain the cohesion of each film’s original plot.

Tony is a man who moved from callous weapons manufacturer, to thinking he could manufacture weapons that could ensure peace until now, a man who doubts every idea he has other than the one where he seeks the help of a higher authority. This authority, Major Ross and the United Nations. Steve Rogers, on the other hand, has gone from whatever I can do to help Uncle Sam, to questioning anyone’s authority and judgement but that of himself and his friends. As we find out, Tony used to be one of those friends.

Steve’s journey is the other and in this case, most relevant crossroad. The purity of vision that his country had in WWII (The First Avenger) has given way to a new world in which most people in power are interested in keeping that power and blowing away anything that could remotely be a threat (The Winter Soldier). Now another force is playing Steve’s concern into downright paranoia and contrasting that with Tony’s doubts about his ability to control the use of his and his friends power.

As both Avengers move towards what they think is the answer, battle lines are drawn and sides are chosen. The best part of this battle is that it feels real and the stakes are something worth fighting for and about. As silly as one could feel Tony Stark is for deciding to have someone else in charge, one can see how he’s come to the decision. Rogers, meanwhile, makes us feel downright proud to be free and independent thinkers, until we find that he is not without his own poor judgement.

Therein lay the strength of Civil War. Each side has its own clear vision, but they also have downright viable flaws. The vision of Kevin Feige and his co-collaborators is that in making compelling heroes, one cannot make them infallible.

We’ve seen a pretty flawless Steve Rogers up to now, but the upward trajectory of his character lay in his always appearing to be the weakest link in the chain. Our enjoyment was from knowing that he knew the odds and he also knew how to turn them into his favor, without making a big todo in the process. He is America, in stature and make up. We’ve been the mutt that was given the smallest chance to succeed, and succeed we have. Imagine the feeling for those who have followed when we realize even he might have succumbed to weakness, calling it judgement, on his way to larger aspirations.

As for the Russo brothers, I think it’s safe to say they are the best directing siblings alive today. So far they are two for two, and the decisions they make are always in favor of the story over making any sort of distinct mark on the film, to which the Cohen brothers occasionally fall victim. The decision to have so many lead characters playing support in a film almost never works. It’s too hard to get everyone their moment in the sun. Joss Whedon spent the better part of two Avengers movies doing this, until the movie seemed like a series of one liners. The Russo brothers don’t cut corners here. The shots that might just be grand standing in lesser films move forward plot points here.

There are so many surprises in this film, there is never a time in which one does not feel like smiling, even when there is so much at stake. My favorite superheroes have always been War Machine and Iron Man, yet I found myself wishing for them to be at least incapacitated just to see heroes I couldn’t give a crap about 10 years ago succeed.

The story surges ahead and it really is quite centered, despite the number of characters involved. The premise is a simple one, yet the questions it asks are profound. It really extends on the premise on how we want to be governed. Do we want to fulfill our own destiny, or do we want to push that responsibility to the side in wait of the judgement of others who may or may not be wiser.

The Infinity Wars looks like a daunting task. The comic is tedious and lacks any real intrigue. If it succeeds, it’s going to require some serious pairing down. Can Feige, the Russo’s and Marvel succeed with such an outlandish plot that seems doomed to have more special effects and less development? It’s hard to imagine that it is possible to make it palatable, but I am glad they have the Russo’s at the helm.

(*****)

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