captain-america-civil-war-02082016It is easy to become cynical about the state of modern movie making – to focus on the role that international sales (mostly to China) and established franchises play in making a movie profitable and to assume, as it can be easy to assume, that this means the death of art. But movie making has always been an expensive endeavor and though main stream cinema focuses more and more on guaranteed successes, that does not mean that they focus on meaningless ones.

In fact, Marvel has set the standard for meaning in their multi billion dollar tentpoles. They’ve established a pattern of overwhelming success – both commercially, yes, but also, maybe more importantly, creatively – that other studios and film making franchises have struggled to maintain. Captain America: Civil War, which is one of the more perfect of the Marvel movies, takes the Avengers template and personalizes it.

The plot is twisty and action-fueled, with the superheroes splitting into two sides in a mostly philosophical debate (although it occasionally results in fisticuffs). On the one hand, we have Tony Stark, Black Widow, Rhodey, and Vision (and occasionally the newly introduced Black Panther), representing a democratic world in which the United Nations exerts some control over the super powered arsenal. on the other side, Captain America, Wanda Maximoff, Sam Wilson, Ant Man and Hawkeye, representing personal responsibility against fascist forces. One of the major strengths of the movie is that it takes seriously both sides of this equation – there is an argument to be made for governmental oversight exerting control over a vigilante force no matter how well intentioned. But there’s also a corrupting influence to bureaucracy that can stand in the way of heroism – which is overwhelmingly evident to the World War II veteran Captain America.

But the real beauty is the way that Marvel invests in its characters personal journeys – and never is that more elegant than in Civil War. Tony Stark’s descent into isolation and paranoia plays directly into his desire to give up control – and Captain America’s relationship with fascism and friendship with Bucky (The Winter Soldier) are his key motivating factors even when all the rhetoric gets a bit monologue-y.

If you’ve made it this far, then there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is not a movie for newcomers. The MCU rewards frequent, obsessive viewing. And although some offerings can also serve as single takes, at this point they are all deeply enhanced by knowledge of the universe surrounding them. Although Captain’s name may start the title, this is basically an Avengers film, and requires that level of Avengers knowledge.

But that’s the modern world we live in – a place where movies can be made that are as dense and twisty as any TV show, with production values that boggle the mind. These are epics for a modern time – and Marvel is the very best at what they do.

But Civil War, like the best instalments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is also timeless. It invests in its themes and morality and emotional journeys – creating satisfying, albeit unfinished, arch and fun moments. And if the post-credits sequences are any indication, there’s a lot more where that came from.

RANDOM OBSERVATIONS (here be spoilers):

  • I actually liked the new Spiderman, and I REALLY didn’t intend to. But I like that I don’t have to watch the same old “Uncle Ben” dying scene, and I dug the unique energy brought to the table
  • Chadwick Boseman didn’t get to have a whole lot of fun in this installment as Black Panther, but he did show off an impressive grasp of the accent. I’m looking forward to the solo outing – and the change of pace it represents (since most MCU are set in America, with big established heroes)
  • One thing the fight scenes did especially well was maintain legitimate stakes, while also clearly demonstrating that these people had no desire to hurt each other.
  • Much though I like Ruffalo’s Hulk, it was a relief to get to enjoy Black Widow without romantic baggage