Moments of levity are welcome when a movie involving a dozen or so characters with enhanced abilities and superhuman talents are contentiously battling each other on an abandoned airport runway. Some of them have met before, some haven’t; their allegiances and friendships are ever changing, there will be bruised bones and egos, and maybe serious injury or death. Former allies have become enemies.
During what is an incredibly satisfying and mesmerizing melee, one character says to another ‘Everyone’s got a gimmick.’ It’s funny, cutting, and fitting. It’s a comment that fits perfectly with those characters, while not undercutting a more serious, ideological battle that is taking place simultaneously between two heavyweights.
Steve Rogers’ idealism faces off against Tony Stark’s pragmatism in Captain America: Civil War, a brilliantly-executed climatic film that combines hardened beliefs, genuine emotion, wit, and a whole slew of characters into a jam-packed movie that stands on the groundwork laid by previous entries in this franchise.
There is not a wasted word or breath in this inexplicably lean two and a half hour careful execution of movie spectacle that sees how our very familiar heroes deal with unforeseen human consequences to their Avenging. Captain America (Chris Evans, and his biceps) leads a new squad of defenders in Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) into action against an old foe when a slight misstep costs the lives of innocent bystanders. This latest in a series of public destructions (as seen in previous films), unintentional but devastating, forces the Secretary of State (William Hurt) and the United Nations to impose restrictions on the Avengers.
In one corner we have a seasoned though hopeful icon that trusts himself and his closest allies to do good, and should be allowed to do as they wish, when and where they wish, without oversight or interference. In the other, we’ve a beaten man who believes power corrupts and needs to checked; he also seems ready to retire.
Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), his ally in arms Rhodes who dons a suit as War Machine (Don Cheadle), along with the manifested artificial intelligence alien Vision (Paul Bettany) align with the world leaders in wanting restrictions, while Cap and company oppose.
Conversations about duty, responsible, and power run long and deep; if ever a superhero movie could have a nuanced argument with legitimate points by both sides, this is it. Of course, there is endless action too, globetrotting, quick plot hits, and again, a whole lot of characters.
While the trailers and endless clips have already spoiled plenty, here I will just say that a pair of new characters is introduced to this MCU, with mini-origin stories that are quick and effective. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo are masterful at juggling the dozen key heroes and a few other notable players (Daniel Bruhl is Zemo, a villain of sorts, though meaningless) as well as balancing tone. It is a story that makes everyone important in his or her way, neither dragging nor moving too quickly (this is everything great that Batman v. Superman failed spectacularly to do).
Still, it is ultimately Captain America’s movie, and while a pair of films (Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron) have happened since the second installment in his series, this film represents an impressive conclusion to a trilogy that focuses on Rogers and his best friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan), who is sometimes brainwashed. Simultaneously, lights the fire and watches to explosion to the powder keg that was set up between Captain and Iron Man in Ultron.
There are a hundred ways Civil War could have collapsed and failed under its own weight, under the expectations of fans, under the pressures to bring together old stories, tell new ones of familiar characters, introduce other heroes, and lay the groundwork for many more movies to come.
Remarkably, it thrives, with gravity, cheekiness, and action in harmony. And that sequence, this highlight and reward, a lengthy brawl of those we’ve watched for so long, armed with superpower and quick wits, physical jabs and verbal blows, is well, a marvel to watch.