Let’s say “Captain America: Civil War” opened in theaters in Gotham City and Metropolis right around the time Batman and Superman were about to go at it, and let’s say Bruce Wayne hosted a star-studded benefit premiere, and Clark Kent covered it for the Daily Planet.
When the lights went down and the storyline kicked in, Bruce Wayne would have been nodding in agreement with Tony Stark, while Clark Kent would have been thinking: I like the way Captain America thinks.
As was the case with “Batman vs. Superman,” there’s a major rift between iconic superheroes over “collateral damage,” i.e., the loss of innocent human lives that occurs during epic battles between the forces of good and evil.
“Captain America: Civil War” is a lighter and much more crowded film, with so many superheroes zipping around and exchanging blows that at one point it felt like the Marvel Universe equivalent of one of those music awards show all-star jams where everyone from Paul McCartney to the Weeknd to Taylor Swift to Adele is onstage.
And although there’s no shortage of dark moments and violent moments, with personal tragedy motivating some characters to attempt to maim, cripple and kill, the overall tone is relatively light (albeit in a PG-13 kind of way). Iron Man and Captain America and the Black Widow and the Scarlet Witch and Falcon and Hawkeye and Ant-Man, among others, often exchange quips even while in the midst of intense combat sequences. I guess they don’t have to worry about saving their breath.
There’s a LOT going on in this movie. A lot.
Kudos to co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo and the team of writers for juggling more than a dozen comic-book characters and nearly that many plot lines, and only occasionally getting us (and by us I mean ME) lost in the Geek Weeds. They also seem to realize a movie about superheroes can respect the genre while also taking pause once in a while to acknowledge the sheer giddy silliness of the whole endeavor.
“Civil War” has a number of pop-culture punch lines, from a terribly green Spider-Man referencing a movie from the 1980s to Tony Stark referencing a movie from the 1960s to Ant-Man meeting Captain America for the first time and not even trying to contain his fan-boy glee. The internecine conflicts within the core group of Avengers are so entertaining and dramatically rich, it’s a relative letdown when the attention shifts to a generic madman villain (Daniel Bruhl) with a master plan.
But even the obligatory master plan turns out to be different than the master plan we expected it to be.
The battle lines in “Civil War” are drawn after an overseas mission led by Chris Evans’ Captain America inadvertently causes the death of a number of innocent civilians.
Cap and his team, including Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), are deeply affected by the tragedy — but they still firmly believe they’re saving far more lives than could be lost during their takedowns of terrorists. It’s horrible and devastating when dozens are killed, but isn’t that the better choice than hundreds, or even thousands, falling at the hands of the evildoers?
Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark doesn’t agree. World-weary and emotionally exhausted from decades of seeing the carnage caused by weapons of mass destruction — both the type his company once manufactured and the superhuman kind — Tony agrees with U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) and the leaders of 116 other nations, who have drafted a phone-book-thick accord giving the United Nations the power to decide if and when the Avengers will be called into action.
Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and War Machine (Don Cheadle) side with Iron Man, but Captain America refuses to sign the accord.
Next thing you know, Iron Man and Captain America are squaring off and picking teams as if they’re the captains of all-star superhero teams.
Iron Man recruits a VERY young Peter Parker/Spider-Man (let’s put it this way: Marisa Tomei plays kindly “old” Aunt May). Captain America counters by adding Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man to the mix. (“Civil War” also finds room to introduce Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, who, like Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, will soon have a film of his own.)
Even with a running time nearing two and a half hours, “Civil War” keeps things moving along, with a solid balance of character soul-searching and kinetic action sequences. (Some of the early action scenes are a bit TOO frantic, with so many jiggling camera moves and insanely rapid quick-cuts, one pictures Johansson, Downey et al. relaxing in their trailers or dubbing their lines while the stunt doubles and the CGI handle the visuals.)
It’s nice to see further cracks in Captain America’s Mister Perfecto persona. When Tony Stark/Iron Man says he’d like to punch Steve Rogers in the face, we can relate. It makes the Cap all the more interesting when the Cap makes some really bad decisions.
The wonderful actors reprising their superhero roles are as excellent as you’d expect them to be — although I did feel the mega-talented Downey might be getting just a tad restless inhabiting Tony Stark/Iron Man yet again.
Chadwick Boseman makes a strong first impression as Black Panther, as does Tom Holland as the latest Spider-Man.
Forget the calendar and the spring cold. “Captain America: Civil War” is a classic example of what the big-ticket summer movie experience is all about.
Marvel Studios presents a film directed by Anthony & Joe Russo and written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. Running time: 147 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for extended sequences of violence, action, and mayhem). Opens Friday at local theaters.