We’re now eight years into the “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” a grand experiment in cinematic series-building that, for me, has been an uneven, and maybe exhausting, ride. I’ve enjoyed some of Marvel’s output: Ant-Man (2015), Thor (2011), The Avengers (2012); hated others: Captain America (2011), Thor: The Dark World (2013), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015); and forgotten the rest. On a personal level, I seem to have pushed past my superhero movie fatigue and simply fallen into resignation.
With all that said, Marvel’s latest, Captain America: Civil War, is the most comic book-y of them all, even above Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. It feels like an event (or at least of those big crossover events comics pump out every so often) with too many characters and too many fight scenes but well-crafted enough to work as some sort of spectacle. I wouldn’t call the film fun per se (the best I could maybe say is that it’s occasionally jokey and cheeky), but it held my attention at the very least. Civil War moves in a slightly different direction than much of Marvel’s other films, forgetting the grand supervillain in exchange for a very minor, not very powerful sort of mastermind (Daniel Bruhl) who hatches a far-fetched plot for revenge for very personal, and even understandable, reasons. His endgame — which pits superhero against superhero, friend against friend — is, theoretically, what the people want.
The film’s main focus is that, after the wholesale and reckless destruction of numerous cities and — in this film — a mistake by The Avengers that costs innocent lives, Iron Man Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), suffering from some daddy issues, a struggling relationship and some other generalized guilt, cuts a deal with the U.N. to make sure all superheroes have some sort of government oversight. Captain America, idealist and lover of freedom and justice that he is, bristles at the idea and instead goes on the run, partly to track down his brainwashed and framed best friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan).
What all of this allows is a couple of things. First, the film likes to examine the consequences of all this big-budget destruction and razing of entire cities that now happen in so many films but always without consequence. Here, it’s handled intelligently. I’m not sure anything groundbreaking is discussed, but there is thought here, as the film gently attempts to deconstruct the superhero mythos. There’s only so much the film can do, however, which brings up the second thing allowed by the film: lots and lots of fighting. And not necessarily well-shot fighting, since returning directors Anthony and Joe Russo chop everything to bits and insist on too much high-speed shutter.
Watching Captain America and Iron Man punch each other is the main event, but the “civil war” aspect of all this pulls in all these other Marvel properties. Some of this works better than others. The inclusion of yet another Spider-Man (Tom Holland) feels forced, while War Machine (Don Cheadle) is the most boring robot man imaginable, followed closely by Vision (Paul Bettany). Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) feels both out of place and fun, and new arrival Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) gets all the good lines. Yes, it’s a lot of new and old characters alike, but it still feels less convoluted than Whedon’s dull Age of Ultron. The problem is that I, at least, couldn’t quite muster the ability to care about anyone involved in this seemingly never-ending parade of superhero films, something made more difficult by an overstuffed 146-minute running time. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem.
Playing at Regal Biltmore Grande, UA Beaucatcher.