Captain America: Civil War — 6/10

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016, Anthony & Joe Russo)

Few Hollywood studios are as successful at producing cynical cash-grabs as Disney’s Marvel. Having unleashed a hellscape of superhero diarrhea across the multiplexes of the USA, Marvel has turned in an impressive number of passably entertaining candy-colored ATMs. The AVENGERS series in particular has gobbled up almost all the loose strands, and has become a big-screen TV series with $250 million episodes showing up once a year. All that’s missing from this latest entry is a quick montage of “Previously, on The Avengers…”

Whether this episode belongs in the Captain America franchise or not is purely academic (I’m sure as I write this, nerds from Austin to Anaheim are huddled in ramen restaurants debating why this couldn’t have been an IRON MAN movie and why Thor and Hulk and Nick Fury were nowhere to be found). What we have is a distillation of a formula that has been honed over all of them: it’s bright, has some humor, is done with a decent amount of competence, and has virtually no discernible visual style, rhythm, or artistic merit. Try as I might to find something overwhelmingly positive or negative in these things, it appears I’m going to be handing out 6/10s to these for the next decade.

There’s plenty to dislike in the first half of this 146-minute ILM ad. Countless debates over the unrestricted power and catastrophic consequences of omnipotent superheroes bring to mind BATMAN v SUPERMAN, with equally narrow-minded results. Then we are introduced to Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther: it’s exceptionally startling how bad Boseman is. His face and mannerisms don’t match his awful and uncomfortably fake accent, resulting in what feels like an awkward audition video we’re forced to watch before a real actor takes the role. And although the film is paced quickly from beginning to end, the narrative and action sequences of the first half are dull and laborious.

But then things pick up. In a film already cluttered with characters, Paul Rudd and Tom Holland show up to deliver MVP performances. (Just watch Ant-Man’s face when he can’t believe himself saying “I’m shaking your hand for so long, Captain America!”). Then we get to the movie’s centerpiece sequence, a 20-minute barrage of effects work as a dozen mutated weirdos in techno-suits use an abandoned airport hangar (a boring location with no visual distinction in its background or props) for an insane battle. It’s thrilling on both a technical and creative level, and gives the movie an electric jolt that sustains it through the admirably dark conclusion.

But with the Russo brothers in the directors’ chairs, there’s no stamp of purpose or identity. They feel more like set managers than artists, delivering product on time and within budget, satisfying the demands of egos from Paul Bettany to Jeremy Renner. For adaptations of comic books, Russo brothers movies don’t feel like comic books in the slightest. Where Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN films (for one example) dripped with visual flair and comic-panel artistry, these episodes have zero interesting camera sense:  composition is an afterthought, and editing is functional without being assertive. The source is gone, and all that’s left is a massive production from hardworking people good at their jobs, but sadly at the bottom of their list of priorities is the wonder and magic of movies.

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