The second half of this popcorn flick is nearly perfect summer movie magic.
Who Watches the Avengers?
Really, this is Avengers: Civil War (not to be confused with the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War in 2018). Granted, the source material — a comic book series written by Mark Millar — also includes the Fantastic Four and X-Men, all absent from this thematic adaptation (Millar, by the way, also penned the Wanted and Kick-Ass graphic novels). As it stands, the core of the Avengers is well attended, with Pepper Potts, Thor and Hulk AWOL.
It’s established Pepper and Tony Stark are “taking a break” from their relationship, but the absence of the other two is acknowledged without an explanation. Apparently they’re not available for a mobile call, a text or even a poke while the rest of the Avengers disassemble.
Civil War has a plot involving terrorists and the rights of the super ones to do their thing without oversight. It’s a plotline that’s become familiar in the comic book / graphic novel / cartoon universe. Batman v. Superman, Watchmen and The Incredibles all mined similar territory.
The superheroes are out there saving the world, but at what cost? What about all the collateral damage? What about the innocent lives lost — albeit unintentionally — while they exact vengeance on their sundry adversaries?
That’s the environment good ol’ Cap (Chris Evans, Snowpiercer) finds himself in after one particularly deadly street fight sends oodles of innocents to the hereafter. The Captain is America’s Most Wanted.
Reframe the Future
It’s a little scary to think about a world in which egotistical, ultra-rich Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr., Chaplin) turns into the voice of reason and acts as a superhero diplomat while negotiating with the U.S. Secretary of State (William Hurt, Altered States) and the United Nations. However, during the course of three Iron Man and two Avengers movies, Tony’s been through a lot and he’s now a humbled, vulnerable man coping with his losses while still maintaining a perpetual chipper attitude, if not a chip on his shoulder.
Tony’s character development is one of the things that works so well in this franchise-crossing series. Rumor has it Tony Stark will appear in the next reboot of Sony’s Spider-Man series with Tom Holland (In the Heart of the Sea) as Peter Parker, who makes a terrific debut here. (And so does Aunt May, played by a relatively young Marisa Tomei (The Big Short). As Tony so deftly notes, she’s “Aunt Hottie.”)
It’s an impressive piece of movie machinery as Marvel has mastered a crafty way of interweaving storylines from one series to another. It’s a modern-day spin on the old serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, but on a much grander scale. Instead of a few minutes of adventure every week, it’s a couple hours every year — and that clip will only accelerate while box office records continue to tumble.
Now more characters are being introduced. There’s the new Spider-Man, plus Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues) joins the fray, fresh off his solo stint last summer. And Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, 42) leaps onto the scene — rather abruptly.
Ultimately, it’s all about a spike in the presence of advanced humans subsequent to Tony Stark coming out of the cave as Iron Man. Sound familiar? It’s a lot like the corralling of meta-humans for the Justice League, as depicted in Batman v. Superman. And with that spike in super beings, there’s also been a spike in catastrophes around the planet. Funny how that works.
Marvel has clearly gained the upper hand over DC and the success of Captain America: Civil War further underscores the weaknesses of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
For one, the Marvel series has become much more successful at playing off the family angle, particularly here by way of Tony Stark, his parents and a $611 million “self-help therapy” project funded by Stark. It makes the “Martha” situation in BvS that much more embarrassing to watch.
And Marvel also has a lock on the humor. Badly needed humor, amid all the fight scenes and ominous talk of terrorism and seeding of real-world themes into this fantastical movie universe.
That humor largely comes in the simpler moments. Stark introduces his pet project as “BARF” and acknowledges he needs to work on that acronym. But the big crowd-pleasing laugh comes from another simple comment uttered in a rather absurd situation: “Can you move your seat up?”
That’s not to say all is well in the mighty Marvel universe.
There are problems with the pacing, similar to the Russo Brothers’ Winter Soldier. It’s not enough to stitch together quick-edit fight sequences in order to generate excitement, particularly over the course of 2 ½ hours. Maybe part of the problem stems from Henry Jackman’s score. It lacks the punch of his stylish X-Men: First Class beats.
That makes it all the more important to have a reason to care about the goings-on in order to keep the audience in the story. And there, Marvel manages to outdo DC’s universe again.
There’s nothing particularly earth-shattering at stake in Civil War. It’s all about the fate of this group of characters that have been around for decades in various media and incarnations. And the cast brings them to life in fine fashion, with the grounding and the charisma necessary to carry the weight of a globe-spanning adventure.
The ticking time bomb in Civil War is a nefarious plot to destroy the Avengers from within. Even as the various members take sides — Team Cap v. Team Iron Man — as to whether the “Sokovia Accords” are the right answer to protecting the public and harnessing the Avengers’ powers, the underlying issues revolve around trust and liberty.
It’s a clever play that takes big ideas of concern in society today and presents them in a heightened, colorful state of a world in which outsized heroes live and breathe. But even the supersized among us have family matters and other troubles that break them down into relatable people.