Why can’t you superheroes just get along? Like the recent “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which saw the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel go head-to-head in a showdown over how best to police the world, “Captain America: Civil War” sees the Avengers go mano e’ mano e’ mano e’ mano e’ mano e’ mano (there’s a lot of them) in an effort to settle their differences.
Thankfully this isn’t a repeat of the Zack Snyder film. While the themes may be similar to “B v S” the Russo Brothers (Anthony and Joe) achieve a much different result. There’s humour, a story that more or less makes sense and lots of surprises.
As anyone who has seen the other Avengers movies knows the superhero team have caused havoc all over the world, blowing things up dropping buildings on people, all in the name of law and order. It’s been a wild ride but after a debacle in Lagos leaves eleven innocent people dead the United Nations decides it’s time to rein them in.
“While a great many people see you was heroes,” says Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), “there are those who would use the word vigilante.”
Captain America (Chris Evans), Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark (Robert Downey Jr), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) are asked to sign a document that would limit their autonomy, requiring a U.N. okily-dokily before they can spring into action. The restrictions divide the group. Stark wants more oversight. “With no limits we’re no better than the bad guys,” he says. Captain America refuses to compromise. “If we sign this,” he says, “we lose our right to choose where and when we fight.”
Complicating matters is Cappy’s old pal Bucky Barnes a.k.a. Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). When he’s not under the influence of HYDRA’s mind-control he’s a good guy, but when he is exposed to a series of code words he turns into a Manchurian Candidate style super-duper high tech killing machine. When Winter Soldier is accused of a terrible crime Captain’s loyalty to his friend that drives a wedge between him and Iron Man. As The Avengers self-destruct a mysterious figure (Daniel Brühl) watches from the sidelines.
In some ways “Captain America: Civil War” feels like an echo of “Batman v. Superman.” The difference is a matter of tone. The films share many of the same ideas about responsibility and culpability but whereas “B v. S” was a dark soul-searching affair, “Captain America: Civil War” opts for a cleaner, simpler approach. Minus the ponderosity of Snyder’s film, the Marvel movie manages to make its point in a more concise and interesting way. It’s not exactly a case of less is more—“Civil War” is almost two-and-a-half-hours long and is a Superhero-A-Rama with Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Antman (Paul Rudd) Spider-Man (Tom Holland) joining all the usual suspects—but there is an easy elegance to a line like, “Victory at the expense of the innocent is no victory at all,” missing from “B v. S.”
Better yet, “Civil War” finally finds a recipe for juggling its characters. “Age Of Ultron” featured more stars than there are in the heavens and I left the theatre feeling as though I had just left a kindergarten Christmas pageant where they have to give a part to everyone in class so no one feels left out. The Russo Brothers de-clutter, but still manage the sprawling cast effectively, giving each of them a moment or two in the spotlight and more importantly, a reason to be in the spotlight. Extended cameos from Spider-Man and Ant-man are woven into the fabric of the story, bringing some fun with them while Black Panther is set up to be an interesting recurring character.
Of the regulars Robert Downey Jr holds sway, although his Tony Stark is more subdued than usual. The wisecracks are still there, but there’s fewer than usual. Perhaps it has something to do with spending much of the movie fighting with Captain America. Much humour comes from the other characters. There’s something sublimely ridiculous about superheroes complaining about everyday things. “Can you move your seat up?”
“Captain America: Civil War” delivers. It provides all the high-flying action you expect from a summer superhero blockbuster but also delivers a thought provoking look at the nature of power, loyalty and yes, even the practicality of wedging three superheroes into a Volkswagen.