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The casualty count and collateral damage wrought in the years since Tony Stark first outed himself as Iron Man is high.  Enough havoc hath been wrought to unite the terrified global populace, who are looking for someone to save the world from its very saviours.  After the Avengers’ adventures across New York City, Lagos and Eastern Europe saw devastation on a massive scale, the world’s less powerful, but far more multitudinous non-super-powered humans demand some control and accountability over those outside that category.  To that end, the United Nations has handed down a take-it-or-else proposal to muzzle the heroes and make them answerable to the organisation, who will decide when and where the Avengers will be deployed in times of crisis.  The feelings and discoveries of the recent past puts the team at opposite poles as to whether to sign the agreement.  Their lack of unity could not come at a worse time as their super-powered bickering plays right into the hands of a new foe with a personal axe to grind against Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

After yet another mission against a bad guy causes destruction, this time in the wealthy African nation of Wakanda, news clips of the previous Avengers, Captain America and Iron Man films remind us how very dangerous it is to simply be in the general proximity of these self-regulating super beings.  The culpability question has been dangled since the first Iron Man film in 2008, but with black ops organisation S.H.I.E.L.D and its Machiavellian, yet honourable Nick Fury acting as the Avengers’ monitor of a sort, the heroes had at least some kind of check and outward conscience.  When it was revealed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, that S.H.I.E.L.D was absolutely riddled with corruption by enemy organisation, Hydra, who Steve Rogers had been fighting when he took his 70-year iceberg nap, the ultimate soldier’s faith in the Powers That Be was shattered.  Handing the keys of the powerful weapon known as the Avengers to yet another organisation of a bunch of men and women with their own agendas, quite logically, rubs Cap the wrong way.

Heading the other side of the argument is the world’s richest playboy, Tony Stark, whose previous cinematic crises of conscience showed him first stopping Stark Industries from making weapons and then destroying all his Iron Man suits to show the world that the metal armour didn’t make the man.  Primed and ready for a good guilt trip, the television montages of the Avengers’ unintended destruction, as well as a convenient heart-to-heart with a grieving mother who lost her son during Ultron’s siege of Sokovia, Tony Stark is more than willing to play along with the UN and hand them the responsibility for his team’s actions.

On Stark’s side are his BFF, War Machine, who never saw a military order he didn’t obey, Black Widow, and Stark’s own creation, Vision.  There are a couple of new recruits; including the Black Panther, alter-ego of T’Challa, the noble prince of Wakanda.  T’Challa witnessed his father killed by someone he is convinced was the Winter Soldier, or Cap’s best bud, Bucky Barnes (Still struggling a bit with the whole brainwashed assassin thing), and there’s also this skinny kid from Queens.

On Captain America’s Can’t Nobody Hold Us Down squad are Scarlet Witch, the not-quite-retired Hawkeye, and a guy from the West Coast with the power to get really small… sometimes.  The mastermind behind the heroes’ strife fans the flames and uses the characters’ pasts and their very friendship as weapons in his plot to eliminate the Avengers completely.

The big question posed in Captain America: Civil War is Team Cap or Team Stark?  I vote Team Magneto.  Yeah, I know it’s another franchise, but Erik Lehnsherr’s logic is sound:  They are superior beings, why should they bow to the wills of those weaker and fearful of them?  The most nagging of several problems I had with the premise of the film is that all is poised to blame the Avengers solely for all the disasters that have befallen earth.  While its true that Ultron was Tony Stark’s baby, one of the television clips from the first Avengers movie shows the giant metal alien whale careening across Grand Central Station, escorted by hundreds of warriors from another friggin’ galaxy.  All luv to our men and women in blue, but did the people of the world expect the NYPD to deal with that?  Sad as it may’ve been for those who lost loved ones, I’m guessing the body count would’ve been substantially higher had there either been no Avengers, or had they waited until a UN council approved their actions and set the parameters of combat against the alien threat.  Everybody knows bureaucracy works quickly, right?  It’s not the Avengers’ fault the world has gone insane.  No one in this film seems to be considering the lives saved versus the lives lost.

The other thing no one is mentioning loudly enough is the whole revelation of what a dirty deal the trusted S.H.I.E.L.D turned out to be, or how Hydra truly had its tentacles so deeply into everything.  Why should the heroes consider giving yet another faceless entity control over their lead, when they’ve seen the only people they can trust is each other?  It’s hard to fathom that after being so utterly fooled by those he was meant to trust, Tony Stark is so riddled with guilt over The Avengers’ actions that the rebellious, canny zillionaire is so happy to hand over the reins.

To give leverage to Team Stark’s position, the apparent terrorism of the fugitive Winter Soldier is thrown in as a plot point, in which everybody - armed with completely questionable evidence - is ready to begin a worldwide manhunt to capture Cap’s old pal, which of course Mr. Brooklyn 1943 can’t let happen.  Steve Rogers’ protection of Bucky Barnes against Stark’s insistence of handing him over to the authorities, is another nail in the coffin of their friendship.  That nail is dug in even deeper when a revelation of Bucky’s actual misdeeds while brainwashed come to light.  Still, it feels like so much could’ve been worked out through talking (Like maybe Cap telling his friends Bucky didn’t do it?), but then that wouldn’t have made for a very exciting superhero movie, would it?

And after the first half (and despite it being under the Captain America mantel), that is exactly what it becomes, but sadly, we have to wait for it.  The opening hour of Civil Wars is unexpectedly dour and snoozy, ladling on thick the heroes’ global disapproval and super self-recrimination.  The highlight/lowlight of public flagellation was the eye-rollingly cliché aforementioned speech delivered with Oscar-worthy gravitas by Viola Davis, as the lady who blames the Avengers for the loss of her son.

Another aspect that actually made me fear for the rest of the film was the awful camerawork in its first half.  Civil War boasts some of the franchise’s best fight choreography, but it’s completely diminished by a DP apparently having a seizure anytime there’s action.  I normally ride Scarlett Johansson for her graceless, effort-laden, inelegant fighting style as Black Widow, but this time it actually seemed like she - or more accurately, her stunt double - sold it, but unfortunately due to the photography, her best scenes look like they were shot in a blender.  Luckily, that slows down by the time we meet Chadwick Boseman as the regal T’Challa and the Black Panther’s graceful yet powerful hand-to-hand and acrobatic skills are gorgeous to watch.  The big faceoff between the two superhero factions is really thrilling as we see each of the heroes doing what they do best in the styles comic book readers know and love.  As if to make up for the boredom of the first hour, that amazing battle scene comes just after the movie receives its jump start once Tony Stark makes a surprise visit to Forest Hills, Queens. 

Yes, I’m going to talk Spidey.  He’s in the trailer, so no shock to fans.  This is the youngest interpretation of Peter Parker we’ve seen on film, and the first sight of this small kid who can’t be more than 15 (Which was apparently Petey’s actual age when he got bit - I reckoned he was more like 16-17.), is a little bit jarring after decades of grown men playing the teen from Queens.  The scene between the poor but super-powered kid and the genius rich guy bantering and negotiating his place in Team Stark is worth the price of admission alone.  Spidey’s first deployment during the big showdown is a joy to behold: Holland captures the kid’s starstruck awe at fighting alongside and against the heroes he’s idolised, while showing himself as a tough and resourceful warrior, spitting out whipsmart wisecracks the whole time. (Disney’s self-homage of the webslinger describing this “really old movie” that turns out to be The Empire Strikes Back is forgivable, but unless Vader is making an appearance in the MCU, let’s keep a lid on that corporate cuteness, shall we, Mickey?)  Watching Holland’s performance, I couldn’t help but think this is the Spider-Man, and more so the Peter Parker that director Marc Webb in his awful recent series tried and failed to give us.

In other franchise improvement news; with several Avengers missing, the Falcon (Having a great show of his amped-up wings and drone capabilities) calls in Ant-Man to bolster Team Cap’s numbers.  Once again, the results are moments with the character that are sharper, wittier and more exciting than anything from Ant-Man’s lacklustre cinematic introduction last year.

There’s a flip side to the casting coin: Elizabeth Olson’s got the right iron spine as the Scarlet Witch, but always looks as if she’s going to cry at any moment.  I am also not a fan of her “hexing” move, which just looks like she’s wiggling her fingers around, waiting for the CGI fill in.  I regret to say that I just don’t buy Paul Bettany - who I normally adore in everything - as Vision.  His vocal personification as JARVIS, Tony Stark’s AI assistant was fine, but that voice, and even more unfortunately, that small-shouldered, unimposing frame (Even in the padded super suit) embodying this omniscient creature with the powers of a god, just made me think of a tweedy English butler wearing a lot of body paint.  Vision was so unremarkable and seemingly unburdened by his “otherness,” that a critical scene where he realises he’s beginning to have feelings for Wanda pretty much slips by.

In the plus column, we have Captain America himself, Chris Evans, who I have acclaimed in previous reviews as having truly owned and fleshed out the character.  Here, there’s not as much by way of character development.  Indeed, as mentioned before, it should have been called an Avengers movie, or maybe more an Iron Man chapter as Robert Downey Jr. gets all the meatiest stuff and most of the (surreal, CGI Less Than Zero-era) facetime.  Still, in this fight, where both sides have their point, Evans makes you believe in Cap’s direct and uncomplicated rightness.  His is not a decision made by guilt or ego like Tony, or Pavlovian obedience like Rhodey/War Machine.  His actions are driven by heart, loyalty and Brooklyn-born common sense.  Cap wants to believe the best, but is no fool; he’s seen too much and been too betrayed to blindly offer up something as important as his promise to protect the weaker guy at any cost.  Also, the shot of Evans’ muscular arms as he restrains a helicopter from flight are worth the price of admission on repeat viewings. #TeamChrisEvansBiceps

After a slow start, and yes, a kind of silly premise, the fun and excitement of Captain America: Civil War carries the day.  It sets up great expectations for new chapters in the Marvel movie franchise, and after this epic fracturing of their Avengers friendship, I can’t wait to find out where they go from here.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

May 4th, 2016

 

 

 

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Photos

Stills Courtesy of  Walt Disney Pictures
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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