The Russo Brothers know exactly how to blend all of the ingredients within the parameters of a Marvel super-production. Captain America was always my #1 Marvel hero, so it’s no surprise that Joe Johnston’s square-jawed and retro-futurist Captain America: The First Avenger remains my favorite film from within the MCU. The Russo brothers’ follow up, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, was a fabulous integration of current pop blockbuster trends and the vibe of a 70’s paranoid thriller, with the added bonus of leathery Robert Redford as the chief baddie. And now, with Captain America: Civil War, the sibling filmmakers have added an epic scope to their already sharp sense of intelligent storytelling, with a superhero royal rumble for the ages, with all sorts of (mostly) seamless special effects being hurled at the audience with an almost elegant sense of wonder, primarily due to Trent Opaloch’s bold, vibrant, absolutely sensational widescreen cinematography. I wasn’t a big fan of The Avengers: The Age of Ultron, so while this film picks up in the aftermath of the destructive events of that recent effort, Civil War boldly sets forth in a seemingly new direction. And even if all of the main characters are on relative speaking terms by the end of the film, we get a sense that an interesting shift has occurred in the overall group dynamics moving forward with this particular world that’s been built over the last 10 years. I just wish that the creative team had called this The Avengers: Civil War, and had included Thor and the Hulk, as they’re off-screen for no discernible reason. Yes, the friendship between Captain America and his buddy Bucky, aka The Winter Soldier, is explored even further, with a crucial plot twist really sealing the deal in terms of an organic reason for the most exciting and hard-core moments of superhero vs. superhero action. But overall, this is a major team-up flick of the first order.
The film feels like a logical extension of the ever growing universe, with the introduction of a new and brash Spiderman (Tom Holland, excellent and joyful), the mysterious and lethal Black Panther (a fierce Chadwick Boseman), and a focus on the civilian collateral damage that has taken place during the various globe-stretching brawls from all of the previous films. The plot involves the creation of a set of rules that are set to govern superhero involvement all around the world, with the numerous group members all displaying their own responses to the idea of being overseen by a higher power. Much like this year’s earlier superhero blow-out Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Civil War feels overstuffed, but yet more focused, and while I preferred Zack Snyder’s film more as a whole, that has a lot to do with nostalgia and an intense love for that filmmaker’s particular visual aesthetic, even if I think he could have dialed back some of the CGI this time around. What I admire about the Russo’s is that they ground their film in as much reality as possible, keeping the themes topical and relevant, with a solid emphasis on character motivation and not as much reliance on quirky humor, though the film certainly has its numerous moments of inspired levity. Chris Evans continues to own the role of Captain America, as he dominates the film whenever he’s on screen, and Robert Downey Jr. will forever have a problem shedding the visage of Tony Stark/Ironman, as he’s way too good as the dual characters. Paul Rudd steals the show every time he appears as Ant-Man, while Elizabeth Olsen gets some cool and very comic-booky moments during the numerous action scenes. Daniel Bruhl’s credible villain keeps the film’s main dramatic conflict intimate rather than world-ending, a refreshing change of pace, and while clocking in at close to two and a half hours, the visuals have a snap and the pacing has a pop so that time goes by rather fast while viewing.