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Front Page - Friday, May 13, 2016

Audience wins in ‘Civil War’

The Critic's Corner movie review

David Laprad

For a year, I looked forward to “Captain America: Civil War” like a drooling Marvel fan boy. Only I’m not a Marvel fan boy. Rather, I had simply loved “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” which used the superhero template as a foundation for a crack political thriller, and I was excited about the return of that film’s co-writers and directors, brothers Joe and Anthony Russo. Essentially, I was anticipating a great movie.

And the Russos did not disappoint. Here are eight reasons why:

Jaw-dropping action: There are several spectacular action sequences in “Civil War,” including a breathtaking car chase and a superhero showdown at an airport. If you’re a member of the popcorn-munching brigade, you’re going to love this film.

Intelligent, character-based storytelling: Marvel has been making movies about these characters for eight years, and during that time, we’ve come to know and care about Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, et al. So, when the United Nations proposes a law that will essentially handcuff the Avengers, we expect Tony Stark (Iron Man) to go one way and Steve Rogers (Captain America) to go the other – and they do. We also understand the reasons behind their choices because of the way the Russos use the rich back-story Marvel has developed through its previous films. While this kind of depth is sometimes seen on television, this is the first time something on this scale has been attempted in a series of movies, and it’s working very well.

Eye-popping insanity: There are a few crazy, risky moments in “Civil War” that would kill a lesser film. But in the hands of the Russos and their cast, these moments work wonderfully. One example would be the appearance of Giant-Man (when Ant-Man goes big) during the airport sequence. The opening night crowd with which I saw the film loved it. One of the reasons these scenes work is because the Russos underpin them with serious, dramatic storytelling.

Diverse points of view: While Stark believes in turning over the authority of the Avengers to the U.N., Rogers is adamantly opposed to placing himself under such restrictions. Part of Cap’s reasoning is based on of his protective feelings for Bucky, aka the Winter Soldier, aka his best friend and his only living link to his past. But he also simply disagrees with the notion of restricting the Avenger’s freedom to act as they see fit. Interestingly, the Russos don’t take sides; rather, they let this ideological difference serve as the heat that brings the tension between Stark and Rogers to a boil.

A boatload of Avengers: Although Captain America is the headliner, this film could have easily been titled “Avengers: Civil War.” A few key players are missing, like Hulk and Thor, but the bulk of the rest of them are present and accounted for, along with a few characters who are new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Usually, such a profusion of heroes and villains kills a comic book movie, but the Russos keep everything in balance. No character is shortchanged, and the movie doesn’t feel overstuffed. Like watching someone juggle a half-dozen bowling pins, I couldn’t help but wonder how the Russos did it, even as I watched in awe.

Spider-Man: One of the characters the Russos weaved into the story was Spider-Man, played by newcomer Tom Holland. With the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield movies a thing of the past, Marvel used “Civil War” to introduce Holland in an exciting, natural way. The good news is Holland nails the role in a way Garfield never did, and that even seems to improve on Maguire’s take. He’s youthful, exuberant, and funny, and he has a few great moments that make “Civil War” that much better.

Black Panther: Marvel also used “Civil War” to introduce Black Panther to the MCU. Black Panther is the alter ego of T’Challa, the son of the king of the African country of Wakanda. (Yes, I had to Google all of that.) T’Challa becomes involved in the battle between the Avengers when an apparent terrorist attack kills his father, and he blames the Winter Soldier. When T’Challa sets out to pursue Bucky, this also pits him against Rogers. Actor Chadwick Boseman seems perfect for the role. He can communicate dialogue with his eyes, and his charisma as an actor makes him a pleasure to watch. Best of all, the Russos give the Black Panther the most developed character arc in the film. I’m already drooling like a Marvel fan boy (even though I’m not a Marvel fan boy) for the first Black Panther movie.

Game changing ending: Things happen in “Civil War” that cannot be undone. Words are exchanged, brutal punches are thrown, and a fissure appears down the middle of the Avengers. What this means for the future remains to be seen. The good news is the Russos are returning as the writers and directors of the next two Avengers movies, which by the time of their release will bring over a decade of storytelling through more than 20 films to a climax. It’s a great time to be a Marvel fan boy – or simply someone who loves good storytelling and filmmaking.

Three and a half stars out of four. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem.

David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at dlaprad@hamiltoncountyherald.com.