Monday, 9 May 2016

The Man Still Standing ~ A review of Captain America: Civil War

I recently saw Captain America: Civil War and thought a post on the movie would be apt considering everyone else is making one. But I'm going to go a little different and speak of the Captain America trilogy as a whole.

Before we begin, I thought I would mention a little background of the Captain America film series. I will be skipping the Avengers films and any others starring other superheroes for this post. This review is going to be focused on Civil War being the third, and probably final, installment of the Captain America film series.

Back in 2011, Marvel had only recently launched its new Marvel Cinematic Universe with the remarkable Iron Man, it's not-so-great sequel, and the fish out of story Thor. They were good, for the most part, with the original Iron Man being by far the best. The third new property was known as Captain America: The First Avenger, ostensibly a war movie directed by the man behind cult favorite, The Rocketeer, but really an old style superhero movie in the package of the Golden Age of comics. It's a film that isn't highly appreciated these days, or mentioned much, what with its very old school approach and morals is still unheard of in the realm of superhero movies. Yet it set the tone for much of the best parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The First Avenger centered on Steve Rogers, a scrawny kid from Brooklyn, who is so puny he can't even join the war effort against the Nazis. But after an experiment for which he is chosen because of his heart and nothing else, he begins his career as a Super Soldier: a man capable of super strength and agility. He fights against the Nazi war machine before they are overtaken by the Hydra organization, run by the tyrannical Red Skull. He fought with a squad by his side, a classy dame named Peggy Carter, his best friend, Bucky, and a shield made of vibranium made by super-genius, Howard Stark.

The film opened well and formed a great foundation for Steve Rogers as a character leading into the even more popular Avengers. That said, it is a great start for the series, one that has aged excellently, and only gets better on multiple re-watches. If you haven't seen it in a while, you might be pleasantly surprised with how good it really is.

But as good as Captain America: The First Avenger was, it only got better from there.

At the end of the first movie, Steve Rogers sacrifices his life and crashes a plane in the arctic to prevent countless people from dying. In the process he is frozen under the ice and not discovered for decades. Years pass and it turns out, even if he didn't die, that he did lose his old life. Everyone he left behind had lived their lives without him and had passed on, leaving him as a man out of time in the modern world.

The second film in the series, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is about how Steve Rogers, as a man the world had forgotten, finds his way in a world much different (and not so different) from the world he had left behind. More than that, it is about how far the world has come since the "Greatest Generation" and where it's going next in the morally vapid modern age. It turns out that the forgotten values of Captain America might just be what the modern world needs after all despite how antiquated he is. While the first movie was a war film, the second is a full-on '70s spy thriller and totally changed the tone of the series.

Cap works for the people who unfroze him from the arctic, a secret government agency called S.H.I.E.L.D., to stop terrorists with his special strike team. The boss of the organization, Nick Fury, is a modern man who has his eyes on all the players and his fingers in all the pies and thinks the key to saving the world is to keep it under the right man's thumb. What ends up happening in Winter Soldier is how very relevant the past can be, in more ways than one, and how despite how advanced and far along we have gotten since the second World War, things are still fundamentally the same as they ever were no matter how much we might deny it.

This film tests Steve Rogers in a way that the physical challenges of the first didn't. It tests his traditional values and beliefs, leaving in a climax that's both jaw dropping and reaffirming Captain America as the hero the world desperately needs just as much as it did back in the war.

The most impressive aspect of Captain America: The Winter Soldier was how it took all of the ideas and themes from the first Cap movie and pushed them even further. The decision to change the war setting to a spy one and the contrast of the films between the idealistic past and pessimistic present not only strengthens both films, but leads Captain America on a path none of the other Marvel series have been able to replicate, even now.

But it doesn't stop with those two films.

Now we get to the newly released Captain America: Civil War. After the events of the second film, Cap is still around in the present, but he now leads a new strike team with those who have special abilities, just like he does. An inciting event occurs and a disaster on one of their missions leads to innocent people dying and the UN demanding that people like Cap have to be held responsible for their actions and kept in check.

Howard Stark's son, Tony Stark, is also a hero like Steve called Iron Man and has been working with him for years now. The two both have complicated pasts, which is what leads to their opposite solutions on how to deal with the situation as it comes up. What enfolds is a conflict that starts explosive and public, but eventually, and slowly, winds back down to personal stakes. That's strange for a superhero movie, but for a Captain America movie, it can really end no other way after the explosive finales of the first two films.

As a conclusion to Steve Rogers arc from the first two movies, it is quite potent. It flips an early scene from The First Avenger on its head to show not only has Cap come far, but he's the same scrawny kid he's always been, refusing to back down from what's right. It also pushes on the themes from Winter Soldier about how the darkness of fear and revenge will not win out over truth and goodness. At the end of the film, things are not the same and probably never will be again, but Captain America and Iron Man are still standing despite the doubt and evil that has befallen them. They will keep fighting for what is right.

Despite everything Steve Rogers has been through, he was and forever shall be a hero. Nothing will break him down from doing the right thing--even if the whole world is against him.

And that's where the trilogy finishes. Starting with a scrawny kid that can't even protect himself, he ends up a hero standing up for the whole world who will never be broken again. It is a fantastic end to a fantastic trilogy.

But there is one more thing I wanted to point out.

One aspect of the Captain America films that no other Marvel series (or any other comic book based hero movie has done) is how each film represents a different era of comics.

Captain America: The First Avenger is clearly the Golden Age of comics. Larger than life heroes and villains clash on an epic scale. The good guys are true, the bad guys are unrepentant, and everything is unambiguously clear. It also forms the bedrock of everything to come.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is Silver Age, matching the '70s spy fiction feel it gives off. Good and evil are still there, buried a bit under the surface, and things might get muddy or more serious, but still heroes are heroes and will do what they must at the end of the day. Things can still get outlandish just like in the Golden Age, but everything is brought down to a more slightly grounded level allowing for character development not possible before.

Captain America: Civil War is Bronze Age, through and through. Heroes fighting heroes, villains scheming out of the spotlight, and things not always being what they seem at first. Civil War, however avoids the Bronze Age trap of moral relativism by never having the heroes or villains forget that they know who the real good or bad guys are even when it gets dark. Still, despite all the awful things that may occur, a hero is the one still standing for the right thing at the end.

That this series of films manage to touch so well on each of these areas speak very well for it a unique superhero series. Despite being part of the overarching universe of Marvel movies, they tell their own story and arc that stand well on their own.

And with Civil War being an excellent film in its own right, the Captain America series now stands as the best superhero trilogy ever made. Nothing else comes close.

If you have never seen the Captain America films, or Civil War, then you owe it to yourself to see them. You will not be disappointed.

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