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"CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR"
(2016) (Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr.) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: Members of a superhero group take sides against each other regarding whether they should fall under multi-national government oversight, all while one tries to protect his childhood friend from others.
PLOT:
Following the mayhem and death resulting from the superhero group The Avengers having defeated a villain, and a subsequent infiltration and thwarting of another villain in Lagos, governments of more than one hundred nations want the superheroes to sign an accord where their actions will be supervised and controlled by the United Nations. Some, such as Tony Stark (ROBERT DOWNEY JR.), a.k.a. Iron Man, -- dealing with guilt over a lost life brought to his attention by the victim's mother -- agrees with Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (WILLIAM HURT) -- and presses his fellow members to follow suit. The likes of Natasha Romanoff (SCARLETT JOHANSSON), a.k.a. Black Widow, Lieutenant James Rhodes (DON CHEADLE), a.k.a. War Machine, and the ever-evolving Vision (PAUL BETTANY) agree.

Among the dissenters is Steve Rogers (CHRIS EVANS), a.k.a. Captain America, along with Sam Wilson (ANTHONY MACKIE), a.k.a. Falcon, Wanda Maximoff (ELIZABETH OLSEN), a.k.a. Scarlet Witch, and Clint Barton (JEREMY RENNER), a.k.a. Hawkeye, who retires from the group. Steve is concerned about no longer having control of what they can and can't do, a point exacerbated when his childhood friend turned brainwashed super-assassin, Bucky Barnes (SEBASTIAN STAN), a.k.a. the Winter Soldier, is identified as the person responsible for the bombing of a U.N. meeting that takes the life of the King of Wakanda. His son, Prince T'Challa (CHADWICK BOSEMAN), wants revenge and tries to get that via his superhuman alter-ego, Blank Panther.

Unbeknownst to them, the real culprit is Helmut Zemo (DANIEL BRUHL), a man who lost his entire family as collateral damage to The Avengers' actions, and desires to ultimately turn them against each other, starting with reactivating the Winter Soldier. With the help of former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent turned CIA agent Sharon Carter (EMILY VANCAMP), Steve tries to prove his friend's innocence and protect him from harm, something that doesn't sit well with Tony and the others. With both sides gearing up for battle, including Steve's side getting pint-sized superhero Scott Lang (PAUL RUDD), a.k.a. Ant-Man, to join them, and Tony convincing Peter Parker (TOM HOLLAND), a.k.a. Spider-Man, to do the same for his group, the stage is set for an epic battle.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
Nearly every superhero comic book has some degree or another of violence as that's how the conflict between the hero and villain is usually resolved. Not surprisingly, considering the 24 frames per second that film offers as compared to the few still panels on any given comic book page, filmmakers usually up the ante with the violence in their cinematic adaptations.

That's clearly understandable, but a troubling trend I've pointed out over the recent spate of such films is that they're relying more on said violence than story or character to engage the viewer. In fact, here's a passage from my review of last year's "Avengers: Age of Ultron."

"Apparently believing in or simply falling prey to the bigger is better filmmaking mentality, returning writer/director Joss Whedon ups the ante in terms of incidental and purposeful damage. The end result, however, is a case of diminishing returns for people who care about story, characters and brilliant, rather than overly busy action scenes."

When I heard that the latest installment of the Captain America series would essentially be "Avengers III," I worried that we'd get more of the same, just louder, busier, and more violent than before. And that would be a major disappointment considering that "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (from 2014) was so good and steps above and beyond Cap's first reintroduction to the big screen three years earlier.

Thankfully, "Winter Soldier's" directors, the brotherly filmmaking duo of Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, have continued their involvement with this film that not only turns out to be the best "Captain America" film, but also much better than either of the "Avengers" flicks.

While there's plenty of hard-hitting fighting (and then some), there's also a plethora of thrilling action, comedy, and interesting thematic elements thrown into the mix. In a way, it's what "Batman V Superman" so desperately wanted to be, but clearly wasn't.

Not surprisingly, the story -- from returning scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely -- picks up a bit after where "Ultron" left off. And it actually addresses my exact concern regarding the wanton violence in the previous "Avengers" pic. Granted, that isn't designed to dominate the story above everything else, but I'll take the discussion however I can get it. In that regard, the plot here revolves around more than a hundred countries around the world being more than a bit concerned about all of that violence, destruction and loss of innocent lives in the name of protecting the world and reigning in its villains.

Having learned his previous actions resulted in the death of the adult son of a government worker (Alfre Woodard in a brief cameo role), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) agrees with the Secretary of State (William Hurt) that the superheroes should consent to a binding accord where their contributions would be overseen and controlled by the U.N.

Others, such as Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Vision (Paul Bettany), and War Machine (Don Cheadle), agree with him, but our title hero (Chris Evans, as engaging as ever with his old-fashioned patriotism, charm, and uber-bulging biceps) thinks it's a bad idea. And that's not only out of principle, but also because his WWII era childhood friend (Sebastian Stan) turned brainwashed super soldier has been fingered as the perp behind a bombing that left the king of Wakanda dead and his son (Chadwick Boseman) wanting revenge. Naturally, that results in the latter donning a super-human suit, as well as lots of battles between the various characters.

But you know what? None of that bothered me this time around due to the way the filmmakers handle the material, as well as the introduction of "new" characters to the Avengers' universe. Beyond Boseman's Black Panther, Paul Rudd's Ant-Man also joins the fold, as does a more notable superhero who's finally been freed from his exclusive contract with Sony Pictures.

And that would be none other than Spider-Man. While we've already gone through an unnecessary reboot with Andrew Garfield taking over for Tobey Maguire, I found the use of Peter Parker and his alter-ego here nothing short of brilliant. Rather than do the standard origins story, the character is already established, resulting in a hilarious scene between him and Tony Stark who "outs" him in a charming meets funny way.

That's followed by the film's signature showcase moment, an easily ten-plus minute sequence where the opposing sides of the Avengers (and guests) do battle on an airport tarmac, with Spidey swinging into action for the first time in a highly entertaining fashion. There are other surprises here and there, but the scene plays out just like any grand superhero epic should, with plenty of edge of your seat action, thrills, comedy and more.

Other such violent moments aren't as loopy fun or as breathtaking in scope, but they still work. And that's mainly because we care about the characters but it's also due to them operating in an engrossing gray area of themes including who's right or wrong when it comes to saving the world and at what costs.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed "Captain America: Civil War" and think any comic book fan will likely feel the same way. With the Russos tasked with handling the next two installments of the "Avengers" series, I eagerly look forward to what they have in store for us and our beloved superhero characters. This film rates as a 7.5 out of 10.




Reviewed May 2, 2016 / Posted May 6, 2016


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