REVIEW: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR - What, Are We Supposed To Be Cool Now?

I should mention right out of the blocks why I chose the above title for this review. It is a nod to a scene in the movie that, I will swear upon at gunpoint, was a last minute reshoot to directly poke fun at Zack Snyder’s poorly received Batman V Superman: This Is Seriously The Title They Stuck With. You’ll have to see both films to get the joke, provided you’re not already keen to it by the flood of social media memes on the topic.

Why Captain America: Civil War is comparable to BvS is the themes. Both films are an approximation of America’s kaiju, specifically the kaiju eiga, our “movie monster” representation of the ongoing conversation on the consequences of 9/11, with BvS being the solipsistic nihilist’s handbook on the subject while Cap 3 holds upon its shoulders the heavier idealistic volume.

And the audience has spoken its opinion. Cap 3 currently enjoys a 91% jump versus its predecessor, The Winter Soldier, over the weekend, while BvS limps in with record declines due to damning (and well earned) word of mouth.

Check the calendar, ladies and gents. I saw this film on opening night, a thing I do not do. But I’m reporting to you at this juncture following my second viewing. To wit, I can speak for many when I say that we were not ready for this movie. And even after seeing it, we remain unprepared.

Pictured: Not ready...

The philosopher Erich Fromm posited that “the basic human dilemma” is the conflict between the organic desires for both security and freedom, ideals that in large find themselves at odds –as a core construct. In is on this premise that Marvel’s comic crossover, Civil War, is based. It follows Fromm’s optimistic hypothesis of human nature in that both sides of the conflict arise from positive human qualities and a shared desire to determine what is best for all. It is a political allegory, to be sure. Both in comic form and, as we’re here to discuss, the movie based upon the material. The Republican-style exploitation of fear illustrated through the Red, Tony Stark’s, faction; the resistance, Captain America’s blue liberalist’s analog, to unconstitutional acts against personal sovereignty and a Hobbsian absolutist’s worldview that would have them, the Avengers, drafted into indentured mascot/puppet-like servitude.

The timeline is approximately a year after the events of Age of Ultron. And the conflict kicks off when after an Avengers mission ends in tragedy, Captain America and crew are visited by U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) to inform them that the United Nations are preparing to pass the Sokovia Accords, a bill that will declare the Avengers’ members property of the UN to be governed and used as an international law enforcement outfit, rendering each member’s heroics and abilities subject in their entirety to government discretion. Iron Man lines up in favor of the bill while Captain America stands against it, each man backed by different members of the now divided team.

A human radicalized villain, Baron Zemo, portrayed by Daniel Bruhl with a subtle perspicuity, who lost his family in the Sokovia battle, manipulates from behind the scenes and strategically fuels the fire that would destroy the Avengers from the inside.

There is a conference in Vienna to ratify the Accords. Dignitaries of the obscure African nation of Wakanda attend, and a bomb presumably set off by Bucky ‘Winter Soldier’ Barnes results in the death of Wakanda’s king, T’Chaka. His son, the now vengeful warrior T’Challa, dons the head-to-toe vibranium Black Panther suit and sets out on a singular journey for revenge and the restoration of his father’s honor.

He is played with kind of grace and screen presence we’ve come to expect from the 42 star, Chadwick Boseman. And boy does this character arrive! Black Panther’s impact on the MCU is as profound and gratifying as his introduction to the comic book universe was back in 1966, and the Russo Brothers felicitously made sure it went down exactly like this. If you were excited about Spider-Man (more on him in a bit), pleased with his reception, and still intrigued even more by the electrifying intro of T’Challa and the Wakanda nation, then know it was by design. To invoke the words, “and so it was written.”

Black Panther is recognized as the first fully formed black superhero to enter comic book mythology, and enjoy a staying power that remains as strong today as his original inception was timely. It is noted that early in the title’s publishing history, the journalist Joe Gross praised writer Christopher Priest for the strong characterization of Black Panther, saying that Priest “turned an underused icon into the locus of a complicated high adventure by taking the Black Panther to his logical conclusion. T’Challa is the enigmatic ruler of a technologically advanced, slightly xenophobic African nation, so he acts like it.”

Chadwick Boseman’s performance as the enigmatic leader is on par with the character’s station of royalty in the comic annals, again not only the first black superhero, but one of few that can boast no blaxsploitation and jive treatment blemishing the regality of his publication history. Unlike Luke Cage, for instance, T’Challa has never asked a villain for his money, honey.

Indeed, diversity was necessary back in 1966 when T’Challa showed up on the scene, and is still today a relevant topic of conversation. There is much fallout over the casting, for instance, of Scarlett Johannson as Mokoto Kusanagi in the forthcoming Ghost In The Shell Hoax In The Shell (that is, my pet and decidedly more apt title), a production believed by most apposite sources, writers, fans, and the Asian American acting community, to be a whitewashed hijacking of a Japanese brand. Marvel themselves are catching fire over the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in the Doctor Strange film, a character originally written and portrayed as Tibetan.

Black Panther, in this atmosphere, arrives as a welcome presence and opportunity. The same can be said for what Marvel is doing on Netflix, with the inclusion of Luke Cage (sanz jive, one hopes) on the development schedule, a series that will also introduce the bad ass, no nonsense Misty Knight to the MCU.

“I am host to great power! My hobbies include media spin, hermaphroditic expressionism, and bullshitting. Mostly bullshitting.”
Frank Grillo’s Crossbones has a small role in the film, arriving as the villain who sets off the film’s dramatic opening that results in the loss of innocent life. It is noted that his role in the film is much different than his role in the comic’s dramatic arc, a strategic handling no doubt to inject exigency and a true sense of peril for the film’s titular hero during Grillo’s brief tenure. This is also a sequence during which we see some impressive augments to Falcon’s vaunt and wheelhouse; a display of acrobatic heroicism enough to finally absolve Anthony Mackey of the deprecative Clarence moniker.

Of course, now we’ve gotta talk about Spider-Man.

I was on the fence at first about Tom Holland as the new Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Not because I doubted his acting ability (indeed, I had no exposure to his work prior to this film), but because I initially found the decision to include Spiderman at all to be a superfluous move. “Shoehorned” is a word that comes to mind, but it’s not the one I’m looking for. In any event, I was wrong.

Holland’s performance is at once as quintessential as his presence is welcome, and he is celebrated throughout the film with several references to his forthcoming solo outing, Spider-Man: Homecoming. Marisa Tomei is introduced in a brief cameo as the new Aunt May, a welcome addition, to be sure, and an even more welcome update to the character’s age appropriateness.

Admittedly, it never made much sense in the comic –or, for that matter, Sam Raimi’s trilogy- for “aunt” May to appear more like a moonlighting grandmother than an actual aunt to a teenager, let alone a supporting character who enjoys a lengthy shelf-life in the mythology’s chronology.

I’m calling it now. This woman is secretly a Highlander.
We’re given no short of four references to previous Spiderman films in the short time the new Spiderman is on screen in Civil War, beginning with the Joe’s Pizza reference from Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 (the red and white shirt he is wearing in his first scene). There’s a scene where Tony Stark replays some video footage of Peter’s death-defying vagaries in New York, one of such instances being a scene where he leaps in the path of a car to stop its impact with a city bus (an Amazing Spider-Man 2 reference). You’ll find a clever bit of dialogue during an action set piece that again pays homage to Raimi’s films, but this time to the gaff regarding Peter’s web shooters. There is a reference to the familiar “With great power comes great responsibility” line. And then there’s that time he hid from the bullies in the bookstore, when… Umm, wait. Excuse me. Had a lapse into a fond memory of Neverending Story for a moment there, perhaps a testament in its own right to Captain America: Civil War’s immediate inclusion in the hallowed ranks of classic filmmaking.

Either that, or Atreyu, at least by the timeline of the Neverending Story sequel, is revealed a long lost precursor to a shape-shifting Avenger.
A good friend of mine called the film a watershed moment in moviemaking history, at once brazenly announcing itself as Marvel’s own The Empire Strikes Back (something Spider-Man actually says in one of the film’s biggest action set pieces) –an honor and boast the Russo brothers well earn for the quality of the proceedings. Not to mention their previous directing prowess showcased in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. No question, two of the best films so far in the MCU catalogue.

Scarlett Johansson seriously makes a case for her solo Black Widow film in this movie. You’d be forgiven for thinking she was the main protagonist of the film every time she graces the screen. A nod there to the fantastic stunt work by Heidi Moneymaker.

In fact, similar can be said everyone onboard. The cast shows up for serious business. Trent Opaloch delivers fantastic cinematography not wasted on a hackneyed script (cough cough Bv cough S). The score by Henry Jackman punctuates the narrative shifts and the big moments nicely. Awards should be in the cards for Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt for the enumerated engineering done in the editing room. And the unsung gravitas of the art direction by Gregory S. Hooper, David Scott, and supervisor Greg Berry was, in a word, exhilarant.

Captain America: Civil War is a must see at least twice. The first time, for an emotional and truly rewarding movie-going experience. And second, baby, to convince yourself that yes, yes…, this epic event actually occurred on my watch, in my lifetime.

Posted by Khalil Barnett


  1. wow. wanted to see it already. you just described a whole new movie i want to see even more!!!

    1. Lol cool! And yes, please rush out to see it! If you find yourself getting rheumy eyes over the sheer majesty of the film, you are correct.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I saw this film last night and this reviewer is right on point. This movie is a must see!!!


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