Captain America: Civil War
Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Opens May 6
So our manly men in tights have consciences after all. It’s been mere months since Batman v’d Superman because of the collateral damage the Son of Krypton incurred during his city-razing smackdown with General Zod. Marvel Studios now offers a comparatively sunnier companion piece to that Goth(am)ic sturm und drang with the featherweight Captain America: Civil War, in which Chris Evans’s star-shield-wielding First Avenger finds himself at odds with several superheroic colleagues over their own destructive, if well-intentioned escapades.
The tipping point is dual: Reality-altering mystic Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) accidentally blows up several innocents during a clandestine mission abroad to capture Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones (Frank Grillo). And cocky billionaire Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is confronted by the accusatory mother (Alfre Woodard, lending such raw gravitas to this corporatized silliness that it effectively unbalances all that follows) of a young man killed during the Avengers’s battle with James Spader’s Ultron in Sokovia. (You all saw that movie, right?)
And so an ideological split forms, with Cap on one side, insistent that the Avengers require absolute autonomy, and Stark on the other, resolute in his belief that an accord putting the group under the supervision of the United Nations (and William Hurt’s Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross, in particular) is the best course of action. A mysterious figure known only as Zemo (Daniel Brühl) further deepens the divide, as does the reemergence of Cap’s friend-turned-supersoldier enemy Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).
But wait, there’s more! So much more, and so much of it pointless in that very Marvel Studios way. Every single serious moment is undercut by a cheap-seats witticism (or a Stan Lee cameo, here disastrously interrupting a tender moment between Stark and Don Cheadle’s Lieutenant James Rhodes aka War Machine). And every plot point lands with a pro forma thud, paving the way to that Infinity War that’s been teased since the beginning of the decade. (When all is said and done, this series will surely earn the Guinness record for longest throat-clear in cinema history.)
The company men direction by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo certainly doesn’t help matters. Dialogue scenes are pedestrian master shot/close-up assemblages; action sequences are handheld, CGI-augmented mishmashes. Not even the lengthy airport tarmac scuffle between various and sundry Avengers—and featuring the first Marvel series appearance of a very popular web-slinger—carries an iconic kick. It’s just stultifyingly dutiful.
What pleasures there are in these movies tend to come, fleetingly, from the actors. Old hats like Downey Jr. and Evans just seem tired of it all by this point. An early scene in which present-day RDJ shares the stage with a digitally de-aged version of himself is instructive because it’s the simulacrum that seems more live-wire. (It might make you think fondly back to that time Ultron pimped out Iron Man in Less Than Zero.)
But the new faces at least bring a little leavening energy. Chadwick Boseman is a commanding and charismatic T’Challa aka Black Panther; here’s hoping he and Ryan Coogler can get a few more sparks of personality into their upcoming standalone Panther movie. And 19-year-old Tom Holland is a superbly callow Peter Parker aka Spider-Man, though the scene in which Stark recruits him, while lusting after a MILF-ier than usual Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), feels completely out of place, like it was ported in from Kevin Feige’s boardroom while the ink was still drying on the Sony-Marvel character rights contracts. What a tangled brand we weave.