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Friday, May 6, 2016

Thoughts from a second CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR viewing (spoilers!)

While I saw Captain America: Civil War a few weeks ago, I got an opportunity to take another peek at it during the press screening that occurred this past Tuesday night. In short, my opinion is unchanged, and I still believe it is easily the best Marvel film to date. While I've enjoyed a great majority of the studio's output to varying extents, this is the first effort that I came away outright loving with basically no reservations. I wanted to take the opportunity this week, with a little reflection and two screenings down, to put down some other scattered thoughts I had to "paper".

If you'd like to read my totally spoiler-free thoughts, go here. If you venture any further, you're treading into heavy spoiler territory and I'm going to be merciless. You've been warned.

Actually, I'll give you one more chance, here's your Scott Lang buffer.

scott lang dad

Awww...

Okay, now that we're clear:
  • One of the areas that I found myself admiring in this screening was how narrative was structured. Lately, I've been extra fatigued with the superhero film three act approach, with the same application of rising and falling action regardless of whether we're talking about X-MenThor, or Guardians of the Galaxy. This is of course doubled by just how often we're faced with these films on a regular basis. Sure, the superficial details are different, but as an exercise in actual screenwriting, those same major beats are hit over and over again. While I won't sit here and say that Civil War reinvents the wheel, it certainly gives it a few new spokes. In a way, watching Civil War felt akin a reading a really good (superhero) graphic novel, where it approximates the same feeling you get from set of issues that might comprise a really good story arc. Between major beats, you can almost sense where the "to be continued" tag might go. Some may not appreciate this approach, but the wide-scope, richer character usage, and unusual pacing (for a cinematic effort) really helped any sense of exhaustion I've been feeling about the MCU as a whole. There's even big white text to delineate each geographical change! I love it!
  • Interestingly enough, this is the first time I've felt like Marvel's long-term strategy has been to their benefit. For most of the MCU's run, I've thought quite a bit of the set-up films, even up to last year's Age of Ultron, carried a sense of being an obligation to get to the next beat in the "megastory" without ever feeling like any entry is really playing with toys as they've been set up previously, but Civil War tosses that on its head a bit, where the back-stories of previous films and our attachment to each of these characters pays off. Watching Cap and Iron Man come to blows in the final sequence is especially heart-wrenching, as we know what a role Tony's parents have played in the person he's become thanks to the previous three Iron Man films. Without that background, without watching Tony struggle to collect himself in the shadow of his departed father and eventually make peace with who he is, his anger at Bucky and Steve would feel much more hollow. But, instead, knowing that Bucky is the person that took everything away from him, suddenly Tony's anger becomes magnified and basically justified because we've gone on that journey with him. It's a hell of a touch, and a far cry from how this conflict was pulled together in the comic event of the same name. They even explain why Tony was back in the suit after Iron Man 3's big exploding suit finale, and it's a pretty fitting bit of reasoning that works terrifically in context.
  • One of the areas where the Russo Bros. differ a bit from Joss Whedon, beyond just having a much better grasp on Captain America as a character, is how they shoot action. While some decry their usage of coverage in order to splice together an action beat vs. Whedon's more roomy approach, with Civil War, I think their staging has improved immensely from their previous outing with The Winter Soldier. The opening scene with Crossbones and his minions is an especially good example of this, maintaining the hand to hand ferocity of that film but providing a bit more open space for the camera to zoom around in and follow its individual players. This happens a number of times and leaves me pretty breathless for what they'll do next in the upcoming two all-IMAX shot Avengers sequels. And the airport battle? Easily my favorite super-powered collision I've seen in a comic based film.
  • Marvel often gets dinged for its villains, and rightly so, as apart from the Netflix baddies and Loki, they always seem to take a back-seat to their much richer and better defined heroes, and I say that as the biggest defender of Trevor Slattery I know. Helmut Zemo doesn't do much to change the game here, but I did find his actual purpose in the story to be compelling enough that I found something to admire. The idea of just regular (though highly trained) person taking down the Avengers with just enough patience and know-how, is a terrific concept. We don't really get to know much about him (he likes to eat bacon, his family died in the Sokovia incident) and his plan doesn't *really* hold up to scrutiny if you think about it too hard, but there's something rather intriguing about a bad guy that's so unassuming, probably the most of the entire MCU Rogues Gallery, that it leads to Avengers fighting themselves as if to compensate. Daniel Brühl's ability to compensate for what may or may not be on the page should also warrant some mention, underplaying in a way that's hard to come by in broad spectacles like these. He provides an interesting dose of nuanced humanity in this clash of larger than life titans.
  • I'm quite excited about Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther. His costume is great, his character comes fully formed right out the gate, and he's an easy fan favorite. At our first screening, I was especially heartened to see many people of color that were in the audience get very excited about the character and cheer whenever he made an impact. Diversity is of paramount importance and there's certainly an audience hungry for it in their popcorn fare. Additionally, a detail I loved is that everytime he lands and runs past the camera, you can barely hear him. I can't wait to see what Ryan Coogler cooks up for his solo outing, and based on the mid-credits stinger, will Steve and Bucky play a role. Also, was that Shuri telling Natasha to "move, or you will be moved"?
  • Nothing about Civil War had me more excited than the appearance of Giant Man! It's probably the most excited I've gotten about a reveal since Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent became Two-Face. In truth, Ant-Man gets many of the best moments of the film, with laugh-lines galore and the best overall power display. I mean, who couldn't get excited when he's pulling apart the mechanism of Tony's suit?
  • The new Spider-Man is also pretty promising. I didn't expect the appearance of Marissa Tomei's Aunt May, but that too was a pleasant surprise, and gave me a good deal of hope regarding Spider-Man: Homecoming, despite not necessarily being the biggest fan of the writers attached. There's some level of distraction with the obvious spliced-in nature of Tom Holland and Robert Downey's scenes together (Holland was cast at the tail end of production), and Spidey looks a little more CGI rubbery than I'd like, but given what we've just come off of with the character I will take it, especially that Romita-inspired costume. Spidey and Cap's little New York moment was nice too.
  • I spent the whole movie wondering when one of our heroes, probably Cap, was going to die. That didn't happen, and given that we know it'll just get reversed anyway, is alright. Maybe I should have seen it coming, though, given how quickly Crossbones was dispatched with (permanently?). There was also, to my relief, no Infinity War set-up or more than a casual mention of the Infinity Stones by Vision. This is one of the few superhero movies I can recall that doesn't have a macguffin at its center, or at least driving the concerns of the story, give or take how you might define the importance of that Winter Soldier/HYDRA codebook. I'll add that the mere mention of the Hulk and Thor by Secretary Ross had me excited about the possibility of Thor: Ragnarok being the side-story of what those two are up to during Civil War.
  • The only real complaint I have is fairly minor, as once again Marvel has employed a pretty dull score in the backdrop of all the other excitement. Really, it's par for the course with the rest of their output in this regard, but one can sense that James Gunn had the right idea with the "yacht rock" soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy. I do hope that perhaps Marvel can enlist Alexandre Desplat or someone of equal measure to bring this one currently subpar element up to speed with everything else that's going so right.
What did you think of Captain America: Civil War?
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