Saturday, May 7, 2016

Captain America: Civil War Review - Fun But Mediocre

Welcome back. Last time I reviewed a movie it was Batman v Superman, the story of how a rich man with daddy issues fights an All-American icon on whether or not super-powered beings should be allowed to be free agents or be brought to heel, all the while a guy who definitely isn't German throws gasoline on the fire of discontent, and several sequels are set up. Oh boy...

All joking aside, I did review this movie before. Four weeks ago. Civil War is, while in actual plot very different, it is surprisingly similar to BvS in terms of concept. Things differ, of course, but in concept both movies are very similar. After a botched heroing job by the Avengers, the UN, supported by Thunderbolt Ross from the Hulk movie, Tony Stark, and the nation of Wakanda, wants to introduce legislation to bring the Avengers under UN control. First strike against this movie: it implies that any nation on Earth is actually doing more than just humor the UN. But okay, we accept spandexed wall crawlers and rich people giving away free college tuition like a libertarian's wet dream, so I think we can accept that. Two teams form, one around Iron Man, who is for the registration, having been guilted into it by the mom of someone who died in Age of Ultron, and one opposing registration, led by Captain America, who is against it because he has already read the rest of the script. At the ratification ceremony which somehow takes places in Zurich instead of New York, because the UN moved their headquarters for reasons(?), a bomb is set off by what appears to be Bucky Barnes, killing several people, among them King What's-his-face, aka Black Panther's dad. 
Now on the run, Cap jumps to the defense of Bucky Barnes, eventually leading to them killing and maiming German law enforcement like it's 1945. From then on it's all out war between Iron Man's and Cap's sides. You might even say, a Civil War...

Look, all my joking aside, all my complaining aside, this is an entertaining movie. I have said as much on Facebook before and I wanna reiterate this here before I start complaining. It's a mostly well paced movie that fails to actually do something interesting with it's premise because it all needs to lead up to a giant fight that takes up too much screen time. In other words, I could copy-paste all of my superhero reviews and first impressions from the last three or four years in this article and nobody would actually notice. It's a Marvel Studios movie, that means you get a certain standard of quality, you get predictability, you get more set-up for later, but you will also be entertained in the end, the same way you could count to be entertained by a Marvel film since 2008. For some people that's enough and I won't argue against that. We all have our pet peeves, our preferences, our own problems and frustrations, things we want to escape when we go to the movies. It's definitely not for the arts, or otherwise the highest grossing film of all time would be a black and white French film from the 60s were people just sit around naked and talk about philosophy. It's an action movie and considering the quality of action movies in their entirety, kinda like a canon of... Cannon Films, it's more than sufficient. 

This leads me, once again, to rant about review sites like Rotten Tomatoes, or, more importantly, review scores. The problem is not a negative or a positive review, it's that time and time again the same, or similar, movie is released to glowing reviews. I would argue you can't do that. Not every movie that gets released is fantastic, if fantastic becomes the norm then nothing is fantastic, to paraphrase Syndrome here. 

Captain America: Civil War has a lot of things going for it. The good action, the performances by RDJ and Boseman, or Daniel Brühl, who hits it out of the park, giving us arguably the best Marvel villain outside of the Netflix shows, or the fact that the villain does actually win in the end. 

It's not flawless though. No movie ever is, of course, but that is not an Everything-Proof-Shield against criticism. Similar to it's DC counterpart this year it reaks of set-up for later movies, specifically Black Panther and Spider-Man. Now, you except a franchise film to set up it's own sequel, but Marvel continues to blur the line between the franchises. This is, after all, Captain America 3, not Avengers 3, regardless of the international title of "The First Avenger: Civil War". For parts of this you do even get a Captain America story, you get Cap and Bucky teaming up, in many ways coming full circle from the first one. Two men out of their element who can count on no one but themselves. Too bad this isn't the focus of the story. It is part of the story, but it comes in so close to the end, interrupted by obligatory fight scenes and non-sequiturs. It's surprising that a movie, close to three hours long, feels too short. And I would argue that is a consequence of the endless fight scenes and excess of characters. The only characters you really needed, from all of the heroes, were Cap, Bucky, Iron Man, and Black Panther. Those are the four that have arcs in this, the four that impact the story. The others are there for window dressing and pretty fight scenes. How do I know this? Because all of them exit the movie after the airport fight scene so that we can get back to the plot. 

Spider-Man symbolizes this problem more than any other character. After the second act fight the two sides go off to recruit more people, giving Tony a change to recruit Spider-Man. What follows is the most shameless set-up for a character's next movie I have seen in a long time and I saw Batman v Superman last month so I know what I am talking about. We spend about ten minutes or so, give or take, I didn't have a stopwatch, to introduce one of the most widely known characters in all of fiction, all for about another five minutes of screen time throughout the big airport fight, before Tony tells him to go home. That's it. Say what you will about the Justice League set-up in BvS, and I've said my fair share about how awfully plot-stopping the Youtube clips where, but they do tie into the story in the end, as Batman realizes his mistakes and recruits Wonder Woman to help him fight others to pick up Superman's mantle. Spidey is solely here to be a placeholder for the next movie. 

I think I've said most of my grievances in the last article about movie length. I do believe this movie was too long, I do believe this movie is a shameless way of doing another Avengers movie without doing another Avengers movie. I do believe the story needed to breath more, I do believe the action scenes ended up distracting from what was actually going on. The characters dropping in and out I could understand, if only had they actually contributed something to the overall scope of the story and the events taking place. The fact that the movie ends with a tack-team match between Cap and Bucky against Iron Man, and Black Panther confronting Zemo in one of the best scenes Marvel ever put to film, does however prove to me that you could have excised most of them from the script and nothing of value would have been lost. It proves to me that the international title is telling us the truth here: this is Avengers 3. Captain America doesn't sell overseas, so here's an alternate title, here's all the Avengers, all in the hope that throwing everything in there will give the people enough of a reason to show up for at least one hero. I would say that is fair enough. 

However: a concise story about Steve being torn between his loyalties to Bucky and Tony, all the while Black Panther ends up hunting Zemo, would have been better. It would have shorter, there wouldn't have been so much eye candy, but it would have been a good story. And in the end, this is where the movie fails the most. What we end up with is a bunch of great scenes about loyalty, friendship, and revenge, mixed in with a giant slugfest. An entertaining slugfest, but a slugfest nonetheless. I love me my action movies, but I can only see so many fights before they all melt together. In the end it's like the comics: we don't come back for the fight scenes, we come back for the characters. And these characters needed some more air to breath. What we ended up with was a serviceable flick that could have been one of the best. In other words: another perfectly okay Marvel film. And, after seeing this and BvS back to back, that continues to shape up to be the original sin of superhero films: the curse of mediocrity. 

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