The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Captain America: Civil War

One of the common criticisms of superhero movies is that they often end with gigantic battles that leave buildings crumbled and cities torn apart. While the bad guy may be defeated, the films never address collateral damage. Surely with all that destruction, some innocent people are impacted. Captain America: Civil War finally incorporates that issue, using it as a springboard for a compelling story about beloved heroes in conflict.

After an overseas mission accidentally leaves several innocent people dead or injured, the Avengers are asked to sign an accord with the United Nations forbidding them from intervening in world events without permission. Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) -- who wasn't involved in this particular mission but feels some pangs of guilt about a previous one -- is all for it. He believes a few checks and balances can't hurt. Captain America (Chris Evans) is opposed, stating that they need to be able to act autonomously to best keep the world safe.

Tension between them escalates after the Winter Soldier, a.k.a. Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), is framed for committing a terrorist act. Cap wants to help his old friend. Iron Man believes the best way to do so is to turn him over to the authorities. Before long, the two are drawing up teams. Iron Man recruits Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and a young kid named Peter Parker (Tom Holland), who goes by the alias of Spider-Man. Cap, meanwhile, calls upon Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). Also taking sides are War Machine (Don Cheadle), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Yet another hero, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), stumbles into the melee, too. He has his own personal reasons for wanting to apprehend Bucky.

Civil War is a whole lot of fun because it plays off the affection audiences have developed for these characters over the course of many films. You can't pick a side, because they're all trying to do what's right. Even better, the heroes show respect for one another, even when in combat. They express concern for each other's well-being, follow rules of engagement, and never lose sight of the fact that they are friends in the long run, even if they are forced by circumstance to be foes temporarily. This approach takes the film far beyond the realm of being just another superhero action movie. It provides genuine human drama that keeps you fully engaged throughout the 146-minute running time. Sometimes friends fight, but it doesn't mean that the love between them isn't still there. Civil War compellingly emphasizes that idea, which puts a fresh spin on things.

The highlight of the film is an extended fight sequence on an airport tarmac, where all the different characters use their individual abilities to square off. There is enormous pleasure to be derived from watching them use their powers in an adversarial way, rather than in sync as they typically do. The way the scene is staged provides one thrill after another, punctuated by moments of humor and humanity. But it also works because the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely very carefully sets up the dynamic between Captain America and Iron Man so that their dueling ideologies are fully fleshed out. (That's something 2016's other picture about feuding superheroes, the muddled and confused Batman v Superman, could never figure out how to achieve.) Consequently, the story progresses in a satisfying, heartfelt manner. They aren't just fighting because someone thought it would be cool to see beloved superheroes fight; they're fighting because there is a carefully-constructed story requiring them to.

Evans and Downey, Jr. are solid as always, but the real MVPs here are the new players. Paul Rudd makes his first appearance as an Avenger after starring in last summer's clever Ant-Man. He brings the same cheerfully goofy humor to this film. Chadwick Boseman delivers nice intensity as Black Panther, providing a sense of moral ambiguity that impacts the plot in important ways. It will be interesting to see where his character goes from here. Tom Holland (The Impossible) makes a stunning debut as the new Spider-Man. His casting and performance are so spot-on that it no longer seems like a bad idea to reboot the entire Spider-Man franchise. It is in very good hands with this young actor.

Stylishly directed by Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Civil War avoids the pace-killing set-ups for future installments that frequently intruded on previous entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (See Avengers: Age of Ultron for a prime example of that flaw.) It introduces new characters and plot elements much more organically, making us excited for them rather than feeling like the plot is just “doing business.” That allows Civil War to simply entertain as a superhero movie should.

Exciting and ingeniously conceived, this is Marvel working at the top of its cinematic game.

( 1/2 out of four)

Captain America: Civil War is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem. The running time is 2 hours and 27 minutes.

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