Once Again, Marvel Shows Us How It’s Done

Captain America Civil War image from Blastr

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was an absolute mess of a film, but what truly makes it an embarrassment is that Marvel Studios also decided to take on the “superheroes fight each other” storyline as well, and did a MUCH better job of it. I never set out to be a Marvel fan, having grown up with DC’s comics and TV shows, but Marvel’s made-in-house films have generally been consistently good, while it seems Warner Bros. just hasn’t figured out what exactly it wants its DC superhero movies to be.

The parallels between Captain America: Civil War and Dawn of Justice are actually quite interesting. In both films, the catalyst for the conflict between the heroes is the collateral damage that happens when our heroes throw down, and all the people who are hurt or killed in all those cool-looking explosions. In both films, the villain manipulates the heroes, provoking them to fight each other. Both films also pull double-duty, serving to introduce us to new characters that will be important in later installments of the series. It makes one wonder if Hollywood filmmakers are sending spies into each others’ studios.

Having said that, the biggest difference between these two movies is that Marvel clearly understood something that Dawn of Justice‘s filmmakers didn’t – to make us care about the conflict between our heroes, it has to be a personal conflict. Emotions have to be high, and we have to be invested in those emotions. We need to feel their struggle.

Civil War‘s story begins as we watch the Avengers doing what they do best – stopping the bad guys. However, in the process, new team member Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) accidentally kills and injures a number of innocent bystanders. She is consumed with guilt over this, while the rest of the team now has to deal with the fallout. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) wants the team to sign an agreement with the United Nations placing the Avengers under the supervision and oversight of an international panel, but Captain America (Chris Evans) feels very strongly that this would be the wrong answer. This issue divides the team, but what really gets them to turn on each other is the arrival of the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), who has a very complex and very personal relationship to Captain America. Cap wants to handle the situation his way, while Iron Man argues that this is neither the time or place for rash action. Sure enough, things take an even bigger turn for the worst, and Iron Man is sent in to try to arrest Captain America.

It’s a very human drama that pulled me in and got me on the edge of my seat, biting my nails to see who would win this fight, which is far more than Dawn of Justice did. Heck, even if the other film didn’t exist, this would still be an excellent entry in Marvel’s filmography. It captures that The Avengers magic and then twists it in ways that I didn’t expect. The story was enjoyable, the characters were believable, the drama was intense, and the script was pretty tight.

Also, Chadwick Boseman completely steals the show as Black Panther.

Having said all of that, there are a few gripes I have with this movie, and almost all of them had to do with the visuals. Here we have some of the most colorful costumed characters on the big screen gathered for this movie, and almost every scene is bland, washed-out, and boring-looking. They could hardly get any more generic in their visual style if they tried. This was directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, who had previously worked on the much more visually interesting Captain America: The Winter Soldier, so what gives?

Not only that, but the film used tons of shaky-cam effects. You know, the effect where they try to make action scenes more gritty and realistic by shaking the camera around like it was filmed by some bystander with a smartphone? As one tool of many in a cinematographer’s toolbox, it can effectively add tension to a scene. Yet cinematographer Trent Opaloch used it constantly, like a ten-year-old drowning his french fries in ketchup. Though, I guess he did cut his teeth filming District 9, so maybe too-much-shaky-cam is just what he’s used to.

Still, the editing of the action scenes was atrocious. Half the time, I couldn’t tell during the action scenes who was where doing what. I was lost, and that’s not a feeling you want from your audience. It is a testament to the film’s story, acting, and pacing that I was able to stay engaged in spite of these shortcomings. For all of Dawn of Justice‘s flaws, looking terrible was not one of them.

All in all, though, I highly recommend this movie. It is a great action movie with a gripping story and a conflict you feel invested in. It doesn’t overcrowd with too many characters, which is quite the achievement for a film with no less than 12 super-powered figures in it. By focusing on the internal struggles of just a few of the characters, it avoids trying to juggle too much. It may have shortcomings in the visuals department, but it more than makes up for it in practically anything else.

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One Response to Once Again, Marvel Shows Us How It’s Done

  1. auntleesie says:

    It was a good movie, but if a person is made queasy easily, the action scenes might present a problem. GREAT review!

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