If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a bit of a comic book fanatic. I especially have a permanent place in my heart for Marvel. I grew up specifically on Hulk, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four. Comics had as large a role as anything or anyone in making me the person I am, today. And, sorry, Fredric Wertham, but I learned about tolerance, respect, honesty, perseverance, and selflessness by reading comics. These characters gave so much to me and I resolve to never abandon them in return. And whenever someone speaks ill of them, I find myself to be personally offended, largely due to how much influence they had on my development as a person. Oh, you think Captain America is boring because he always tries to do the right thing? Well, I guess I’m boring, too, because I learned to always try to do the right thing from characters like Cap and Spidey. Oh, now you think Hulk is lame because he’s “only” super-strong? I guess I’m lame, too, because that’s the super power I’d choose. Then, I’d smash your puny mobile device which you use to hide behind as you sling these insults while you turn invisible, fly off, run away really fast, or try to super-sleuth your way out of the situation your mouth just got you into.
So, yeah, I’m emotionally invested in every one of these movies. I’m always a bit nervous when I sit down for a new comic book movie – especially one from Marvel Studios. Not only do I want them to live up to my expectations but I also truly want the whole world to love these movies, too. The way I see it, if everyone loves them, then we all win. Audiences get a wonderful experience, Marvel gets money and validation, and I get more of these movies.
Even taking a step back and speaking objectively (and I’ve mentioned this before), what Marvel Studios has accomplished with the Marvel Cinematic Universe is pretty easily the grandest achievement in entertainment history. So many people said they couldn’t do it. Now, everybody is trying to do it because Marvel not only succeeded, but they made it look easy (those others are finding out that it’s actually not).
Civil War may be Marvel’s most daunting challenge to date. There’s never been such an impressive cast in any movie that I’m aware of. And I’m speaking about in all of cinematic history. The immense number of characters, alone, is almost insurmountably difficult to juggle. On top of that, the basic plot of the film is based on a very popular and successful comic book storyline of the same name (so this is not an aping of DC’s Batman vs. Superman idea, despite what some might think). Fans have certain expectations when they hear “Civil War”. Satisfying them while not abandoning casual viewers requires a deft touch. Another layer to the task is finding the balance between story/character and action. The stakes continue to be raised with each of these films but Marvel is probably better known for character and dialogue than anything, so that can’t be abandoned. If those defining Marvel characteristics are completely jettisoned, then they alienate their trusting fan base. People are harsh and unforgiving with their entertainment. They don’t suffer experimentation. They want “new” but only if they also get “familiar”. The folks at Marvel might just be the only people on the planet who have cracked that dilemma and they know that they can’t get away from it, now.
And, with Civil War, they don’t. Like most of Marvel’s other films, there’s something here for everyone. There are real stakes involved on both a grand scale and a personal one. But despite such a weighty story, it’s also the funniest movie I’ve seen all year. Ant-Man, Spider-Man, and Iron Man all deliver genuine laughs that stem from dialogue, situation, and delivery rather than crudeness and shock value like so many other films. Don’t get me wrong; that kind of thing can be (and often is) funny, as well. But it’s a little more satisfying when there’s something to “get” in order to laugh along. It feels earned. Other characters – surprising characters – get some laughs in, as well. And it never feels inappropriate or poorly timed. The reason for that lies in Marvel’s character development and the fact that they write every single one of them as though they’re real people. I can’t stress how important that is.
The action is the biggest and geekiest of any Marvel movie, yet. While watching, I don’t know how many times I reflected upon the fact that I never believed I’d see this kind of thing in live-action. I’m not going to get into specifics, here. It’s big, it’s inventive, it’s everything you want.
I was especially impressed by the fact that not only did each character get to shine, but many of them had true character arcs. I’m not sure any of the characters were the same at both the beginning and the end of the film. Yet, nothing feels forced. It’s so natural and comfortable and flows with the ease of a Hawaiian waterfall. It was among the fastest two-and-a-half waking hours of my life.
The story itself is complex with a lot of moving parts, but it completely makes sense. The logistics and the motivations all come together. It’s easily apparent why each person makes the decisions that they do and as complex as the story is, the characters are equally complex, if not more so. This presents the audience with many wonderful shades of gray. Everyone believes they’re in the right and any viewer who’s being honest with themselves will be able to understand each of their viewpoints. And every rationalization makes sense for that specific character. Some are emotional, some are intellectual, and some fall somewhere in the middle. All are justifiable. This isn’t Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice where Batman is simply an insecure d-bag who’s in the wrong. Again, all written honestly, all written with complexity.
But, seriously, #TeamCap, yo.
Civil War is the best movie of the year so far and it isn’t even close. Once again, Marvel proves that they understand every element that is necessary to create quality, mass appeal, four-quadrant entertainment and everybody else is just playing catchup. After what many considered a slightly underwhelming 2015 (quality-wise) for Marvel, 2016 has kicked off with a full return to form.