Captain America: Civil War, the feels-like-93rd entry in Disney’s forever-going series devoted to Marvel Comics’ spandex-and-metal-clad super friends, is perfectly fine – a little too rambling at two and a half hours, but otherwise just the right shade of light and bright for a movie about superheroes fighting superheroes.
Civil War is one splash page after another filled with famous faces stuffed into Halloween costumes making jokey asides between the kicking and the punching. The first Iron Man, only eight years and one Terrence Howard ago, was a revelation: Comic book movies, wrought somber and dim when Batman began in 2005, could be fun. Civil War, the third Cap movie, is the culmination, the first comic-book movie out of all the comic-book movies to capture what it’s actually like to read a comic book when you’re 12 years old.
Civil War, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, brothers who made the last Captain America movie along with episodes of Community, is only loosely based on the comics’ “Civil War” storyline. This isn’t about superheroes being asked to reveal their secret identities, but about superheroes being told to wait for the United Nations’ OK before saving the world.
That suits Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) just fine: Iron Man is racked with guilt over all the dead stacked up during the last few issues … er, episodes … wait, movies. He’s desperate for someone else to take responsibility, convinced that with great power comes great weight he can no longer shoulder.
But Cap (Chris Evans), once the good soldier, isn’t about to take orders from Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) or his mustache, which looks just like it did when it appeared in the first issue of The Incredible Hulk in 1962. He and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) mucked up a mission, resulting in dead innocents, but far as he’s concerned, that’s the high price of doing the right thing.
In short order, all the brand names – Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and the Vision (Paul Bettany) – are rounded up, asked to choose sides and told to square off.
They’re joined by two newcomers: Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), the king of a fictional African nation out to avenge his father’s death, and Spider-Man (Tom Holland), the kid from Queens who spins a web and catches thieves just like flies. And there’s the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Cap’s childhood buddy from the 1930s who’s also looking remarkably fit and trim well into the 21st century.
There’s a bad guy in here too (Daniel Bruhl as Helmut Zemo, a far more tragic figure than the comics’ Nazi baddie). But he’s forgettable, nothing more than a third-act plot device that leads to one last bit of hero-on-hero-on-hero action.
Civil War runs long because it wants to make sure no character gets short shrift - especially Holland’s giddy Spidey and Boseman’s brooding Panther, as this is their launching pad for coming spin-offs. They’re given plenty of time to make their respective cases: Holland, particularly, given the desperate need to prove Spider-Man isn’t covered in cobwebs after Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield stretched out the suit.
There’s also meant to be a deep message in this shallow kiddie pool - something about guilt, retribution, collateral damage and … hey, look, there’s the dean from Community promoted to head of MIT. And Spider-Man fighting Ant-Man! While talking about The Empire Strikes Back! Well, that certainly makes it easy: movie of the year. Or comic book, at least.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (B+)
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. PG-13 (for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem). 147 minutes. In wide release.