It’s more of an Avengers movie than Avengers: Age of Ultron, and it’s a better one. But somewhere in the midst of Captain America: Civil War, superhero overload starts to kick in and wear you down.
It’s the same concept as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but filtered through the lens of the lightly comic Marvel Cinematic Universe instead of the dark, punishing vision of Zach Snyder: with superhero action comes mass carnage, and someone needs to take responsibility for it.
What’s interesting here is that there legitimate arguments for both sides in this story. After putting a face to one of the nameless victims that was killed in Age of Ultron, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) falls in line with UN bureaucrats and US Secretary of State (William Hurt): to protect the citizens of the world, the Avengers cannot be allowed to operate with impunity as their own independent military unit.
This all seems very reasonable, but then there’s Captain America (Chris Evans) falling on the other end of the spectrum. His motives are a little more ambiguous, but he’s basically saying that if he can do something to save lives, and doesn’t do it, he bears the cost of those lives.
He’s got a point, too, but mostly he just wants to protect his old buddy Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), who has apparently been framed for a terrorist bombing and is now the subject of a shoot-on-sight international manhunt.
And then there are the ten other superheroes in the movie, who each take a side: Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) stand behind the Captain, while War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Bettany), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and new recruits Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) team up with Stark.
Whew. This all culminates in the film’s highlight, a 20-minute Royal Rumble free-for-all at a deserted German airport that sees a dozen superheroes going at it with everything they’ve got.
It’s undeniably entertaining stuff: the MCU has created a great cast of superheroes (while failing to a truly memorable villain outside of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki) and watching all these guys go at it is genuinely fun.
Highlights: Holland’s goofball teenage Spider-Man (who Marvel finally does right by, after years of struggles with Sony) and Rudd’s Ant-Man, who brings the perfect amount of comic flair to the action. Boseman’s Black Panther, the new kid on the block with a fair amount of screentime, is also fairly engaging.
But none of these superheroes really wants to hurt any of the others, which kind of takes some of the punch out of the superhero action. Cap and co. just want to help Bucky and get to the bottom of things, but what’s the plan here from Stark’s side? To punch and shoot and drop buildings on the other guys until they submit?
And of course, if either side spent five minutes filling each other in with plot developments rather than diving into the fisticuffs, they would resolve the their conflict immediately.
There’s a plotline running through Civil War that involves a mysterious character played by Daniel Brühl and his up-to-no-good masterplan, which is only fully unveiled by the end. No spoilers, but this villainous plan is not only overly complex and contrived, but it also involves the Avengers reacting exactly as predicted and against all common sense.
The last Cap’n flick was a genuinely good standalone movie that managed to tell its own self-contained story on the level of a decent spy thriller. This one is fun, and full of prime Avengers moments, but it’s lacking the dialed-down story that made the previous entry so engaging. On the MCU spectrum, it’s somewhere between Age of Ultron and Winter Soldier.