By James Hancock May 5th, 2016
Writing a review of Captain America: Civil War right after seeing it is a bit like trying to write an essay about the best sex you’ve ever had when the postcoital sweat is still cooling on your body. I’m in a state of total geek hysteria having seen what is easily the best movie to date from Marvel Studios and perhaps the best superhero movie ever made. I’ll have to see it a few more times before I can be confident about whether or not the film has dethroned the reigning champion of that genre, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008). But like with all great champions, time eventually defeats them all and it would not surprise me if over the next few days Captain America: Civil War were to force every fan of superhero movies to rearrange their personal top 5 lists. What’s ironic is how similar the overall story of Captain America: Civil War is to the stylistically uneven and structurally incoherent Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film that I enjoyed to a degree but that also let many fans down (to be fair the film has plenty of outspoken defenders). But where the DC film too often felt bloated and morose, Captain America: Civil War feels light and euphoric, a movie that kept me in a state of glee from start to finish even when I felt like I was watching two brothers that I love dearly take a personal grudge match far past the point of no return. As a Marvel fanboy from the time before I could read, Captain America: Civil War has surpassed even my lofty expectations and my only fear now is wondering how Marvel could ever hope to top this incredible moviegoing experience.
***Mild Spoilers Ahead***
So now that the preliminaries are out of the way, it is time to geek out shamelessly about all the things I loved about this movie. Put simply, I loved everything. Admittedly the film struggles initially to get its momentum going. The first scene of the movie feels completely random until it pays dividends toward the climax of the film, but that was the last time where I felt any concern at all about where the movie was going. At this point, if you don’t love some or all of the characters featured in this story, then something is dreadfully wrong with you. The charm of the cast radiates off of them in almost visible waves with every prominent character getting a few brilliant moments to shine. Make no mistake, this is a Captain America movie and his personal story is the main thrust of the film, but no matter which character in the cast you like, you are going to walk away from the film feeling as if that character had an amazing moment in the sun. Newcomers Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland had my audience roaring in approval with every move they made. I could probably make a case against Daniel Brühl as the weak link in the chain, Marvel tends to struggle with its villains, but even Brühl as Zemo was pretty good in spite of bearing no relationship to the Baron Zemo I & II I know from the comics. The beauty of this film is that the heroes are fighting each other. They’ve already been fleshed out in earlier movies so there’s no need to waste time introducing multiple villains, telling their origins, etc. And by the time the two opposing sides inevitably clash, the story crescendos to this incredible, orgasmic peak where I really had no idea who to root for. What I did not think would be possible was how the film found a way to make me root for Iron Man’s side on some level. I was all in for Team Cap going into the movie, but Tony Stark’s interactions with Spider-Man on screen are all it takes to make the audience’s emotions all the more conflicted.
***Massive Spoilers Ahead***
Perhaps I will regret saying this in the morning, but right now, with my head still buzzing from the experience, I have to say that the fight scene at the airport that brings Act II to a close is the most intoxicating action sequence I’ve ever seen in a movie. Would the movie still work without it? Yes. But could I just watch that scene 100 times without seeing the rest of the movie and come away completely satisfied? Yes again. For this sequence, the movie frame expands to take advantage of the full IMAX format and what follows is more than ten minutes of total cinematic ecstasy. This scene alone has more spectacle, humor, violence, character beats and emotion than many franchises manage to capture across several films. I was literally screaming “Fuck yeah!” repeatedly along with the rest of my audience. I’m getting dizzy just trying to figure out which details to call attention to. The teamwork and the combination of skills and powers, the changing of opponents, it is at once totally chaotic but shot and choreographed in a way that the sequence is just beautiful to watch. But my favorite highlights would have to be: Spidey taking on the Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Hawkeye firing Ant-Man at Iron Man to attack his armor from within, Scarlet Witch hurling cars and trucks at Iron Man, Hawkeye meeting Black Panther for the first time, Ant-Man going full Giant-Man and laying waste to Iron Man’s team, Giant-Man’s horror when Vision casually flies inside his chest, Spider-Man using a technique from an old movie called “Empire Strikes Back” to bring Giant-Man to his knees, but best of all was seeing Captain America and Spider-Man bonding mid-fight over the fact they are both New Yorkers, basically neighbors from Queens and Brooklyn (my New York-based audience ate that up). This scene is why I go to the movies. We may live in the so-called golden age of television and I do love so many shows being made today, but they all pale in comparison to the sight and sound of cinema when its full potential is unleashed on this scale.
So long story short, I liked it. I really fucking liked it and I will be going back with friends and family members tomorrow and Saturday. As I excited as I was going into it, I’m even more excited to see it a second time now that I know just how perfectly directors Anthony and Joe Russo managed to stick the landing. There was a time where I couldn’t imagine the Marvel Cinematic Universe without Joss Whedon at the helm and while his 2012 film The Avengers is a pivotal chapter in the foundation of the franchise, I think most fans will look back at Captain America: Civil War as the turning point where Marvel somehow managed to surpass all past accomplishments and set the tone for the next few years of this fictional universe. The emotional showdown between Captain America and Iron Man at the climax of the film is nothing short of a dark tragedy unlike anything accomplished thus far in a movie of this kind. I’m looking forward to solo films like Doctor Strange and Black Panther, and I’m sure James Gunn is cooking up something special with Guardians of the Galaxy 2, but all I can think about now is what the Russo Brothers are going to do with the two Avengers movies that they will be shooting back to back. What little I know is that they are planning on changing the names The Avengers: Infinity War I & II into something completely different and that they will be self contained standalone stories, not the fragmented, watered down nonsense we saw on display with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts I & II. Whatever they do, I’m in. I’m so in that Marvel could make half a dozen heaps of garbage and I would still be first in line for all of them as long as I have more Marvel movies by the Russo Brothers to look forward to it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but it is a great time to be alive. That may sound pathetic, but this is a reality that I would have never dreamed possible flipping through the pages of Marvel comics as a kid in the 1980s. So until the day I die, I will continue to say to anyone who cares to listen, Make Mine Marvel.
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