Should You Actually See 'Captain America: Civil War'?
This weekend's Captain America: Civil War is the first binge-watchable blockbuster, which is praise and shade, depending where you're standing.
Civil War pits the patriotic hero (Chris Evans) and his brainwashed buddy Bucky (Sebastian Stan) against Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and a few lingering Avengers in a brawl of political proportions. Collateral damage from previous alien and robot face-offs convinces Tony Stark to put his super team on a leash. Steve "Captain America" Rogers doesn't want the government looking over his shoulder. Black Widow stands between them (despite not being in much of the movie). Boom: conflict -- and lots of it.
This is the 13th episode in the theatrical TV series known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a marathon of character fury and super-powered brawls. Each 20-minute chunk in Civil War has its own beginning, middle, and end, and like the mid-season arc of any addictive show, it finishes where it starts: in a groove.
There's no mass consensus on the Marvel movies. One man's Iron Man 2 is another man's Avengers. Case in point: as someone who put 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger on his top 10 movies of the year, didn't care for the beloved Guardians of the Galaxy, and thought Joss Whedon juggled the overloaded Age of Ultron with level-headed dynamism, Captain America: Civil War slid off my senses like Thor's hammer across Cap's vibranium shield -- the powerhouse hits land without so much as a scratch.
Captain America: Civil War will be a colossal hit, seen and enjoyed by millions. Should you be part of the crowd? Ask yourself these questions:
Have you done your Marvel movie homework?
Civil War is BYOI -- bring your own investment. You need to know what happened to Tony and his girlfriend Pepper Potts back in Iron Man 3. You need to remember the post-credit stinger from Captain America: The Winter Soldier so you buy that the once-evil Bucky wouldn't instantly kill Steve. You need to be able to discern the giant-objects-smashing-into-skyscraper finales of The Avengers, Winter Solider, and Age of Ultron to feel the gravity of destructive heroism.
And you must have a snowballing love for these characters. There's no impending invasion or mass extinction event bringing Captain America and Iron Man together in Civil War. This is personal. They're their own worst enemies, and no amount of bro-hugging will calm them. Even the movie's shady villain is there to fan an existing fire. It's tragic if you see these characters as dimensional avatars of ideology and valor. Big "if." Civil War is not a self-sustaining story. Nor does it want to be.
Do you want to spend hours debating politics with your friends?
Civl War scales down to consider the consequences of the Avengers' actions. Should society control its heroes? Is one life more important than the survival of a city? Are guys with super suits and enhanced muscles really so sensitive that they have to resort to violence instead of talking through their problems? Civil War is the headiest Marvel movie to date, likely to provoke debate from conservatives and liberals, libertarians and collectivists. The movie doesn't carry its characters to true epiphany -- like a Game of Thrones season that plunges into the story and culminates with a cliffhanger, the latest Captain America isn't about to wrap things up knowing there's more to come -- but it does ask the questions, which is daring enough.
Is your definition of great action "recognizable hero punches other recognizable hero"?
Marvel's "house style," the visual consistency that makes its mega-franchise installments television-esque, buckles in Civil War. Captain America: The First Avenger had grand, side-scrolling action set pieces that threw back to the WWII era. The Avengers whizzed around New York with single, sweeping camera moves. The Winter Soldier went for the Bourne-style shaky cam.
With so many characters to manage, so much geography to cover, brother directors Anthony and Joe Russo are stuck shooting Captain America: Civil War like Arrested Development Season 4. Everything's tight and constantly cross-cutting, creating the illusion of everyone being in the same room. Who knows who was where and when, but for all the crime fighters crammed into the script, characters rarely entangle. The cold open, the Avengers thwarting a terrorist's plan to unleash a biological weapon, is a spastic, suffocated version of the Age of Ultron first scene. The big airport throw down teased in the trailers, and a brief mano-a-mano round at the tail end, are Civil War's few "splash page" moments, almost as crazed and colorful as promised. The whole movie rides the basic thrill of seeing Captain America, Iron Man, Falcon, Ant-Man, Black Widow, Vision, Scarlet Witch, etc., etc. do their thing. Not all at once. In pairs.
Are you pumped to see new faces added to the MCU?
Civil War suffers from the Iron Man 2 seed-planting problem. On top of the Captain America-Iron Man scuffle, there's teasing of an Avengers franchise carried by Vision and Scarlett Witch's romance, an enlarged Ant-Man sequel, and a new franchise starring Black Panther, played in the movie by debonair Chadwick Boseman. The king of fictitious African nation Wakanda, Panther is a regal, vengeful vigilante, a Captain America with claws. Boseman owns the role, chewing up scenery opposite Evans. If the script could spare him enough screen time to make him interesting, Boseman could surely do so. Doesn't happen. Civil War is brimming with that kind of potential, and hopes the visceral pleasure of catching a whiff will get your blood pumping.
Do you really, really, really love Spider-Man?
After making an unprecedented crossover deal with Sony, Marvel nabbed Spider-Man for its own uses. Teenage actor Tom Holland appears in the movie as a wisecracking webslinger, in part to pepper the fight scenes with humor, in greater part to setup his own franchise. His introduction scraps the origin story slog while still feeling like an intermission from the actual movie. For 10 minutes, Downey Jr. flirts with Marisa Tomei, the new Aunt May, and convinces Holland's Peter Parker to join #TeamIronMan. It's a funny, vibrant scene transplanted into Civil War where it feels like wheel-spinning.
Could Captain America: Civil War result in superhero fatigue?
This year saw Deadpool rise from geek obscurity to a dominating box office force. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice entered the cultural atmosphere like an asteroid and left shattered and charred. We have X-Men: Apocalypse, Suicide Squad, and Doctor Strange ahead of us. There's double the comic book mayhem to follow on actual television. Anyone worried about the onslaught of superhero cinema won't be won back by Captain America: Civil War, a languid yin to Age of Ultron's controlled chaos yang, a noble, character-driven blockbuster without much character. But anyone guzzling Marvel Kool-Aid in the off hours will lose his or her damn minds when they hit this quick-witted, reference-heavy, mythology-forging vehicle with plenty of room for emotional projection. It's a movie that gives and gives and gives to an audience that it knows can take it. Many will.
So, which side are you on?
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Matt Patches is Thrillist’s Entertainment Editor. He previously wrote for Grantland, Esquire.com, Vulture, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Guardian. He's Team Cap all the way. Find him on Twitter @misterpatches.