MOVIE REVIEW: Captain America: Civil War

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"CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR"-- 4 STARS

For eight years now since Jon Favreau's "Iron Man," Marvel Studios has worked with a blueprint in mind for each phase of their chronology to maximize mass entertainment.  Back now by the brand of Disney, they are creating their own cinematic universe of films to promote characters, sell tickets, and rake in every possible measure of tie-in merchandising.  If you haven't noticed yet, source accuracy and art are a distant fourth and fifth on that list of priorities.  Nearly a decade in, how does Marvel keep topping themselves?  They can't, and they don't.  They stick to the plan.  If you want to call it a formula instead of a blueprint, fine, but it unarguably works.

The absolute proof of that formula is the elevated scope and confidence given to "Captain America: Civil War."  Spinning as a dual sequel to 2014's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and last year's "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and following the darkly-operatic-yet-similarly-premised competitor "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice," this film survives a few glaring imperfections and overweight ambition to maintain the Marvel flagship.  It plays it safe because it knows safe works for their brand and satisfies the masses.  They know they're getting their cash registers out and hiring extra accountants.  To others looking for more risk, you've come to the wrong place.

Six months have passed since Ultron's Sokovia disaster and Captain America, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), continues to lead what is left of The Avengers.  Their off-screen tracking of Crossbones, ex-S.H.I.E.L.D mercenary Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), has led them to Lagos, Nigeria.  Despite the best efforts of Cap, Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Scarlet Witch Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) to contain the urban battle and bloodshed, an errant explosion leads to the death of nearly a dozen of civilian bystanders.  This latest incident, combined with the unanswered global collateral damage caused in recent years by other Avenger battles, has shaken world leaders to call for legislation and supervision of this powerful team.  Stateside, Secretary of State and former general, Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (a returning William Hurt from "The Incredible Hulk"), is leading the United Nations to pass the Sokovia Accords, a registration program limiting the vigilante operation of super-powered beings like The Avengers.  

Ross's biggest supporter to push this legislation through is none other Iron Man himself, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.).  He sees his own errors from those casualties and supports that it might be time to put The Avengers in check with oversight that demands more controlled operation.  Seeing this initiative as a violation of rights and the seeds politicized bias, Rogers opposes Stark's justification and refuses to sign or participate.

Those battle lines get drawn thicker when the central tragic figure that incites the titular strife becomes Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), the brainwashed Russian assassin and Roger's former best friend better known as The Winter Solider.  Haunted by the body count and torturous conditioning of his checkered past, Barnes is implicated in a terror attack in Berlin that kills T'Chaka (John Kani), the king and leader of fictional African nation of Wakanda.

The shoot-on-sight worldwide manhunt for Barnes sparks the debate of which rules to follow.  T'Chaka's son, Prince T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) assumes the mantle of Black Panther to avenge his father's death.  Panther's pursuit and the growing anti-Avengers authorities force Captain America to choose friendship and protect Barnes in order to find out what really is happening.  Sure enough, sides are chosen and supporting characters like Vision (Paul Bettany), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and a newer and younger Spider-Man (Tom Holland) are recruited to join the fray.  Little does everyone realize, the Sokovian terrorist and HYDRA aficionado Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) is the true secret puppeteer provoking all the attacks and dissension.

As you can tell, there is a high school yearbook's worth of characters, connections, associations, and, of course, drama coming to the forefront in "Captain America: Civil War."  Trilogy screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directing Russo brothers, Anthony and Joe, had to be juggling chainsaws, bowling balls, and typewriters to pull off shoehorning all of the possible characters, cameos, egos, and prerequisite highlights into the blockbuster.  

The chainsaws represent the wild and frenetic fanboy action that everyone signed up for in shelling out their IMAX 3D money.  That aspect delivers with dazzling satisfaction in multiple sequences.  The bright and vibrant stunts and spectacle were never going to be a problem for "Captain America: Civil War" to the point where it stands to wash out other flaws.

The bowling balls, however, typify the jolting crashes of all of these characters stuffed into one film.  This is a "Captain America" film and there are too many characters, honestly, that take away from the headliner.  The overabundance of heroes leads to another underwritten villain, a common Marvel film flaw.  Nevertheless, Disney/Marvel has continuously cast performers of top appeal that are welcome presences of heroism, style, or both in their given scenes.  You know what to expect from mainstays like Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr.  Their trajectories as foils to each other have been established nicely for four years now, where it now carries a tangible gravity.  The extra victory comes in the supporting players that are elevated within "Captain America: Civil War."  Paul Rudd's humor always works, Anthony Mackie gets improved positioning, and Chadwick Boseman makes his presence felt, but no treat is greater than Tom Holland's perfect new Spider-Man.  This film does more corrective magic in fifteen minutes to give you the young, fun web-slinger you've always wanted compared to all five tedious, angst-ridden, and overstuffed full-length films since 2002 with two actors who were too old for the part in both attempts.

Lastly, the typewriters personify the revisionist changes to the Marvel Comics canonical source material to pull off a (keyword) safe MCU version of "Civil War" without The Fantastic Four, Namor, The X-Men, Captain Marvel, or even the readily available faces of Nick Fury, Thor, or The Hulk.  The big clash would be a proper "Avengers" film more than a "Captain America" film.  Also, certain purists (you know who they are) will find that the movie version of "Civil War" lacks the bold peril and risks of the comic for the sake of more family-friendly outcomes that sell action figures.  This is a "war" where quips and quotes greatly outnumber casualties.  The noticeable flaws are clear to see, but the thrills and simple satisfactions more than save the day.

LESSON #1: THE SUPERHERO MOVIE EQUIVALENT OF #SQUADGOALS-- This summer tentpole involves temporary alliances, shifting allegiances, competition, and disagreements towards what were supposed to be common goals and the common good.  To be hip to the Millennial vernacular, there's a whole lot of #squadgoals going on.

LESSON #2: THE RESPONSIBILITY OF COLLATERAL DAMAGE-- Divisive audiences will be quick to make the snarky comparisons between the Marvel films' serious stance on avoiding collateral damage versus the DC films' rampant disregard to blow up any metropolitan area in disaster porn fashion.  As a true comic book film, Marvel wins this battle and lesson of brevity with the right weight and approach to the necessary personal responsibility that reduces the victory when innocent victims are lost.

LESSON #3: COMPROMISE UNTIL YOU CANNOT-- At its essence behind the punches and explosions, this conflict is about choice versus compromise.  We all bend to fit the needs of our environment or society until we reach a point where our principles are challenged.  How we react at that point defines our inner mettle and integrity.  In the comics and in the movie, Captain America has his speech and answer to that moral dilemma down pat.  Let him tell it and drop the mic.

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