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There was a bit of a mix-up and this review copy didn’t get to me until Wednesday afternoon, so I’m going to keep the feature review section short. Besides, Captain America: Civil War was an outrageously popular movie that had a heavy internet thinkpiece presence over the last several months. I don’t think my opinions will be particularly revelatory.

Feature


Following Ultron’s attack on Sokovia, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) leads the newly-formed team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. But, after another incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by a governing body to oversee and direct the team. (From Marvel’s official synopsis)

 Captain America: Civil War
I did enjoy Civil War – enough to feel a wave of relief following a pair of mediocre outings from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (specifically 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man). Its themes are strongly built on the bones of previous concepts, the performances are stronger than ever (at least stronger than Age of Ultron), and the action direction is tighter than we’ve seen from any of the MCU movies so far, save perhaps Iron Man 3 (2013). Returning directors, Joe & Anthony Russo, have greatly refined their technique and (mostly) avoided the shaky-cam/over-editing issues that made Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) occasionally incoherent. These qualities make it easy to overlook some of the most unconvincing digital double/head replacements of the last decade (Tony Stark’s floating, unmasked head is especially distracting during the dramatic reveal before the final battle). The more pertinent, overriding quality issues are tied to the filmmakers’ own battle against the requirements of an ensemble superhero movie. While Winter Soldier benefited from focusing on the title character and the manner in which the twists in MCU plotline affected him and his relationships, Civil War becomes muddled as the Russos and screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely desperately try to strike a balance between rich character stories, expensive action set-pieces, and the big, universe-shaking events that keep the Marvel machine moving forward.

The filmmakers have also significantly improved upon the source material. Given the major differences between the current movie and comic book universes and the fact that the Civil War comic series isn’t very good, this isn’t a huge revelation, but it’s still an important distinction. While it doesn’t entirely succeed in applying contemporary morals to the fantasy dilemma (which, to be fair, isn’t really its job as popular entertainment), the movie version does a pretty eloquent job of turning the audience’s allegiance as the story progresses. The real key is tying the events to Winter Soldier, grounding the politics, and not making either Steve Rogers or Tony Stark irrational in regards to the argument. In the comic, Stark devolves into a two-dimensional scumbag that is all too easy to hate. The movie, on the other hand, paints him as a very sympathetic character, to the point that it even corrects some of his obnoxious flippancy during the events of Age of Ultron. In short, the filmmakers make it a more personal fight, to the point that they even deescalate the promised scope of the climax, which promises a typical Marvel movie superhero combat overload, but shrinks the battle to a melancholic skirmish among friends.

 Captain America: Civil War
This brings me to something I’ve been mulling over to myself this summer. All four of big superhero movies this year – Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and X-Men: Apocalypse – dedicate a considerate amount of screentime to introducing fan-favourite characters who ultimately have no bearing on the plot. You could erase Colossus, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, and Wolverine from their respective movies before release and the audience wouldn’t even notice. Assuming this is the ‘new normal’ in blockbuster storytelling, it’s interesting to note how each film deals with this problem. Deadpool is almost exempt, as Colossus’ inclusion is another meta joke (I note that most of Deadpool’s many problems can be hand-waved away by claiming they are ‘satire,’ which is awfully convenient), Wonder Woman is the best thing in an otherwise very bad movie, and Wolverine only occupies a small section of a sequence that serves a narrative purpose (the younger mutants need to do something important without adult supervision). Civil War ends up being the most egregious and satisfying example, because Spider-Man takes up the most space and is the easiest to delete, yet his scenes balance the sombre tone of the more relevant plotline with sweetness and levity. Ideally, he (and Ant-Man, frankly) would’ve been woven into the fabric of the story, like Black Panther, whose inclusion feels organic and not like an ad for another movie. But, given the inevitability of the ‘new normal,’ perhaps creating entertaining scenes for unnecessary characters is the best option.

 Captain America: Civil War

Video


Captain America: Civil War was shot using a typical Marvel-brand mix of digital camera rigs (Arri Alexa, Red Epic, GoPro) and was produced for 2D, 3D, and digital IMAX release. While I’d say the overall film instills faith that the Russo brothers and their screenwriters will be able to handle the scope and tonal balances of something like the Infinity Gauntlet storyline, I’m still not convinced their (seemingly) purposefully bland aesthetic choices will work. They choose interesting angles and framing on occasion, but their palette and texture choices aren’t what I picture when I imagine the Mad Titan wreaking cosmic havoc on the Avengers. That said, this 1080p, 2.40:1 (the aspect ratio does not change for those IMAX-friendly sequences) 2D Blu-ray transfer (Disney has also released a 3D version) is more colourful than I remember the digital theatrical projection being. Thankfully, Marvel cinematographers, in this case Trent Opaloch, has finally ditched the ugly cobalt blue overtint that plagued almost all of the Phase Two movies (i.e. Thor 2 through Ant-Man) in favour of relatively eclectic palettes that change, depending on the environment. There’s still a bit too much yellow or teal for my taste, but this transfer’s natural greens, pink skin tones, and punchy highlights (the red of the Winter Soldier book, Vision’s magenta ‘skin,’ et cetera) are very impressive. Details are tight, even where shallow focus is concerned, textures are complex, despite a bit of digital smoothing, and black levels are deep without overwhelming the subtle details.

Audio


Captain America: Civil War is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound. The sound design is less of a ‘sci-fi overload’ than a number of the louder superhero movies of recent vintage. Here, dynamic range and specific movement is paramount, rather than a wall of sound and it is a nice contrast to something like Avengers: Age of Ultron or Batman v Superman (not to say either of those films have bad sound mixes, just that they’re different). The real demo-worthy moment isn’t the bombastic superhero vs. superhero battle that ends the second act (though it does sound great) or even the big foot chase, but the first act battle with Crossbones that sets the narrative in motion. Given the successful musicality of the sound effects editing, Henry Jackman’s ambient, brass and percussion-heavy score is sometimes quite distracting. The Cap/Bucky/Stark fight is the closest the music gets to evoking the kind of emotional response I believe the filmmakers were looking for (for more on why the music in Marvel’s movies is so unmemorable, watching this fantastic video on the subject – assuming you haven’t already).

 Captain America: Civil War

Extras


  • Commentary with directors Anthony & Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely – This is a surprisingly uninvolved commentary, considering the fact that it features four filmmakers. No one seems to have prepped before recording. This leads to a lot of long silences and repetitive information. Oddly, things improve after the first 30-40 minutes (especially when the Russos start talking about their TV work), instead of getting worse. McFeely gets my vote as the track’s all-star, as he brings the most focused of any of the participant. He explains the difficulties of the plot structure and compares the script to the comic on a couple occasions.
  • United We Stand, Divided We Fall – The Making of Captain America: Civil War: Part 1 (22:25, HD) and Part 2 (23:18, HD) – This rather substantial (for a Marvel home video release – it still moves too quickly to completely appreciate) pair of featurettes covers the concepts and themes of the film, beginning with the original comics and the events of movies that led up to the superhero stand-off, then continuing into the technical and dramatic challenges of the adaptation. It includes behind-the-scenes footage, slightly fluffy, EPK-style cast & crew interviews, and clips from the movie. It feels a bit made-for-TV (they even bleep a ‘bullshit’), but it’s not bad, especially the second part, which covers creating the MCU version of Black Panther.
  • Captain America: The Road to Civil War (4:11, HD) – Concerning Cap’s evolution from a government lackey to anti-authority rebel.
  • Iron Man: The Road to Civil War (4:27, HD) – A companion piece that explores Tony Stark’s character development throughout the series.
  • Open Your Mind: Marvel’s Doctor Strange (4:02, HD) – A commercial for the upcoming Doctor Strange movie. I’ve got to admit that this movie, which was once my most anticipated entry in the MCU, looks like an utter bore and a waste of a good cast.
  • Four deleted/extended scenes (7:52, HD)
  • Gag Reel (2:53, HD)


 Captain America: Civil War

Overall


Captain America: Civil War might represent the best of what audiences can expect from this new brand of franchise filmmaking. I’d like to think the formula can be tweaked further, but there are so many standardized ingredients and greater universe requirements for these movies to work on the same level as movies that play by and with traditional filmmaking rules. Some of us can accept these limitations and enjoy the new rules, while others now understand that these movies simply aren’t for them. Thumbs up for the increased diversity of the cast (Black Panther is fantastic) and not wasting Black Widow, despite her being a supporting character. This 2D Blu-ray looks a bit better in terms of dynamic range than the version I saw in theaters (I’m really beginning to suspect that something was wrong with the projection) and sounds good enough to be your next demo disc. The extras appear extensive on paper, but are somewhat disappointing, as many have come to expect from Disney’s MCU home video releases.

 Captain America: Civil War

 Captain America: Civil War
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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